Friday, 17 June 2011

Many happy returns

Today is my oldest daughter’s “golden” birthday:
She is seventeen on the 17th of June.

We moved to England when I was 7 months pregnant with Rebecca, and I remember, so vividly, that last long week of waiting . . . and how the days seemed to be suspended, caught in amber, dragged out into long golden twilight.

I remember feeling really impatient to know what this unknown person was going to be like . . . and the answer was smart, strong, fierce, quick-witted, opinionated, stubborn and charming. She looked like her father; still does, but never more so than the moment she was born. She was quick to walk, to talk, to read. She was impatient and bossy – but with an endearing giggle, and an unexpected tender side. I hardly remember life before her, and I’m amazed at how quickly the years of her childhood have gone by; how clich├ęd is that?

At this time of year, I’m always really conscious of the fact that we are climbing ever nearer to the summer solstice. Does anyone else feel slightly melancholy when we tip over to the other side -- and the days begin to gradually diminish?

And now, as my oldest daughter nears adulthood, I think about how we are nearing some sort of zenith – but a kind of falling-off point, too. And unlike the seasons, my daughter’s childhood won’t come around again. That funny little person – my little Beccalou, who always had her nose in a book – is just a snapshot now.

In a week, my daughter will be going to Ghana – and who knows how that challenge will change her? Later on this summer, she will experience job internships, university applications, a trip to Cyprus, a long weekend at the Reading Festival. Solo adventures, all. Not unaccompanied, but unaccompanied by me. I’m happy for her, and delighted by her growing confidence and sense of her own powers. There is nothing, at seventeen, but a world of possibility . . . and mothers need to make way and step aside. (But she knows where to find me!)

Happy Birthday, Rebecca! And many happy returns

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Best of show

Despite the intermittent rain, June is bustin' out all over here in our little West Berkshire corner of England.
May is usually my busiest gardening month of the year, but this spring I've been resting on my laurels.  Except for a frequent circuit with the watering can, and very occasional weeding, I've let well enough alone . . . and my roses and peonies have rewarded me anyway. 

I spent most of May sowing a different kind of seed, and it's kept me so occupied that I've had little time for gardening, blogging or anything else.  (Like my generous roses, I hope you will excuse my neglect.)

As a brief explanation:  last September, I organised a Book Club for my youngest daughter and her friends.  This venture has mushroomed into several new book-related projects which started in April:  another Book Club, for 11 year olds this time, and two reading classes.  All of a sudden, I've been given free rein to develop what amounts to three different reading lists -- and not just for this spring, but for next year, too.  Reading for pleasure, reading for enrichment, reading to encourage more reading:  these are my only imperatives. 

It's a dream job for me, really.  As one of my best friends said yesterday, "You get to read all day and justify it as WORK."  Yes; exactly.

But it's a responsibility, too, and I really want to get it right.  I've always thought of the age of 11 as one of the golden ages of reading.  It's the age of unconscious delight -- of really getting lost in a book.  Most readers are outgrowing predictable texts and series books and discovering books with much more emotional and intellectual richness.  In England, at least, it's the age before cell phones and social networking -- and thus maybe the last, or at least the best, chance of turning a child into an avid reader.

I've often talked about book-love in this space, and it has been gratifying to realise that my blog-friends are a bookish bunch.  I can't resist, then, asking for some recommendations. 

What books (classics or contemporary; British or American) did you love best when you were 11, 12 or 13?  What books have your children or students loved best?