Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A Pound shop book and children's stories - Gwen Grant

It was half-term last week so the local Pound shop was very popular with our three grand-children. One child is absolutely mad about stories, both reading them and writing them. She’s pushing the boundaries of what she can read at the moment and we often see her hunched over some book far too difficult for her but painstakingly picking out the words she can understand. She would be so thrilled and overjoyed by a visit from a children’s writer in their school but I have only known one such writer go in over the last couple of years.

Sometimes, the value of writers going into schools is questioned but if those questioners could talk to the children, they would soon understand how much excitement is generated by a writer going in, how important and special it makes the children feel and how all the children, but especially those who love stories, are inspired by their visits. And also how their story-telling improves because there, in front of them, is a person who can and does help them with their work. So, stories are important then and THEIR story is important because this is what a visit from a children’s writer says to them. Stories are important so keep writing.

The visit to the Pound shop was brilliant this time because she found a book made especially for story telling. The top half of the page is blank for illustrations and the bottom half lined for the story to be written on.

Any writer who has been into a school, if they are allowed proper time to talk and work with the children, will know just how much encouragement their visit gives. It seems as if the golden days of school visits are over but they shouldn’t be. When writers speak of their favourite books and stories when they were children, we know that each one of those books and stories planted a little seed of desire to write ourselves. Everyone gains from children having contact with writers. The children, the community and yes, even the country because children grow up and the work they then do adds immeasurably to the creative and cultural life of their country.

I could go on but instead I’ll tell a couple of stories.

Some years ago, I went into a Young Adults Detention Centre and when the young men came in, one of them had two guards with him and a great pile of Enid Blyton books. He carefully set the books out on the table in front of him and at the end of the session, he and I had a long and invigorating talk about Enid Blyton and her stories. He said this was the first time he’d been able to get hold of all her books and read them and he was so pleased by that, but he was even more pleased to be able to talk about them. I don’t know what he’d done or even what he would go on to do but for the space of about 30 minutes, he was able to step out of the life he was in and enter the world of these much loved books.

The other story concerns a hare that had been run over on the road outside our house and I was really upset by this, so I read again Dennis Hamley’s beautiful book HARE’S CHOICE to comfort myself. It’s actually about a hare that is killed and whose body is found by two children who take it to school, where the teacher uses it as a starting point for a story. It is a story that stays with you because we are allowed into the hare’s consciousness and it was THIS story I needed when I saw the dead hare - a children’s story, alive with compassion, understanding and beautiful images and, that day, nothing else would have done.

The book’s gone now, borrowed by a child. I might get it back but, somehow, I doubt it.


Linda Gillard said...

Thank you, Gwen, for this beautiful post. The story about the man doing time with Enid Blyton brought tears to my eyes. What a blessing (and sometimes a life-saver) literacy is.

Gwen Grant said...

Thank you, Linda. I was really glad to be able to share that story because from all the thousands of people I've seen over the years in my capacity as a writer, he is one who has always been in my mind.

Karen said...

What a lovely post, Gwen. Loved the story about the man with the Enid Blyton books. We should never forget how important books are to children and the pleasure they get from reading them.

Gwen Grant said...

Thanks, Karen. I was really glad to be able to share this story. Even at the time, I was aware of what a privilege it was to be able to talk to him - how he simply trusted that I would understand about his books. Thankfully, I think such experiences remind us of how special a place chldren's writers have in so many people's childhood.

Emma Barnes said...

A really lovely post. The Enid Blyton reader encapsulates what is so precious about books and reading - that they can open up whole worlds, regardless of circumstances and immediate surroundings.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Lovely post. Sometimes, as you say, what you need is a simple story. I'm checking out Dennis's book too.

Gwen Grant said...

Dear Emma and Roz,
I don't know how to send separate replies so please forgive this doubling up. Thank you both for your comments. It seems to me that children's writers can be so under-valued, yet it's part of our good fortune that, luckily, children themselves don't under-value us and always give us a welcome, sometimes years and years after they have read our books or met us. As you say, Emma, stories can take them out of their surroundings - I've worked in a Hospice anf found this to be true. Hope you enjoy Dennis Hamley's book, Roz. I read it some years ago now and loved it.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

What a beautiful and uplifting post! One of my most vivid memories from my schooldays is of a temporary primary school teacher who read The Wind in the Willows aloud to us. This was in a small city school, in a not very well off area (Armley, in Leeds) and my parents read to me all the time - we were a working class household with lots of books - but I still remember that reading as an almost magical experience (and have loved the book ever since!)Maybe because the teacher took so much pleasure in the book himself.

Gwen Grant said...

Thank you, Catherine. I had the same experience with a book - one that somehow appeared in our house, called,'At the back of the North Wind.' Books were not widely available to us when I was a child so when we did come across them, they were really precious. The Library was good, if you had clean hands! If you din't, they wouldn't let you in, so we would wash our hands in the little river that ran nearby.