‘The classic childhood books that taught me how to read’

Sep 01, 2020
The books we read as children tend to stay with us over the years. Source: Getty

Once, in the long-ago days of our early childhood, I learned to read. How? My sister was six years old, I was three. We were playing as normal, unsupervised, in the back yard, with Snowy. He was our white cat, but did not appreciate being in the pram, clad in his baby clothes.

Snowy clawed my sister, who furiously kicked him with her little red gumboots, in a tender part of his anatomy. Snowy, trailing his bonnet and tiny nightie, went over the back fence, never to be seen again.

“Sit here!” said my very cross sister. So I sat in front of her blackboard, terrified. “You are going to learn to read. This says mat, M A T. This says cat, C A T. Now read.”

“What cat?” I thought, but was not game to ask. The cat was gone and was not ever coming back to us. I started reading, scared of those little red gumboots. After that, we read a childhood classic, Milly, Molly, Mandy until the words were embedded into my brain.

When I started Bubs, as the infant grade at primary school was called, I had John and Betty read by the first week of school. Impressing my teacher, I was sent to Miss Galleon, the infant mistress, she of the twin-set and pearls. She promptly decided that I could read. I was still too scared not to. Off to Grade 1 I went, skipping the infant grade.

School years flew by with one school reader per year, a mixture of not-very-interesting stories and poetry. My sisters and I quickly made friends with our local free librarian. In upper primary, we had to memorise long verses and recite them in front of huge grades. I was painfully shy, but overcame to win second prize at reciting, My Country by Dorothea Mackellar. Another classic to shape future Australians.

Years later, I felt called to become a primary teacher. I was so quiet and studious. So, naturally, I was placed as a student teacher in Preps. I soon had to conquer any residual reticence as an instant comic song-and-dance routine for 33 five-year-olds who could not read or do maths.

One day, for book time, I was reading my grade of little ones the epic lit, Miffy goes to the Zoo. All smiles, going great. But! One junior Einstein stood up and pronounced, “This is a silly book. Miffy is a rabbit. She cannot visit animals in the zoo, she is an animal. She belongs in a cage. Rabbits do not go anywhere in buses!”

“Sit down, please,” I gulped.

“No, I have a rabbit. He lives in a cage. I’ll bring him tomorrow, you’ll see. You are a silly teacher.”

Next day, there was a real bunny in a cage in the classroom. “Seize the day!” I thought. We launched into a song, “Little Peter Rabbit has a fly upon his nose!” We made cotton wool rabbits, and I read them lots of Miffy books.

Soon the Preps were reading the Miffy books for themselves, keen on rabbits. Still hearing, “What a silly teacher!” in my brain, by the end of the year, all the Preps could read, and were promoted on to higher education.

Their very scary infant mistress was thrilled. I must say that I have been an English teacher and literacy tutor ever since! There are many different ways to teach.

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What was your favourite book as a child?

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