Friday 17 March 2017

A Book for Readers about Writers who Read.

A review by Lindsay Bamfield.

The Book That Made Me. Edited by Judith Ridge. (Walker Books Australia)

Here is a book for readers about writers who read. Comprising thirty two accounts from authors about the books that had a lasting impact them, it embraces a huge range of literature. Many of these memorable book encounters were during the authors’ childhood or their teen years and some chose their stories because, at last, they had found heroes and heroines with whom they could identify. Others chose books that inspired them to write, although I particularly enjoyed the account by Will Kostakis who, while reading a book set in Year 6 at school, was so annoyed by its basic premise that he started to write his own more realistic story.

The contributors are mostly Australian or New Zealanders writing for the Young Adult and children’s market. They encompass a diverse range of backgrounds and reading experiences from those living in homes packed with reading material to others for whom books were scarce. While UK readers may not be too familiar with some the featured authors, don’t let this deter you from picking up this book and diving in. The experiences and  delights of developing as a reader is universal whether reading is conquered effortlessly in the early years or is a struggle requiring persistence.

You will know many of the books the authors discuss and will be inspired to find out about those you don’t. Judith Ridge includes a list of the books and authors cited, ranging from Enid Blyton, Dr Seuss to George Orwell. I found many that I had loved in my early reading years and for that reason enjoyed Fiona Wood’s memories of Anne of Green Gables, which I too loved, although I don’t think I re-read it as frequently as Fiona. While most of the books mentioned are children’s books, adult literature is present too, so readers may be introduced to new books and will hopefully be inspired to read them.

It struck me how readers from diverse backgrounds reading many decades apart and thousands of miles from each other can share universal experiences through the medium of good books. But the accounts also demonstrate that we need more diverse literature in our world. Children’s literature has been, and is still, dominated by western cultures. Catherine Johnson grew up believing only white people lived in books. That is changing but not fast enough. I hope that if Judith Ridge edits a similar volume in another ten or twenty years the new stories will reflect change.

The personal anecdotes definitely demonstrate the necessity of stories in children’s lives. I would like to see a copy on every teacher’s bookshelf. The accounts that resonated the most with me were from those writers who recalled feeling like an outsider, or misunderstood in some way, discovering a character who knew how they felt. The characters validated their lives and feelings which all children need, especially those who feel vulnerable. This is how literature enables us to develop and mature.

This is a book that begs to be picked up again and again, dipped into, enjoyed, and considered. The reading list may well be a source of new books for you to explore and many will be old favourites ripe for a spot of reminiscence.

All royalties from book sales will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy.

Follow Judith on Twitter: @msmisrule
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @LindsayBamfield

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