Remember that book?

Aug 8, 2012 by

Do you remember that book?  The one with the story that grabbed your attention and wouldn’t let go?  The one with the characters who came to life and invited you into their world so you could share their adventures?  The one you didn’t want to finish in case you never found another book like it again?

The book that started you reading for pleasure.

I remember mine as clearly as if I had found it yesterday.  It was 1977 (or thereabouts), and my family was on holiday at my granddad’s caravan in North Wales.  The weather, as you might expect, wasn’t up to much and so I spent a good part of the holiday sitting inside, listening to the rain patter on the metal roof, and reading.

At that age (around 10 or 11), I was into mystery books.  I’d read and enjoyed much of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven series – but the adventures, while fun to read – didn’t have any real connection with my own life.  I wasn’t zipping off to stay with my Aunt and Uncle for the summer.  I didn’t nip round to the kitchen to have Cook pack me up a smashing picnic with great slabs of meat pie.  And at no point did I ever stop my bicycle at a dairy which sold wizard ice creams.

I was sitting in a rain-soaked caravan near Rhyl with a glass of weak orange squash, a rapidly melting Club biscuit and a tattered library book.

Then, during a brief break in the bad weather, I ran to the small campsite shop to buy some sweets, and spotted a book on the wire rack near the door: Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot by Robert Arthur.  Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  And I admit that it was the unusual title that first attracted my attention, so I bought the book with my pocket money and hurried back to my corner of the caravan to read.

Wow!  Just wow!  Here was a mystery like no other.  A race against the clock to find a piece of  buried art – with the only clues to its whereabouts being held by a handful of parrots!  And the three heroes – Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews – had been hired by the famous film director, Alfred Hitchcock, to solve the case!  WOW!

OK, these characters still weren’t exactly like me – but they were a whole lot closer than Julian, Dick or Timmy the dog would ever be.  They solved mysteries using research, logic and reason.  AND their secret hideout was a caravan (albeit one buried beneath scrap metal in Jupiter’s uncle’s scrap yard).

I’m getting goose bumps now as I remember how I devoured that book, and then tracked down every other title in the series as soon as I got back home.  In fact, I’ve got my web browser open at a site which has a copy in stock right now, and I’m going to click ‘Buy’ as soon as I’ve finished writing this article.  35 years later, and the book is still having that effect on me.

Tell us about your book in the comments below.

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  1. Great article. There were two books that got me really excited back in primary school, and really turned me on to reading.

    The first was Wagstaffe, the Wind-Up Boy by Jan Needle. I got it from the library on a trip with the school and must’ve read it a dozen times in the week I had it out.

    The second was The Reluctant Vampire by Eric Morecambe (of Morecambe and Wise fame). Another one from the library that I read over and over again, and which made me laugh out loud at least once a page.

    I can trace my love of comedy fiction to those two books, and they’ve been a huge inspiration in what I write myself.

  2. For me it would be a three way toss up between Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish, My Friend Walter and another book which I cannot for the life of me remember the name of. It was about a young boy and a massive dog that he used to go and visit after school. I know nothing else except that I read it almost monthly! If anyone knows what the book is I’d love to be reminded!

  3. I don’t remember which one really got me into reading but I know I grew up in a house with a full set of Asterix books. I can remember reading them by reading the pictures. Perhaps this is why I’ve got usually got my eye on more unusual stories than literary and acclaimed ones?

    I’ve never understood the snobbish attitude I get sometimes when people deem a book to have too many illustrations in it. I just don’t understand that reasoning – as well as Asterix, when I was young my dad bought a load of Mary Plain books by Gwynedd Rae out of the local library during a sale. She’s a little bear from the bear pits in Berne who often left little notes written half in words and half using pictograms for her beloved Owl Man. I loved deciphering those notes and she certainly became real to me though them, as did the Owl Man with his spectacles, the Fur Coat Lady and Bill. I’ve loved bears ever since thanks to those smudgy little illustrations and I got years of pleasure out of Mary Plain and her adventures. Modern picturebooks too can say so much more with one picture than a full paragraph of words, it never fails to amaze me when I’m reading and reviewing them.

    I don’t pick books solely for their illustrations of course, but I do know that various illustrated books have shaped my reading habits and preferences in the past, both as an adult and as a child. I don’t get on well with great literary masterpieces or books by legendary wordsmiths, but I’m just fine with books of your quirkier variety or ones that can really build up characters and places until I have a good mental illustration 🙂

    • Barry

      You’re so right on there being a snobbery when it comes to books with pictures. A certain type of picture book seems to be considered acceptable, but anything else is seen by many as juvenile. Graphic novels and comics have been tarred with that brush for decades over here, although they’re accepted much more in other countries like the US and France.

      Asterix (which gets a mention in issue 2 of Start the Story) contains some of the best “funny stuff” ever written, in my opinion, but because it’s a comic a lot of people won’t go near it. Their loss.

      • Absolutely. Was a big fan of Asterix (although Obelix was my favourite). And the Tintin books rank among the best adventure stories ever written.

        • Tintin was lucky it had a film and had a little mini-comeback. I was a Cacofonix fan for years until I came back to Asterix 🙂 I think I just felt sorry for the poor begger (that and I loved all those ‘Don’t you DARE!’ glares he got from Fulliautomatix). It’s funny though – I go back to them and the things are SUCH products of their time. I never even realised until a few years ago what half the stereotypes were meant to be, but it does leave me wondering how on Earth those stereotypes came about in the first place. True, some of them are borderline, if not completely over the line, racist, but it gives the Historian in me something to mull over. So they’re still giving me something to think on 20 odd years after I first opened them!

          I did a PGCE course a few years ago now and I remember one teacher telling me that some picturebooks are meant for much older readers. Books like The Wolves in the Wall by Neil Gaiman for example could easily be for older primary school children, or the ever popular The Real Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Sciezka, which you surely get the most out of when you’re in upper primary or maybe even lower secondary? Emily Gravett is a FAVE of mine with Blue Chameleon – words can’t describe how dejected that poor lizard looks when nothing he apes is a companion for him. Why is it taking so long for everyone else to realise how incredible pictures can be?! Perhaps I should shout louder?

          One of the biggest Book Principles I have is that you should always read what you enjoy. Whenever I recommend, I always try to make sure that the principal thing is if a child will enjoy it, not how good the book will be for them ‘because it doesn’t have pictures in it like Wimpy Kid’. That’s not what reading is about.

          Annnnd off the soapbox 🙂

  4. Man, I read a lot of books as a kid – I mean, HUNDREDS. I was a speed-reading bookworm, that’s for sure. I fondly remember reading every ‘GOOSEBUMPS’ books (at the time, that is – roughly 50 or so) by RL Stine. A few memorable and personal faves were ‘THE HAUNTED MASK’, ‘NIGHT OF THE LIVING DUMMY’, and ‘IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SINK’. But, really, it was hard to find a bad one…

    But the earliest book to make me sit up and take notice of the potential power if books had to be ‘THE IRON MAN’ by Ted Hughes. Here was a book that not only had a giant robot in it that fought a space monster, but it started with the Ion Man jumping off a cliff, smashing himself to bits… Then pulling himself back together! I’ve never been so mesmerised by an opening chapter…


  5. The first book that I can remember being completely captivated by, I found in a dusty second hand bookshop (remember them?) in Norfolk. I was accompanying my parents and brother on their annual holiday in the rain.
    I think it was also the first book I bought with my own money – the first time I valued literature over mojos, blackjacks and flying saucers. It was called ‘The Lord of the Sharks’ and was by Italian marine biologist, Franco Prosperi.
    It was the story of his shoe-string post-graduate research trip in the 1950s with a few friends to the tropics to study sharks. They had a seemingly endless variety of adventures from the curious and idyllic to breathtaking and life-threatening. It seemed so far from a wet week in Norfolk!
    It was also the first time that I realised ‘ordinary people’ like me could have adventures. You didn’t have to be Biggles or Alan Quartermain. I wanted to be a marine biologist for years afterwards!

  6. I LOVE the 3 investigators!!! I have a stack of them still (I’m not sure if it’s all of them) in the garage. Although, the first book that got me reading was The Scarlet Pimpernel. It belonged to my older sister and it was just lying around the house. Later on, I inherited her collection of 3 investigators and some others.

  7. Emma Ryal

    I have memories on my mum reading me the Hobbit sat in the hall way with the door open during a summer storm. The books that really got me hooked though were Margaret Storey books about Timothy, Ellen and Melinda. I sat on the little chairs in the library, opened the book, and was There. Currently, I am trying to complete my collection (without breaking the bank) so I can read them to my son.
    One major advantage I had were a number of amazing librarians, without whom I would never have read Sax Rohmer, James Herbert and so many more.

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