Being able to read is a wonderful gift and it opens up a world of possibilities. We have so many books to choose from according to our tastes. I have been privileged to pass on my love of books to young children in school and in the playgroup that we had in this church for thirty years, as well as to my own family.
One children’s author of yesteryear was Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) and she brought the countryside to life for many children through her books with their stories and illustrations. She called them her “little books” and she wrote about 30, but her first and arguably most famous was, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”. She observed animal behaviour closely and this is shown in her portrayal of Peter Rabbit. The little rabbit in his blue coat became a firm favourite, not least because he behaved like a typical child by not doing what his mother had instructed him! The author had travelled in Scotland and the Lake District where she painted scenes, plants, and animals. The money she earned from the sale of her books enabled her to buy property and farms in the Lake District, with the intention of bringing them back to life as working farms. After her death these were her legacy to the Lake District National Park.
There have been films made about her life and books and animal characters. She made up wonderful names such as Squirrel Nutkin, Tabitha Twitchet, Jemima Puddleduck, and one senses that these animals had become real to her. Beatrice’s upbringing had been in a privileged home but her parents did not send her to school; consequently, her companions were not other children, but pets which she observed closely and drew, so it is no wonder that she wrote books about animals.
It is interesting that lately people have been encouraged to have pets to love and care for, particularly as a source of therapy. Dogs can be trained not only to help people with disabilities but also to connect with people and children in hospital, and in care and nursing homes. This would not have been allowed not long ago. David and I were delighted last autumn, while we were visiting an old friend in a Dorchester Nursing Home, to be there when an alpaca came to visit. People were allowed to touch him to enjoy the experience of feeling his woolly coat and to look at him. He was so placid and patient, but this can also be a two-way experience. For instance, back in March it was noticed that pygmy goats at a locked-down zoo were pining because they missed interaction with the children, so the keepers made up a rota for giving them extra attention to compensate.
John Bunyan (1628 – 1688) wrote his famous book while in prison for his beliefs He was a persecuted Christian Protestant, and the book is an allegory of the Christian life. It has names in it such as the Slough of Despond, but it is quite a weighty tome to read. Another children’s author, Enid Blyton, wrote a children’s version of the book entitled “There is a Happy Land”. This lady (1897 – 1968) wrote up to about 10,000 words a day and produced over 700 books in her lifetime. Her most well-known books are the Famous Five series, the Adventure series, the Secret Seven series, The Wishing Chair, and Noddy. Many dismissed her books, and some libraries refused to stock them on the grounds that the choice of words was too limited, even so many millions of her books, both here and world-wide (in other languages, too) have been sold and her books remain popular. One of her greatest achievements is that she inspired children to read. Likewise, today (whatever you may think about her books), J.K. Rowling has a great following. Reading had become an unpopular pastime for children but, suddenly, her books inspired many children to read. The same can be said of C. S. Lewis whose book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, plus several others, have become firm favourites and these have a Christian basis.
Books are wonderful in that they can teach, amuse, entertain, instruct and inform, and most people cannot imagine a life without books. Our days in isolation this year must have encouraged much book reading.