STORY POWER // Week Three

Tessa Waite’s residency blog 

17th October 2018

Caitlin, 18 months loves Clip Clop written and illustrated by Nicola Smee. She was given it by the health visitor. She loves the sounds in the story and likes to be read this book repeatedly. She also enjoys the drama of all the other animals on the horse’s back. Blue Kangaroo stories written and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark are also big favourites and both Caitlin and her mum, Claire, enjoy the energetic, colourful drawings and the repetition in the story.

Claire was drawn to stories about animals too, The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann was a favourite together with Duncton Wood by William Horwood, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, all were well-written and centred around animals that take action and interact. She was absorbed by the stories, felt drawn in so that it was hard to put the books down.

Quipic the Hedgehog, No. 2 of Pere Castor’s Wild Animal books, translated by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Rojan was given to Catherine. It was passed on by her uncle who had was a French teacher in a boys school. She loved the title, which imbued the humble hedgehog with a romance and significance.

Another favourite book brought in by Catherine

She enjoyed the beautifully detailed illustrations – as a child Catherine always wanted to be outside, and they reflected her own outdoor experiences. Catherine is an author of factual children’s books. When asked how she decides on a theme for a book, she explained that when she gets curious about something, writing a book gives her license to do in depth research, part of which is working with experts and discovering what is at the heart of her enquiry. 

Ian shared his memories of being read Wonder Tales of Maoriland

Ian called in to tell me about Wonder Tales of Maoriland by A W Reed, illustrated by A S Paterson. Ian was living in New Zealand with his family and this book of stories about Maori life and Maori creation myths was read to him and his younger brother. This was a precious book to be treated with care, there was a sense of reverence when it appeared. It had been covered in plastic by his mother, with black tape added to each edge to provide extra protection against damage to the pages. It was a book to be read and shared in the evening, which suited the atmosphere of many of the stories. These  stories gave Ian a rich sense of the Maori culture, history and landscape, though he recognises that they may have been westernised as reflected by the illustrations. On returning to the UK in the early 1970s, he realised that his cultural references were very different to those of his peers and that there was a value in having had experience of such a contrasting country in terms of its history and traditions. The book is still in Ian’s possession.

Susie was visiting Hay with her daughter. She loves reading and remembers the delight of being transported to places very different to her home in rural Scotland when she was a child. She had no difficulty in choosing which childhood book had an impact on her. The Pirates of the Deep Green Sea, by Eric Linklater had an octopus as a central character, a hero who used his tentacles to hold together rope like cables which were holding the continents in place. It was a book full of excitement, children able to dive and swim underwater, danger and of course pirates. At the end of the book Susie remembers that the heroic octopus was taken to a rock pool where it was nursed back to health after its ordeal. She was reading this book at a time when Jacques Cousteau was on television sharing his underwater discoveries. The underwater world fascinated her. She learnt to dive and went on to study zoology and then oceanography at university. She now makes jewellery which takes inspiration from the sea, its rhythms and the forms within it.

Susie’s daughter Emma chose the Katie Morag stories, in particular Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers written and illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick. In the story the contrasting characters of the two grandmothers, Granny Island and Granny Mainland are brought out and this resonated with Susie as here own grandmothers were similarly very distinctly different. In this and the other books, Susie enjoyed the illustrations with their small details and the maps of the island so she could see where all the adventures in the story take place. In Katie Morag Susie found a character with a ‘no nonsense approach to life, unafraid to get stuck in and get her hands dirty’ and she identified strongly with her. She studied Fine Art and enjoyed using materials for their tactile qualities.

The Mallory Towers books by Enid Blyton offered Sue a fantasy of a school life so different to her experience of a big comprehensive school. The stories were of a school life that was exciting, glamorous and full of adventure, ‘they captured my imagination’. Despite depicting such a different school life, Sue found characters whom she could easily recognise and some she could identify with. As she had never been on holiday abroad at the time, she particularly enjoyed the books where the pupils travelled. There were several books in the series so there always seemed to be another one to read, ‘ the Mallory Towers books got me into reading for myself, for my own pleasure.’

For Geoff, school life was hard. He has dyslexia but this was not recognised until much later in adult life. He felt misunderstood and was teased and bullied. After narrowly failing his 11+ he was sent to a secondary modern school where ‘I was put into a dummies class’. So Geoff read Practical Wireless and Model Engineer under his desk during lessons . Diving into these adult magazines helped him to get away from the boredom of these lessons and the distraction of rowdy pupils around him. Analysing the projects, working out how elements were put together and poring over the circuit diagrams ‘kept me sane’. Recently Geoff has returned to these magazines for help in building his own valve radio.

The book chosen by Ursula is Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham. She loved the book as a child, at the heart of which is the theme of transformation. Harry is a white dog with black spot who gradually turns into a black dog with white spots who is then unrecognisable to his family. He has great adventures, in the streets, on a building site and at the railway station, getting dirtier as he goes. Dogs were always a part of Ursula’s life, her grandmother bought her a miniature dachshund, Marty, when she was 15 and he lived until he was 21.


Ursula rediscovered the book when she was an art student and bought it for herself. She was delighted all over again by the lively, expressive drawings and the endearing humour of Harry’s experiences. She later shared it with her son who also loved the story. Ursula is a sculptor and when asked how she might describe the lasting impact of Harry, she said that it celebrates the many different ways of getting messy – which has influenced her experimental approach to housework.

As a child Vanessa lived in a household of boys so she would often make an escape into the garden and an old apple tree with its ‘reading branch’ upon which she sat undisturbed, reading and dangling her legs.

Vanessa talked about her ‘reading branch’

One of her favourite books was Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Vanessa described herself as a shy girl and in Anne she found a great role model, “She was feisty and did good things in her own way.” Vanessa grew up in a small town in Derbyshire, surrounded by countryside that allowed her the freedom to explore and she spent much of her time outdoors. She felt connected to the seasons through the plants and vegetables that her parents grew in the garden, themes that were echoed in Anne of Green Gables. Anne’s relationship to Gilbert Blythe was an eyeopener to Vanessa and she wanted to marry him herself.

We both agreed that when you have a good book, it is like having a friend with you.

Melissa was aged eight or nine and living in South Africa when she read The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, which opened up a world within a world for her. Melissa described her delight in getting lost in a beautiful world with beautiful things; an escape from reality – a ladder appearing at the top of the tree which allows entry to lands that float by on clouds, each land with its own delights or dramas. The creatures found in the tree, like Silky, Moonface and Saucepan Man were all conjured up in Vanessa’s mind thanks to an unillustrated copy of the book. She recently  bought a copy to share with her children and was dismayed to see the characters depicted on the cover and in a way that vastly differed from her own imaginings. This made us ponder the value of illustrations within fantasy novels and how they might aid or curtail imagination. She is now looking forward to sharing The Magic Faraway Tree with her children as they become old enough.

Charmaine‘s most memorable book from childhood is a book of poetry, sent to her by her father while he was away in Germany during WW2. A little blue book with a yellow paper cover, she turned to the poems that made her laugh as “it was war time and my father was not at home”. He wasn’t much of a reader himself, but she appreciated this small volume of gentle, funny and silly poems called Curiouser and Curiouser as she feels “it started me off on the right track and I’ve been a reader ever since”.

Peter enjoyed the novel With the Eagles, a novel about the Roman Army. He felt that this book “got me going on history – I developed a love of history”, he found that a story helped to remember the chronology and the facts.

Both Graham and Lynn grew up with the Just William stories by Richmal Crompton. Graham was given a battered red covered volume by his older cousin. Knowing how much he enjoyed the books, he was then given more volumes for Christmas and birthdays. He noted how the life of William became simpler, by the last book gone are the butlers and maids as they live in a simple house as a family. He also commented that William never learns from his mistakes! Graham and Lynn subsequently called their son William.

Rosie was 11 or 12 when she read Secret Water by Arthur Ransome, a similar age to the children in the story. They are the same characters as those in Swallows and Amazons who are marooned in a dinghy by their parents with instructions to map a series of islands. Throughout the book they are mapping, using compasses to take bearings and plotting the tides. When this group of children meet another group, The Eels, there is some initial conflict. However this is resolved and they create a ‘corrobory’, a ceremony where they become a tribe, paint their bodies with mud and dance around  the fire. Rosie, who loved dinghy sailing herself, yearned to sail off and explore with a like minded group. There was something about this particular book that stirred her imagination more than other books. As an adult she went to discover the setting for the novel, near Walton-on-the-Naze.

At the age of 21, she read The Tall Ships are Sailing by Alan Rowse. This book stirred a similar sensation in her, a longing for adventure. Through the publication Mariners International she was able to make contact with tall ships looking for crews and she has since made over 20 sailings, fulfilling her childhood ambitions.

Stefan with his memorable childhood book

The most memorable childhood book for Stefan was The Last Cowboys, written and illustrated by Harry Horse. It is a humorous adventure tale told through a series of letters from Grandfather to his grandchild, a ship’s log and a diary. Stefan loved the gentle humour and humanity which, together with the witty, lively illustrations that punctuate the letters, made it so engaging for him. He also relished the shared pleasure of having the books read to him by his parents who also loved the story. He particularly loved Roo the dog and is determined to one day live with a dog called Roo himself. Stefan later found out that the author had died by his own hand which added a poignancy to his memory of the book.