Books from the heart


On Tuesday night I was one of five authors that spoke at CYL’s first Booktalker event for 2008. The topic was Under the Influence so we were asked about our influences – both literary and otherwise. Under instruction from Mike Shuttleworth, who facilitated the panels, I hadn’t done any particular preparation except to think about all the books that had shaped my childhood reading.

Influences can come from so many directions, it’s hard for me to nail one book of significance but the little booklet on the left shaped me more than I knew at the time. ‘Books for Children’ was published by the Victorian Branch of the CBCA in 1966. My mother probably picked it up from Magic Casements bookshop in Brighton, the same shop after which this blog is named. So many of my favourite childhood novels were purchased from that shop both by mother and by me with my hoarded pocket money.

I didn’t know my mother was secretly consulting ‘Books for Children’ at Christmas and birthdays until after she died. I came across the skinny blue booklet when I was clearing out her desk. It was very moving to flick through the pages and see the lists and the titles of so many of my childhood favourites and imagine my mother doing the same. I no longer own all of the books she gave me but I remember them vividly, right down to the illustrations and covers.

The booklet listed few Australian titles but my mother still managed to track down a good assortment of Australian children’s fiction and I still own hardback copies of Lilith Norman’s Climb a Lonely Hill and Hesba Brinsmead’s Pastures of the Blue Crane. In hindsight, even though these books affected me deeply at the time, I was prejudiced against them. Naively, I imagined really important books were always set in England or America. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things – especially about Australian children’s literature. I remember with great fondness many of the English, European and American children’s books that I read, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve been surprised to discover how firmly embedded the Australian books are in my memory. Two books which I no longer own are Colin Thiele’s Fire in the Stone and Ivan Southall’s Ash Road. Yet it’s uncanny how much about them I remember – right down to where I sat when I read them.

One of the other writers speaking on Tuesday, Tim Pegler, talked about how affected he was as a child by Southall’s To the Wild Sky. He told a deeply moving anecdote about the impact Southall’s writing had on his development as a writer. I hope he writes a blog about it some day because it was a beautiful affirmation of the importance of writing for young people and how writing that speaks to the heart stays with you for a lifetime.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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