Thursday, August 22, 2013

Childhood reading

One of the advantages of my e-reader is that I can download a lot of out of copyright material and that's what I've done with some of the books I used to love as a child but had somehow mislaid over the years. I have done that with Susan Coolidge's Katy novels. WHAT KATY DID AT SCHOOL is still on my shelves and I have reread it now and again, but it was years since I had read WHAT KATY DID or WHAT KATY DID NEXT and I'd never read the later ones in the sequence. Well, now I have and there's a special interest in reading them again as an adult and being conscious of their historical context. It's interesting in itself that books written for children over a hundred years before were considered suitable reading for me as a child in the sixties. I certainly can't imagine my own daughters enjoying them. The Katy novels are very much in the mould of LITTLE WOMEN which had come out a few years before in the 1860s, and Charlotte M Yonge's family stories were no doubt an influence too, but I have to say that they are not nearly as good as either. They are distinctly preachy and the characters are not as fully developed. After her initial feistiness and disobedience is punished by a fall from a swing which injures her spine, Katy is really a bit too good to be true and it doesn't seem to occur to anyone that the girls in the family might do anything but keep house. Having said that, I did enjoy reading them. They give a fascinating picture of family life and social life in the US of the 1860s and they still retain some of the charm of childhood associations. When I'm very tired or not feeling great, the old childhood favourites - or maybe an Agatha Christie - are the books I reach for.

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