I absolutely love kids books! I loved them as a kid, and I still love them now. Sometimes I think they’re better than the grown up ones!

Working as a Beanstalk volunteer I get to read kids books all the time, and with so many fantastic books to choose from, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. As a child, my parents dropped me and my sister off at the library every Saturday morning where the decision about which books to select was our delightful weekly quandary! The only thing better was bouncing into Woolworths for the pick and mix. There is something about the strange and uncertain times of 2020 that has brought out my nostalgic side, and I have found myself revisiting some of my own childhood favourite books... perhaps with the odd cola cube on the side.

One barmy hot evening in the middle of the first lockdown, after we had been out clapping the NHS, a neighbour said she’d love to re-read ‘Little Women’ again, having last read it as a child. She couldn't put her finger on it, but it was something to do with how the lockdown had made her feel.

It inspired me to dig out and dust off my absolute childhood favourite ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Would I still feel the same about this book all these years later? As my school friends will testify, I was bordering on the obsessive! I suspected that it may no longer seem as relevant as it did then.

I was surprised and delighted to find that this book had not lost any of its meaning or charm over the years, if anything Anne’s outlook on life is positively de rigueur. I would hail her as an early advocate of mindfulness 100 years before the term was in common parlance as it is today!

Despite the adversity that Anne has endured in her early life as an orphan, her basic ethos of positive thinking, moving on from past mistakes and throwing herself wholeheartedly into all that she does, resonates strongly with modern day cognitive behavioural therapies.

Anne’s past experiences of life and loneliness mean that her expectations are low, and her response is to fully appreciate everything life has to offer.

Some themes of this book seem somehow relevant to the current situation. The widespread loneliness and hardships of the lockdowns are all too familiar, and finding the positives, can at times be difficult for everyone. But many of us have come to fully treasure meeting a local friend for a walk or doing a zoom call with old school chums. Some of us have appreciated some aspect of nature nearby, previously unseen or unnoticed. New eyes for old things that we previously took for granted. A bit like in another of my favourite books ‘The Wind in the Willows’, when Mole first makes it out from ‘the seclusion of the cellarage’ and is filled with excitement for the new world of life on the river with Rat!

I never go to a Beanstalk session without at least one Roald Dahl book in my bag, again this partly dates back to my own childhood passion. Their fantastic, colourful Quentin Blake illustrations are the best and I have found them available to order through the library. They are timeless classics with mass appeal.

So what is it about these stories that makes them so special? I think part of it must be that we feel like we know the characters and situations within them. They speak to us with a familiar tone and are all wrapped up with Dahl’s inestimable humour. It is this ability of authors to reach out to us as readers that is fundamental to the escapism of reading, allowing us to be fully immersed in the world of the book. And the certainty of returning to these worlds at a time full of uncertainty in the real world, well it is pure gold, a happy place!

Perhaps in all the madness and the chaos of the outside world currently, we are all searching for something stable, a solid pillar to lean up against. Some ballast in amongst the shifting sands. Just like with old friends, or old music, or old films, there is something incredibly reliable and comforting about returning to an old book in troubled times. And as with old friends, when you reconnect, you often find that the reason that there was something special is unflinching, the core of that connection remains unchanged.

So if you have the time and the inclination amidst all this craziness, I can thoroughly recommend making a nice cup of tea, curling up in a cosy corner and taking a trip down memory lane with your own favourite childhood book. You might perceive some new aspect of the story previously missed, or you might be simply transported back to childhood. But whatever happens, the wisdom and comfort of those old words will most likely be unwavering and remind us of the special place we would ultimately like all our Beanstalk readers to discover.
Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to track down my old friend Edith Nesbit, as there is a certain Phoenix and a carpet I must catch...