Love stories

10th May 2013 at 01:00

I was fascinated by the recent TES survey of teachers' 100 favourite books ("Shelf assessment", 5 April). I was surprised to find that I had read 83 of them, so my reading habits must have much in common with those of my colleagues.

I've always loved books. Our home is full of them and I would rather build another bookshelf than get rid of any. They are my personal history and I can remember where, when and why I bought them. As a principal, I was convinced that a love of reading was paramount for children, and whatever fashionable technical wizardry students were exposed to, I still wanted them to experience the sheer pleasure of a book.

I remember being thrilled by the stories my mother read to me when I was young: the joyful and insane logic of Winnie-the-Pooh; the thrilling Peter Pan; the horror of Tom the chimney sweep, trapped in a chimney and then finding happiness in The Water-Babies. Then, at infant school, I listened in delight to Babar the Elephant's adventures and squirmed at the unbearable tension of Pinocchio. Cleverly, the teacher always finished on a cliffhanger; I couldn't wait to get back to school the next day to find out how Pinocchio extricated himself from yet another life-threatening situation.

Junior school introduced me to Narnia, to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and to Old Peter's Russian Tales, filled with tree-throwing giants, princes undertaking impossible tasks and a young maiden using all her wits to escape from Baba Yaga, the iron-toothed witch. When I moved up to secondary school, I was lucky enough to have several teachers who loved reading and wanted to share its pleasure with us. One adored ghost stories, another introduced us to adventure yarns and spy stories, and a third decided to pitch a little higher and read us extracts from Dickens. Once I had heard the tale of Scrooge I was hooked, and quickly moved on to David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

My other stroke of reading fortune came from belonging to the Scouts. The youth group was run by Mark, a delightfully zany and imaginative teacher whose knowledge of books, writers and literature in general was astonishing. My reading until then had been pretty scattershot but Mark brought order to my adventures in the written word, recommending books, poetry and plays from each era that he felt were essential reading. I absorbed his recommendations like a sponge, and his love of teaching convinced me that it was the right career for me, too.

At teacher training college, English literature was my main study subject, and again I found a lecturer who seemed to spend every spare hour reading. When she wasn't discoursing on the depths of D.H. Lawrence or the metaphysical poets, she was pointing us in the direction of stuff that was simply a good read: William Golding, John Steinbeck, M.R. James.

And now, in retirement, I have a massive library and have discovered the joy of writing my own books, too. I've passed on the pleasure of literature to both my daughters and I can't wait to do the same for my grandson.

Mike Kent is a retired headteacher of a school for children aged 4-11 in England. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.

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