When I was young I would visit my Aunty Win and Uncle Wes a great deal. I loved them both. Uncle Wes seemed a giant of a man with hands like shovels. Aunty Win used to knit until artheritis bent her hands so that she could not hold the weight of wool. She tried to teach me to knit and I would watch her threading a single strand into intricate patterns of arran, but though she was patient, try as she might to teach me, the secret of how to knit evaded me.
When I was young I struggled to learn to read. I could read, but slowly. Words would jump around and I failed to catch and hold them. I would borrow books from the library, pretend to read them and take them back. School could be tricky sometimes. I still remember being given The Grapes of Wrath to read when I was about 14. I was supposed to read it then talk about the book for 5 minutes in front of class. The book was dirty, the type so close together, pages thin as tissue so the type came thrugh from the other side. And I was 14. I did try, but found the dense labyrinth of type on the pages inpenetrable. So when it came to do my talk, instead of saying, I tried but I really couldn't read this book but couldn't I made up some nonsense about it being boring. What followed next could have put me off books for life.
I wasn't by any means a bad child at school. I was one of the invisible ones who kept their heads down and got on with work. So to be torn off a strip and shamed infront of the class to the point of tears was awful.
Anyway, one day I saw a knitting pattern for a fairisle jumper. I wanted the jumper and I taught myself to knit, not just with one colour but with many.
And I wanted stories. I think the first 'big book' I read was Call of the Wild. I found that if I held a postcard beneath the lines I was reading it would keep them still on the page. One line after the next until I was lost in a wild wilderness. I still do this when I am tired. And now I read and write though it has taken me years to say, when people ask me what I do, that I illustrate and write books.
So in some way this explanes how I got to be 48 before I read To Kill a Mocking Bird. I heard Meg Rossof talking about the book on Radio 4 and bought a copy, partly because I have always been intrigued as to why it is called To Kill a Mocking Bird. What a piece of perfection it is as a book. I still don't understand the title. I don't believe that the mocking bird is Tom Robinson. More likely it is Boo Radley. Or perhaps it is the incocent trust that children have in adults to do the right thing, always. Whatever, the observation, the telling of a tale, the characters within the book, 50 years after publication sing as true as ever. I wonder, were the book marked with an 'age banding' as publishers wanted to do recently, would it have survived for so long?
I still can't read Steinbeck. Maybe one day. And I do believe that it is a sin to kill a mocking bird.