Earlier this week I was looking for light and undemanding airplane reading matter. I can never sleep on long-haul flights, so I need to keep myself occupied without taxing the little grey cells too much. I chose ‘Das fliegende Klassenzimmer’ by Erich Kästner. It is less well known than his delightful ‘Emil and the Detectives’, and perhaps not quite as exciting (there are no gangsters or chases through city streets, although there are a few fights and and a nearly tragic accident). It is a school story, in essence. However, it has the trademark Kästner humour and his clear understanding of what it means to be an imaginative child trying to be good, but not always quite succeeding.
I used to love school stories as a child, especially boarding schools. Being an only child, perhaps I craved that constant companionship, the midnight conspiracies, the leisure activities that were just not possible to do with friends during school hours. Mallory Towers, St. Clares and the Chalet School were very real to me, as were the stage schools described in ‘Ballet Shoes’ or the Sadlers Wells ballet series written by Lorna Hill. But I also had the other typical girl’s obsession with horses: Ruby Ferguson’s Jill and her ponies books were my constant companions. Sadly, they seem to be hard to find or out of print nowadays.
One of the pleasures of having children is rediscovering old reading favourites and discussing them with a new generation. Of course, they don’t always have the same reaction — and not just because they are boys and therefore less interested in ballet or pony stories! My kids loved the whole series around ‘Five Children and It’ (especially ‘The Story of the Amulet’), but were left cold by ‘Swallows and Amazons’. ‘Treasure Island’ did not really rock their boat, while ‘The Hobbit’ did. They never really clicked with the Famous Five or Secret Seven, and I am still trying to get them to give Leon Garfield or Joan Aiken a chance.
My most fun rediscoveries, which the boys enjoyed just as much as me, have been: Paddington Bear, the Moomins, Asterix, Tintin and of course the above-mentioned Emil and his adventures in the big, bad city of Berlin.
What books did you love as a child? Have you reread them since and what do you think of them now? And how have your children reacted to your own childhood favourites?