Staring out at me each morning from the lowest shelf in my bookcase is a row of perfectly aligned books. Each time I look at them, I feel like I’m looking at what could be royalty where books are concerned.
With muted gold letters that have been etched into rich brown coverlets, The World Book Encyclopedia, that most distinguished and majestic of all written material available to young people in the nineties has now been relegated to the bottom shelf for some years now. Yet this entire family of books still has a stately air about it. As a child, I remember my parents sitting down with a young salesperson to discuss the vast set of books (and their price no doubt). They’ve had to make a lot of tough decisions regarding their slightly deranged only child, but even in hindsight, this remains one of their best ones.
Once I got my hands on them, I was a child possessed. I pored over them, used them to feed my thirsty curiosity about Egyptian and Greek Gods, the Second World War, the Holocaust, Einstein….anything that sparked a fever in my young and impressionable mind, I would turn to the World Book to for the answers . Needless to say, probably the only pages I never looked up (willingly at least) were the ones that had anything to do with Math. For everything else, the World Book was my oyster. And I was perfectly content to revel in its pages.
Along with the main set of books came two other additional series. One was called The Young Scientist, and the other was titled Childcraft. The former had every possible aspect of Science within it’s ten books, perhaps more than a geeky seven-year-old like me could fathom, but I embraced it with a passion that my Science teacher would have given her left arm to witness if it were in the classroom. My favourites included Planet Earth, Investigating Light, and The Human Body. Don’t ask me why. I was fascinated by them all, but some of them stood out, calling me repeatedly and even today the well-thumbed pages are evidence of the fact that some books were more loved than others.
My Childcraft favourites were Stories and Poems and Make and Do. Both of which called to the creative child in me, and I remember staring at the pages in wonder, thinking about how mixing this colour and this would actually give me THAT! To my almost baby brain, this was like the discovery of the Holy Grail. Also, the kids in the books looked really happy, and they smiled sagely as they conducted their experiments, never once letting on that the cleaning-up afterward would not be pretty.
So much of who I am and what I enjoy doing comes from those wonderful hours spent thumbing lovingly through these books. As a child, I thought I’d be an astronomer, because my love of planets was absolute and I thought that outer space was the biggest, most amazing mystery there was to discover. Of course, when reality struck I realized I had no head for numbers and so that dream vanished in a few years. However, I still enjoy watching Dr. Brian Cox take me through theWonders of the Universe and I attribute that to the images I first saw in my Stars and Planets book. I also remember the beautiful illustrations in my Stories and Poems book that did far more for my imagination than Cartoon Network ever did (I love CN, but hey, it’s true.)
Though the main series still shines out at me every morning, my Childcraft and Young Scientist books have been packed away, giving way to other bundles of joy that take up my reading time. Of course, there is a lot more information available now than there was then, with the internet leading the way with cutting edge imagery and audio-visuals. Everything is google-able, just a click away. Being a child now is so much easier (and harder, I know) than it was then.
But if I have to pack my babies up in a jute bag and smuggle them into a room and make sure they start out learning about life and the world and people and art through the latest editions of the World Book Encyclopedia
(and perhaps some of the old ones too), then you can bet on all the stars and planets there are that I will do just that. And then I’ll sit back and smile as their little eyes light up in wonder at simple drawings on the page before them.