Reader, one of my favourite authors/poets died today-the wonderful Maya Angelou who wrote 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' and 'Gather Together In My Name'. Recently, another favourite (although entirely different) author passed, Sue Townsend who penned the hysterical Adrian Mole series (as well as The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year and the brilliant play Bazaar and Rummage). These deaths have made me think a bit about how important books have been to me in my lifetime.
When I say important, I feel like I'm not giving books enough credit. See, when I was a kid, I didn't have many friends. In fact, I got bullied, pretty severely. I learned to read really young (by about 8 years old I was reading books written for young teens quicker than most 15 year olds) and it became a massive form of escapism for me. I may have had to put up with insults and violence, but I could hide in a corner and become Anne Shirley (of Green Gables) or Matilda or Nancy Drew and have adventures in my mind for a few hours.
Before I even left primary school, I had finished all of the books in the school library and within a year of going to high school I'd also chomped my way through all the 'young adult' books in my local library too-so my mum started giving me her books, with the instruction that if I didn't understand any parts of them, to come and ask and we'd talk about them. My mum was pretty liberal, so she let me read books with more mature themes-Daphne Du Maurier, Sue Townsend and Maya Angelou found their way to me and I would sit for hours transfixed by the stories. They taught me how to deal with bullies (by being kind back-it confuses them-and then living a life that makes you happy), what it might feel like to fall in love before I'd even really met any boys, how as a woman you have to know yourself, because the world will try telling you who you are from when you first sprout hips and breasts, that the best heroines have to go through a ton of difficult stuff before they get their rewards, that freckles are not a bad thing, that gumbo tastes wonderful and that porridge can either be the worst thing in the world or the best depending on how it's described, that men who have silver tongues rarely have golden hearts and that love is the most important thing in the world.
Having a well stocked book case in the home is essential for kids. I learnt more about sex (and the consequences of having it) from books than I ever did from sex-ed classes. I also learned about the darker side of humanity-when my friends wanted me to lie to their parents about where they were when they were off with boys they didn't really know, I wouldn't do it, because I'd read tales where things had gone horribly wrong. I was a super safe teenager, because I knew exactly what could happen from all the crime books I'd read. I could explain a number of philosophical and psychological ideas from what I'd read and had a much greater understanding of the greater world than most teens of the same age. Whenever I had a problem, there was a book I could go to that would give me someone else's experience. My life had been lived by a million characters and they were all waiting on my shelf to give me advice.
Give your kids books parents, so they can learn too,