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Category Archives: Personal essays

[Guest Post] Dr. Meg Barker on Winnie the Pooh.

EH Shepherd's Winnie the Pooh

EH Shepherd's Winnie the Pooh

I’ve asked some of my friends and favourite bloggers to write about their favourite books from childhood.  There’ll hopefully be a few posts like this – if I can convince other people to take up the challenge. If you’d like to join in, email me.

Today Dr Meg Barker, author and professional clever person, talks about character identification, relationships and getting the metaphorical jar off your head.

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Trigger warning: discussion of relationship conflict and brief mention of abusive situations.

Tigger warning: not mentioned at all, sorry Tigger.

Some of my favourite stories from childhood were the Winnie-the-Pooh collections by A. A. Milne. Particularly I remember being read these tales by my Gran when she visited. They were an important part of our relationship.

I like the fact that different family relationships are linked, in my memory, to different stories. The stories both defined the storyteller, for me, and passed on something that shapes who I am today. My other Gran made up her own stories (rather like A. A. Milne did), whilst I associate my Mum with Beatrix Potter and my Dad with Sherlock Holmes. Both of these latter figures continued to resonate through my later life, Beatrix Potter through the wonderful Bryan Talbot graphic novel about survival, The Tale of One Bad Rat, and Sherlock Holmes as the characters of Holmes and Watson provided models, for me, of what it was possible to become, and what was important in a relationship. I love seeing the ways in which these characters are reinterpreted through each new movie, story, or TV programme, all of which capture something of them however different they are. Winnie-the-Pooh, however, only seems to work for me in the original.

As a child I think I enjoyed Winnie-the-Pooh particularly because in those stories a solitary kid was able to have an exciting life and lots of great relationships. Whist the stories of Enid Blyton, for example, left me feeling lonely and different for not having a wonderful gang of friends to go off on adventures with, Christopher Robin (in the books at least) was able to manage it for himself with his toys and his imagination. Perhaps for that reason they are a good set of stories for any kid who doesn’t fit.

The stories haven’t stopped being useful to me as I’ve grown older. Rather they’ve stayed alongside me, offering me something new at each stage. With several partners the tales have been a comforting mutual place to return when life becomes scary. There can hardly be a safer place for me than curled up under a duvet with a soothing voice telling about the hundred acre wood, haycorns, and expotitions. Read the rest of this entry

[Guest Post] A.C. Wheeler talks Pinocchio

Carlos Collodi; The Adventures of Pinocchio

I’ve asked some of my friends and favourite bloggers to write about their favourite books from childhood.  There’ll hopefully be a few posts like this – if I can convince other people to take up the challenge. If you’d like to join in, email me.

Today, writer and editor A.C. Wheeler talks childhood abuse (so beware of triggers), Collodi’s Adventures of Pinocchio and a stolen library book.

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I come from an abusive childhood. It’s often the first thing I state. I don’t often state, however, that two books both confirmed and rescued me from it.

It’s funny, and I mean that in a peculiar sense, that what no one rarely mentions is in childhood how you have no sense of anything other than that you directly experienced. Kids are self-contained until they reach around age ten, and until I was eight, abuse was daily and normal. I’ve received all kinds of gasps on the reaction spectrum when I tell details. One question is the most common: how did you cope? Well, you don’t know anything else. One child has their normal, and I have mine; and you cannot go back and impart the knowledge that what is being experienced is not, to the bulk of society you’re unwittingly born into, normal.

The secret: I’m not even sure I’d want to state that to my younger self if I could, and my book is one reason why.

There is no other title, I’m afraid; no one I know has even heard of the same contents, never mind read them. I’ll tell you what I know, of course – it’s too precious for me not to – but the nitty-gritty is more accurately not-y-gritty. Still, knowledge has power. And one facet of that power is education, something that is also incredibly dear to me, and why I’m so happy to write for this blog.

I’ll explain. I had my normal, but still, I wasn’t happy with both witnessing and experiencing this continuous situation, and I wanted different – even though I wasn’t sure there could be different. So I waited for an opportunity, keeping an open mind in case the possibility arose. Words were the chance, when I found them. By age two I was reading, picking through tiny cards with words like dog and cat and book, above all book, and by age six, I was ploughing through any adult books in the house. Even better, I was left alone when I was holding a book, and so it became a surprisingly effective shield. Read the rest of this entry

The KidLit I can’t bear to part with

Van Gogh, The Novel Reader, 1888. Oil on canvas

Unsurprisingly, I have quite a large number of kids’ books. Most of them have found their way to me in the last few years, when my academic interest in the genre was piqued. Some of them, though, have been with me since I was a wee young thing myself.

The first of them, Peepo!, is thirty years old this year. I know this because my local WHSmith, inexplicably, is holding a buy-one-get-one-half-price event to honour the fact. This is not, as one might expect, an offer on all picture books, or even just picture books from the (considerable) Ahlberg catalogue, but on one book. Unless you have two children who are particularly reluctant to share, or are chronically unable to resist a bargain, seems to me entirely inexplicable. I adore Peepo!, but I cannot imagine a situation in which I would be compelled to buy two identical copies. Read the rest of this entry

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