When I was a girl, I was horse-mad. I know, cliché, but very true. Unlike many infatuated, however, I was lucky enough to actually have one (Dellah), who was the most gorgeous, magical thing and the centre of my universe for many childhood years. I might talk more about her later, but for now I want to make links into childhood reading (bear with me).
One of the products of my voracious interest in horses was that I had mad interest in books containing horses, however peripherally (unicorns were close enough). I read fiction and non-fiction (including histories, anatomy, etc.) and when my parents took me to the library in Cleveland, I'd search 'horse' or variants thereof. This way, I read Elyne Mitchell's Silver Brumby (and all its sequels), Bonnie Bryant's The Saddle Club (my substitute for The Babysitter's Club, in which I had limited interest ... but she did write Me and Katie, the Pest which met my approval for its horsey content), and Patricia Leitch's Jinny series (oh, the gorgeous combination of celtic flavoured magic and a girl with her horse). It didn't stop there. Black Beauty, Penny Pollard, Walter Farley's Black Stallion (and all its sequels), even American tales like My Friend Flicka (and its sequels). And those are just the ones I can remember. I would devour these books, and imagine their plot lines when I was out riding trails. It was the most glorious ground for my imagination.
Obviously, this obsession was plainly obvious, and when in Year 5, a teacher decided enough was enough and took me aside after class. It wasn't good to read all these things with the same theme. Why didn't I read something else? he said. How about a 'choose your own adventure' book?
I can still remember the sense of shame I had during and after this conversation. As a ten year old child, it was the first time I was made aware of how I chose my books, and that an adult did not approve my interest. I was the kind of child who had great sensitivity to what others thought of me, and my enthusiasm for reading, for any reading, crashed.
I struggled afterwards. It was a difficult period for reading. I'd always had problems when the school brought out its latest reading challenge (where we had to write down all the books we'd read), because I always felt pushed to read fast and many, which held no enjoyment (I can even remember forging my mum's signature on one program where we had to get our parents to sign off what we'd read). After this no-more-horse-books event, I felt as though my reading went underground, and it wasn't in a nice, guilty pleasure way.
Eventually, many years later as an adult and having learned that others don't always approve of your choices in music, books or movies, I returned to regular reading, and it is one of life's great pleasures. I can appreciate now that I was reading at a level far above what my teacher was suggesting I aim for; I can see the silliness in how I reacted back then. But still, I was a kid, and that's what happened. As a result, I remain curious about how other people found their school reading programs and childhood reading influences – whether it caused them to read more, or less, or put expectations around their reading they hadn't been aware of. Feel free to comment.