Library habit is written into life

21st April 2006 at 01:00
I was encouraged to hear on the radio recently that Jacqueline Wilson was one of the most borrowed authors from libraries last year. This suggests that a whole new generation is getting the library habit.

As a child we had few books at home. Books were a luxury. Visits to the library opened up whole new worlds to me and my library ticket was a precious passport to adventure, mystery and the wonderful world made from words. Favourite books would be borrowed again and again.

But I was dismayed to hear the presenter suggest that libraries served a useful function for children, as they grow out of their books so quickly.

My children have been lucky enough to grow up in a house almost made of books. In their early years we read picture books together, and as they grew they read them to me. They moved on to novels but I still catch them pulling favourites from the shelves and poring over the pages, revisiting much loved characters, relaxing with an old friend. I have watched them grow up through books, but never grow out of them.

Many still see picture books as tools for learning to read, books for children to amuse themselves with until they are old enough to read "proper books". But good picture books are so much more, and those of us who love books all have favourites from childhood, in the libraries of our mind if not on our shelves. For those lucky enough to have books from their own childhood to pass on to the next generation, these books become heirlooms, and hold within their pages family memories.

A really good book will grow with a child and some of the best stories are those whose meaning changes as you grow and understand and experience life.

Within the pictures and the text are often layers that come to light only through growing.

Not everyone can afford a library in their home - picture books at pound;10.99 are still a luxury. Much of our collection is gleaned from charity shops and jumble sales, where other people's memories are written into the front of the books. Ex-library books also may carry a story of many readers.

There is something very special in rediscovering an old friend. Recently I was pleased to find a copy of The Jungle Book, the same edition as the one I had borrowed again and again from Evesham library. You can grow up with books, if you are lucky, but you can never grow out of them.

Jackie Morris is a children's author and illustrator in Pembrokeshire

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