Which book got you hooked on reading? Do you remember learning to read? For me, only the delightful pictures in my Ladybird books saved me from total boredom. “Peter is here. Jane is here.” – If this was what reading was all about, then you could keep your books and let me get back on my tricycle.
One day, of course, all this changed. I remember distinctly the book that got me hooked. It was the brilliant Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower.
Like Nona (the little girl in Rumer Godden’s story), I’d just experienced a massive upheaval in my life. If you’ve read my introduction, you’ll know I was born in Uganda. My family moved back to the UK when I was almost six, but to me, Africa was my home. My first day at school in Yorkshire was a painfully bewildering experience. When I started reading Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, I found to my utter astonishment that here was a little girl in a book who felt exactly as I did! Nona is forced to move from India to England, and she hates it and is lonely and miserable, and none of the grown-ups around her understand what she is experiencing. Rumer Godden, thank you so much for your brilliant insight! You are not the only writer to have saved my life, but you were the first.
I re-read this story recently and am amazed by the author’s ability to relate so well to a child’s total misery. The book is a very uncomfortable read for me now, but it’s a great lesson for parents not to underestimate what children feel. Reading it as a child it certainly resonated with my own sense of powerlessness. Here’s a particularly bleak passage. Nona is mailed a present of two Japanese dolls, the Miss Happiness and Miss Flower of the title, and the dolls talk to each other on their uncomfortable journey in the post:
‘Where are we now?’ asked Miss Flower. ‘Is it another country?’ ‘I think it is,’ said Miss Happiness.
‘It’s strange and cold. I can feel it through the box,’ said Miss Flower, and she cried…’I wish we had not come!’
Miss Happiness sighed and said, ‘We were not asked.’
We were not asked! How every child relates to those bleak words!
I have loved this book all my life, and have read everything else ever written by Rumer Godden. She writes books for adults, too, and I can highly recommend them. I’d love to hear which book first got you hooked on reading. Maybe it wasn’t a book associated with unhappiness, as mine was, in which case I’d be particularly interested to hear about it. Please feel free to share your experience in the comments.