To the people who made books live for me…


This is a tribute to those people who helped spark my love of books by reading aloud to me.

Pile of Books @ Windham library

Pile of Books @ Windham library

First and foremost – my granny. She read aloud really well, having a beautiful, deep voice slightly roughened by smoking. I vividly recall her reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green and Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, sitting on the end of my bed as part of the bedtime routine, when she came to stay while we were living in Zambia. I can close my eyes, feel the slight pressure of the bedsheets tugging and hear her husky voice as I listened spellbound with the cool night air and the crickets sawing in the background. I could have listened to her all night…

I was also lucky enough to have a number of teachers who read aloud to our class. Mrs Parry read us stories about the Greek myths from a huge, foxed book that had me combing the library looking for more stories like those ones – and stumbling across an edition with some fairly graphic illustrations, when aged eight.

Miss Allson read The Pearl by John Steinbeck and I recall struggling not to cry when we reached the passage involving poor little Coyotito near the end. It was the first time I recall a story that so starkly examined racism and the sheer unfairness of poverty.

On a much lighter note, Miss Jorden read us the wonderful stories featuring Don Camillo, the hot-headed village priest and his regular run-ins with the equally hot-headed mayor Peppone, written by Giovannino Guareschi. I managed to get hold of these books years later and although I enjoyed the TV series, I still far prefer the ironic tone of the books. I, again, can close my eyes and hear Miss Jordon’s gentle voice pattering around the room on a sleepy afternoon and smell the classroom scents of chalkdust, ink and learning.

Mr Crawford read Animal Farm by George Orwell to us and a selection of poetry, which he recited beautifully, managing to imbue the likes of Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ and ‘Roman Wall Blues’ by W.H. Auden with passion and understanding.

I recall being entranced by Mrs Jefford’s rendition of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth, furiously drawing black and white doodles as I drank in every word… I don’t know if teachers regularly read aloud to children older than eleven, these days. I hope they do.

So I want to voice my gratitude to all the adults who read aloud to me all those years ago. Although I was one of those children who effortlessly learnt to read at a very early age, it mattered to hear other people read aloud to me, opening me up to literature I probably would never have otherwise encountered. Thank you…

I have always made an effort to pass on the baton, having read to both my children until they got to a point they’d rather I didn’t. And now I read aloud, sometimes until my voice goes, to both grandchildren who love listening to all sorts of adventure stories.

Who read to you when you were a child? What did they read? Do you read aloud to anyone in your life? I’d love to hear from you…

8 responses »

  1. This was lovely to read. I so wish I had been read to as a child, it would have been heaven to me; unfortunately my parents weren’t that way; I guess that’s why I learnt to read so early. My last teacher at primary school read ‘Emil and the Detectives’ to us in my very last year, and it stuck with me forever. That was when I really started writing stories properly – well, as properly as a 10-year-old could. Very recently re-read ‘Emil,’ unfortunately now dated, but it did bring back some lovely memories of Mr Hilliard reading aloud – an ex-would-be-thespian, he was good; now sadly passed.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment, Della – I’m glad you enjoyed it. My parents didn’t read much to me, either. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve been so very grateful for all those teachers who read to us. And the majority were during our secondary school. I think it’s so very important.

  2. Awwww. I love the idea behind this post, Sarah. And how you still clearly remember your grandmother reading to you in Africa. I felt like I was there too. 🙂

    What’s really weird is I can’t recall who read to me when I was little. I’m sure my parents and my paternal grandmother did, but I don’t remember when or what they read to me. My memory on this only goes back as far as my “tween” years, and by then I was reading on my own…

    • That’s interesting! I suspect most of us were read to when we were very little, so perhaps we don’t remember. I do vividly these wonderful people, though. It’s a lovely memory, so I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.

  3. Wow..The first person who read to me aloud was Mrs. Roseline, my grade one teacher, stories for little children by Margaret Okot, I was little then but I cant forget her, I still visit her and I recently gave her a copy of my poetry book. She was overwhelmed. then came my Mum, may her soul rest in Peace. She even bought a small chalkboard but i can’t remember her writing anything on it . I can still recall her voice. She must have been a talented narrator although i was so wordy and ended up reading most of the stories…In high school I did Shamba La Wanyama the Swahili version of Animal Farm as a set-book. Mr. Saisi read part of it aloud as well as my classmates and it was so lovely…I think the book made me the poet I am…Teacher Rose, 18 years later and she is still part of me, the rest are still green in my mind…lovely people

      • Yes, on Sundays (The Bible) but I admit not so much for now. I taught upper classes in St. Joseph Lumino and Lord Egerton academy before I joined University in 2013. I taught English, drama and poetry. with that reading aloud was not a choice but I cherished in that opportunity. If someone asks me to read out aloud now I will be on the Content without a second guess…But with digital world taking over Kenyan’s children mind like a sudden storm, I am not optimistic of anyone asking me to do so soon….though am looking forward to it

      • While ebooks are a boon in many ways, I profoundly hope parents and teachers don’t think that they can possibly replace the magic that happens when listening to one human reading aloud to another…

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