Angela Topping

December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Why We Need Libraries

I was born to working class parents in 1954. There wasn’t much money for books, though there was a rich oral tradition in our house, with my mum and dad and older siblings all telling me stories. There was also Listen with Mother on the radio, and when I was five, Watch with Mother on TV. But this wasn’t enough. I had an insatiable appetite for stories. My oldest brother used to tease me saying ‘I’ll tell you a story/ about Jackanory’. As soon as he reached the second phrase I knew I was cheated, as it went on ‘and now my story’s begun./ I’ll tell you another about his brother/ and now my story’s done’. I would squeal in frustration.

And so my mum took me to the library and let me get some books out. There was a small bookcase of little children’s books and once they had been read to me I could remember the story by looking at the words. Pretty soon I had taught myself to read. So from an appetite for stories I developed an appetite for books.

Once I was at school, more books were in the classroom. I ignored the teacher who said I couldn’t read because I hadn’t been to school, and read silently whenever I wasn’t expected to do things with numbers, paints or skipping ropes. I used to go to the library after school twice a week with my friends, to change our books and enjoy Storytime when a librarian would read to us from a book and show us the pictures. I could hardly breathe until I knew the Elephant’s Child was safe from the crocodile. It was here I discovered The Hobbit and took it out in a fit of pique because my class teacher had said blue and green did not go together. I had disagreed and now here was a book with blue and green on the cover. And the inside of it was just as wonderful.

During my years in the children’s library I think I read every book they had, including a shelf almost the length of the room of Tales from Other Lands, all the Andrew Lang Fairy books, and many more. The children’s librarians always made us welcome and knew our names. It was a home from home.

This is an excerpt from a longer piece published in The Robin Hood Book 2012

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