From the beginning, my mother encouraged our reading by giving us books for all the important childhood milestones – Christmas, birthdays and similar occasions. Among my first memories was my mother sitting on the edge of my bed reading one of the Golden Books so popular during the 1950s. My favourite was Scuffy the Tugboat who wouldn’t be restricted to the bath. That was followed by Tootle, the little train who refused stay on the tracks. There was something intriguing about the anarchic exuberance of Scuffy and Tootle the lessons of which have impressed me to this day.
There were also the many kids albums full of illustrations that publishers pumped out at Christmas time. As there were six of us, there was an abundance of books at all levels. I can’t forget the comics either. They appeared during times of sickness and long holiday trips. I devoured thousands of comics, spending my own money on them or swapping them with friends, besides their being liberally supplied by Mum. I had to be careful I didn’t take any to school, though. If spied, they would end up in pieces in the bin beside the heartless teacher’s desk.
I was happy with the kids albums and spent many a quiet time browsing through the pages, scanning the illustration and attempting to decipher the text. As my reading ability increased the level of the books increased – more text and less illustrations. I was never without reading material of some sort to distract and entertain me, but I delayed the transition to longer stories or what I hear called ‘chapter books’ these days. I received a number of longer hardcover books of mostly text before I turned ten years, but they didn’t engage me as much as the albums with their shorter stories. I had several goes at Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (a Christmas present) but did not persevere. The breakthrough came on my tenth birthday in 1956. I received a copy of Five on a Secret Trail.
It was all thrilling adventure with Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy trying to solve a mystery and deal with some dark, suspicious characters. I loved it. The story drew me on and on. But it wasn’t just the thrilling stories. The characters were just as important. For my ten-year-old mind they were clearly defined. They were brave, determined and acted always with honour and honesty.
I embarked on reading the full series. I read some of the Mystery series (The Find-Outers) and some of my younger sister’s Secret Sevens, but the Famous Five remained my favourites to the end of primary school.
Some years ago, in full nostalgia mode, I decided to collect the series of twenty-one titles. It took me a bit of time (and expense) but I now have them all on my bookshelf, each in good to very good condition.