‘Of all the room in the house, the Little Bookroom was yielded up to books as an untended garden is left to its flower and weeds. There was no selection or sense of order here […] The Little Bookroom gathered it itself a motley crew of strays and vagabonds, outcasts from the ordered shelves below, the overflow of parcels bought wholesale from my father in the sales rooms. Much trash, and more treasure. Riff-raff and gentlefolk and noblemen. A lottery, a lucky dip for a child who has never been forbidden to handle anything between covers.’
– Eleanor Farjeon, The Little Bookroom, 1955
Eleanor Farjeon includes a lovely author’s note at the beginning of her book of short stories for children, The Little Bookroom. The passage above is an extract. As soon as I started reading the author’s note, I knew that Eleanor Farjeon and I would get along. She talks in the author’s note, as you might have gaged from above, about a special room in her father’s house, and why it was so special to her, and how she thinks it influenced her in her life after, and her writing after.
‘No servant ever came with duster and broom to polish the dim panes through which the sunlight danced, or sweep from the floor the dust of long ago. The room would not have been the same without its dust: star-dust, gold-dust, fern-dust, the dust that returns to dust under the earth, and comes up from her lap in the shape of a hyacinth. […] When I crept out of the Little Bookroom with smarting eyes, no wonder its mottled gold-dust still danced in my brain, its silver cobwebs still clung to the corners of my mind. No wonder that many years later, when I came to write books myself, they were a muddle of fiction and fact and fantasy and truth.’
I could easily quote the entire author’s note to you – it is so magical. It made me think about how the books we read as children are so magical – they absorb us more than books ever will when we grow up, they shoot up our imagination, make us wonder, dream, excite us so. We never forget a book that enchanted us as a child – even if we can’t quite remember the title, or the author, we can remember some spark of the book that made us love it so when we read it. I love that Eleanor Farjeon writes that her writing is a ‘muddle of fiction and fact and fantasy and truth’. To me, this is exactly what a child’s reading should be like. Fiction, to make us dream; fact, to make us wonder; Fantasy, to make us create our own worlds; and truth, to make us understand our own world better.
And, when I read the rest of Eleanor Farjeon’s book, a collection of short stories as varied as they were delightful, they were exactly that – a muddle of fiction, fact, fantasy and truth.