My Lockdown Books: Seven

The first books I seriously set about collecting were the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer.  I acquired the first one (actually the seventeenth in a series of fifty eight) when I was eight.  It took me until I was twenty five to complete my collection.  In the early days, Mum found many of them for me and they became birthday and Christmas presents.  Although they hadn’t reached the ridiculous heights of their value in my early collecting days, they were still expensive enough for a family on a limited budget.

My best Chalet School collecting story comes from when I was around ten.  We were driving back to Lossiemouth, having (I think) visited my grandparents in Musselburgh.  We stopped en route in St Andrews and came across a secondhand bookshop near the golf course.  Naturally we went in and I discovered two Chalet books I didn’t have: Althea Joins the Chalet School and Prefects of the Chalet School, the final two in the series.  I still had holiday money left, just enough to cover the cost of both of them.  I swithered and swithered, doubtless driving everyone concerned crazy, and eventually decided to buy both.  I’m very glad I did as, only a few years later, I saw these books on sale at £350 each.  I had paid a total of 70p!

I have chosen Jo Returns to the Chalet School as today’s book.  It’s one of the early titles and is set in inter-war Austria in the fictionalised (and renamed) Pertisau-am-Achensee.  The first fourteen titles, set primarily in Pertisau, are my favourites, partly because of their setting and partly because I think they’re better books than most of the later ones.  I often cite Jo Returns as one of my favourite books in the series but sometimes I think it’s because of the wonderful dustwrapper and plates by the artist Nina K Brisley.

How it all began

I’ve been reading and collecting children’s books ever since I could read.  My parents started me off before I can remember and I’ve just kept on going.  I have very faint memories of going regularly to Thin’s in Edinburgh with my Dad after my sister was born.  We went by bus and the family story goes that we always sat upstairs at the front.  Apparently, it was a big event in my life!

I was introduced to libraries at an early age too.  My vaguest memories are of Portobello Library in Edinburgh.  Lodged at the back of my memory is a book about Angus and a cat.  I think Angus was a dog but neither Mum nor I could ever remember any more than that.  I haven’t been back to Portobello Library since we moved from Edinburgh but I’m sure they no longer have the book.

I have clearer memories of my next library: the Ewart in Dumfries.  I have been back there recently and it’s completely different now but my memories are of a somewhat forbidding place.  I expect the shelves were quite high and of dark wood and I have the idea that the windows were high too.  My clearest memory, though, is of discovering a beautifully illustrated edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses.  I loved that book and borrowed it incessantly.  In the end, my parents bought me my own copy.  I still have it and I can still recite many of the poems!

My last childhood library was in Lossiemouth in Moray.  It was the first library I went to on my own.  It was at the far end of the (fairly long) street on which we lived and I would often go there after school.  I have pretty clear memories of Lossiemouth Library and some of the books I found there.  It was there that I first stumbled across some book prize called the Carnegie Medal.  I saw an impression of the medal on the front cover of The Edge of the Cloud by KM Peyton and thought that it looked very impressive.  Later it dawned on me that the prize had also been won by Arthur Ransome for Pigeon Post, a book I’d read earlier in my life.

That’s how it all started.  So it seems that my parents and public libraries are to blame for my bowing bookshelves and creaking floorboards.  My parents continued to buy me books all their lives (and I inherited many of theirs) and scarcely a week has gone past without my visiting a library.  I’ve never lost my enjoyment of children’s books and I don’t expect I ever will – although I may be forced to stop collecting them unless I buy a bigger house!