Dubai Diaries: Of childhood literary escapades

What were your favourite books as a kid?

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Enid Grace Parker

Published: Tue 25 Jan 2022, 10:30 AM

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that the words just leaped off the page and came to life? Did you begin to visualise the story, and imagine yourself in it?

As children, books taught us about life and its mysteries in unique ways, opening our minds to different cultures, worlds and legends. The good ones gave us the gift of imagination.

I still remember bits and pieces from one of the earliest books I read (bought from a second-hand store in Karama in the 80s), a Japanese fairy tale about a magic tea-kettle. When an old man who lives high up in the mountains finds a rusty old kettle in one of his rooms, he considers himself lucky as his existing one is worn out; little does he know what enchantment lies ahead when he begins to boil water over a fire! It was the first time I came across the word ‘tanuki’ - a raccoon dog, which in Japanese legend is also a mischievous shape-shifter.

For years I kept a close watch on any tea-kettles I came across.

There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in the enchantment of a book as a child. Another one I recall vividly is The Giant’s Toys by Bronnie Cunningham, who also wrote among other stories The Very Long Beard, The Magic Balloon and The Blue Banana. Most of these gems (published under Hamlyn Robin Books) are out of print now and difficult to source.

I borrowed The Giant’s Toys (featuring on its cover a rather gentle-looking giant gazing with wonder at a tiny blue helicopter) from the ‘junior’ library of The Indian High School, again sometime in the 80s; students from the era may recall that this was a corner classroom filled with great titles for children.

I think one of the main reasons why The Giant’s Toys remains fresh in my mind is the associated memory of our librarian/teacher wagging her finger at me for being tardy about returning the book. That experience taught me an important lesson - I’m now very punctual and expect the same courtesy from borrowers!

What column on childhood literary escapades would be complete without a mention of Enid Blyton? I’ve always counted The Enchanted Wood, The Magic Faraway Tree and The Adventures of the Wishing Chair among my favourites when I wish to be transported to some amazing otherworldly place.

But Blyton was also prolific when it came to writing about the real world through the eyes of a child, whether it was kids setting out to be detectives and solving mysteries (The Famous Five, The Secret Seven), boarding school life (the Malory Towers and St. Clare’s series) or in many other scenarios.

And despite almost all of these stories being set in England in the early part of the 20th century, I (who grew up in Dubai) found myself strongly relating to them and being greatly inspired by them. What are some of your favourite books from childhood? Did you fancy a ‘midnight feast’ in a boarding school or imagine yourself a mystery-solver?

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