There once was a boy called Tashi.Do you remember what it was that made you a reader? For me it was Enid Blyton's Secret Seven. Oh my! I just loved Janet and Peter, George and Jack, Barbara, Pam and Colin. And Scamper the dog, of course - it just wouldn't be Enid Blyton without the dog.
He was daring and clever...
Tricky and bold.
He told the best stories...
of sly genies, wicked barons, fire-breathing dragons and more.
I fantasised about having a secret society of my own. For a while I even ran one. My long suffering cousin Bronwen was the other member. Bronwen was two weeks younger than me, and that made me her elder and therefore her superior.
Together we did all the things that you're supposed to do in secret societies. We had a Blytonesque name - The Terrific Two, of course. We had a password - ME666 (my mother's old numberplate which was mounted on the wall of the clubhouse) and yes, we had one of those too - my Dad's shed. We even had a uniform - matching dresses that had originally belonged to our twin cousins (we were both in the hand-me-down line and often wore matching clothes with much more delight than the original owners had). I can't remember what we actually did during our meetings, only I do remember that we ate chocolate and drank soft drink. The food store encouraged invasions of bull ants on more than one occasion, I recall, and the soft drink was often flat and was stored from one meeting to the next. I remember storing Kentucky Fried Chicken too, and discovering the maggots that had infested it only after consuming more than half of it. It's a wonder we weren't struck down with Salmonellosis or worse!
After The Secret Seven I devoured The Famous Five with Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy her dog, The Adventure Series with Jack, Philip, Dinah, and Lucy-Ann and Kiki their parrot, and The Adventurous Four with Tom, Jill, Mary and Andy who find Nazi submarines when they're on holiday but don't have a dog - or a parrot that I recall.
From there I transferred my allegiance to the boarding school series - Malory Towers with its midnight feasts, field hockey games, uniforms, and tuck boxes, and St Clares with Pat and Isobel O'Sullivan, hot-tempered Janet, playful Bobby, and boring Hilary. I just loved Enid Blyton's books (I suppose you can tell that a certain fondness still remains!). I loved Mr Galliano's Circus too, but didn't ever read The Enchanted Wood or The Magic Faraway Tree until I read them aloud to Jemimah.
After this lot I read through the first 30 or so Trixie Belden books, and then the fifty-six titles in the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series.
Much to my mother's relief I stopped reading series books about then and started reading literature. Actually, I read everything, much of which was not literature at all. I didn't care really, I just loved to read.
My sister caught the reading bug later than me. For her it was Mills and Boon romances. I remember that mum was horrified, but was reluctant to stop her reading - before that she'd read nothing at all. I was happy too. I could read one of these little books in less than an hour!
Now I suppose I had better entreat you to please not judge my parents by the terrible twaddle they allowed us to read. This was the seventies after all, and Mum despaired over our choices, she really did!! Much of what I read later was even worse. I was an incredibly compliant child - I never went through the terrible teens and caused my parents grief, but as I recall some of the dreadful smut that I read during this time I realise that the hormones were raging underneath it all and I was silently rebelling all the same.
During the past year I've tried a few teaser books in the hope of infecting Jemimah with the reading bug. The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie, Bobby Brewster, Encyclopaedia Brown and Ramona have all caught her fancy at one time or another. She's enjoyed them all, but none of them have 'done it for her' as The Secret Seven did for me.
Finally we struck gold. It came it the guise of a boy called Tashi. The good bit is that the Tashi books are Australian. The bad bit is that Tashi is from a mythical country that believes in...well all sorts of things that I don't believe in. This was brought home to me quite early when Jemimah looked up from her book to say, "Mum, this one isn't a Christian Tashi." "Oh," I replied perhaps a little sharply, "Why not?" "Because in this book there is a 'God of Long Life', and he puts people into The Great Book of Fate and decides if they're going to die or not," she replied. Of course this necessitated a bit of speed reading from Mum followed by a bit of a discussion with daughter, but what came of was that Jemimah was in no doubt that the books were fiction and that Tashi was imaginary and so were the Gods of Long life and almost everything else. I left her reading the books.
The reason I left her to read Tashi is that I believe that she had demonstrated her ability to judge right from wrong in these stories - good from bad, fiction from reality. In fact, I was impressed with her insight. Tashi books are amusing, clever, adventurous and suspenseful. They're full of baddies - dragons, robber barons, ogres, witches, genies and more– and some of you won't like that, I know. You will have your own family policy on fairy tales, and it may well be different to our prayerfully and thoughtfully considered convictions. On the positive side, good Tashi always triumphs over evil at the end of each story - an element of fairy tales that our family considers particularly important. We do not approve of books that are ambiguous in their morality.
Getting back to the reading bug though, Jemimah loves the Tashi books. They're not my choice - they're hers. (Does this remind you of my mum and my sister's choice of twaddly romance books years earlier?)
The Tashi books are written for emerging readers, but author Anna Fienberg along with her mother, Barbara, does not dumb them down. They're full of rich language and wonderful names. Each individual Tashi book contains two chapter length self-contained stories that can be read together or separately. The language and storylines become progressively more complex as the series progresses, so its probably best to read them in order. Tashi comes first, followed by Tashi and the Giants.
Personally, I think that the later books become darker and less appropriate. I would recommend prereading of the later stories if you want to use them for youngsters to read alone.
You can watch illustrator, Kim Gamble illustrate scene from the new book Tashi and the Golem here. He is so clever!
Sadly I don't recommend this upcoming story, but you can hear author Anna Fienberg reading it on Youtube if you care to look. (You'll notice that I'm not including the link - wry grin.)
Now I suppose I had better entreat you to please not judge Jemimah's parents by the terrible twaddle they allowed her to read...
I'm planning on having Jemimah reading real books soon. If The Secret Seven doesn't inspire her then I'll try something else. After all, I still have all of those books from my childhood - there's a lot to choose from!!