Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Children's Encyclopedia

We've been clearing out again at home and can’t believe how much we've already given away to local charity shops – everything from clothes to small items of furniture. Far too much kept and accumulated in this modern detached house since we moved here well over twenty years ago from a large four-floor Victorian semi. We’re hoping to eventually downsize again, sooner rather than later, hence the reason for our continuing efforts at getting rid of as much as possible before then.


As all writers and readers know, parting with books is one of the hardest decisions. I've so far managed to empty one tall, narrow book case (out of nine!) but despair of ever emptying even one more. What to keep and what to let go? It’s easier with paperbacks that I can replace if necessary, or read on kindle. But this weekend, I've been rediscovering my precious set of The Children’s Encyclopedia edited by Arthur Mee.


We didn't have a lot of spare money for books when I was a child and I haunted the library as soon as I could get there by myself. However, my father bought a complete set of The Children’s Encylopedia for us and I discovered a whole world of learning, imagination and wonder. Much as I enjoyed playing outdoors, I loved rainy days sitting at the table in the cosy living room with one of the huge volumes open in expectation.

From these, I grew to love Aesop’s fables, nursery rhymes and fairy tales that my mother hadn't already read to us, legends, art history, French, history, literature and a passing interest in dozens of other subjects. I don’t think it's a coincidence that French was always one of my favourite subjects and that I eventually went on to study literature, history, philosophy, art history and music in the first year of my Open University degree. Not content with that, I then did the MA in literature with history as a mature student.



These encyclopedias, which were brought into my ordinary, large family in a working class area in the west coast of Scotland, built the foundation of my life-time of curiosity, learning and imagination. They are now rather the worse for wear and one of the ten volumes is missing, but one look through a few pages this morning convinced me these must stay. And I think I’ll be spending some of the winter gradually skimming through them again. They may be out of date as far as modern thinking is concerned, but those pages contain worlds of knowledge that can never be replicated by the Internet. More importantly, they’re testament to a wonderful childhood and a priceless introduction to education.

Does anyone else have a set?

Rosemary

17 comments:

Jean Bull said...

Yes! I do, and I'm going to hang on to them for as long as I can. You're right, they did open up new worlds on rainy afternoons, and I loved just roaming through them picking up interesting facts; a bit like surfing the net actually!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Oh that's good to know, Jean! You'll completely understand their importance.

Jennifer Young said...

Oh! I used to read my mother' sold children's encyclopaedias too. I'm not sure if they were the same ones but they were full of stories from the Grrek and Roman legends ans so on...

Teresa Ashby said...

Beautiful books, Rosemary - you're quite right to hang on to them x

Wendy's Writing said...

I don't have encyclopaedias and never did as a child - I only ever wanted to read stories but I do have two children's anthologies of children's stories. They are very dated but hold wonderful memories - I'd never part with them!

Joan Fleming said...

Letting books go is so hard - even when they're going to a good home.
I didn't have a children's encyclopaedia, but we took the plunge a few years ago and put our 12 (?) volume Encyclopaedia Britannica into the charity shop. In spite of internet facilities, I still miss it from time to time.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

They probably were, Jennifer, as these are full of every kind of legend as well as every other subject!

Thanks, Teresa - even my husband agrees I should keep them and he's usually keen to get rid of things!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

These were also full of stories, Wendy - which is where I first learned of many unusual tales and fables. Your anthologies sound great.

I can imagine you miss the set, Joan - this is a similar set but aimed at children (though not childish)!

Patsy said...

I don't have the encyclopaedias but I do still have a copy of Aesop's fables that my uncle gave me a long time ago.

Joanna said...

This brings back lots of similar memories for me, Rosemary. We had this set too and I loved it. I must ask my mother if she has kept them, but I doubt it somehow. She has pared her possessions right down.
I remember the beautiful illustrations well. I was always looking through them in wonder. xx

Frances Garrood said...

My mother bought me a set of encyclopaedias from a door to door salesman for I think mu eighth birthday. I was bitterly disappointed as I was expecting a exciting toy of some kind, but I just loved them. They have long gone; goodness knows where. And not the same as your, as I think there were only eight volumes and they were red. But I learnt so much from them.

(Please forgive multiple typos)

Mary Smith said...

I know how difficult it is to part with books, Rosemary. We have a very large attic and before anything goes to the charity shop, books included, it goes into the attic. Every so often I go up there to have a sort out, usually to come back down with a bundleof books I HAVE to read again before giving away.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

That sounds lovely, Patsy - I loved all those tales within this set.

Glad you experienced them too, Joanna - you're absolutely right about the wonderful illustrations, which fired my imagination as much as anything I read!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I can imagine your disappointment, Frances! But I know the books will have brought you much more endless pleasure.

I completely get that, Mary - we've also been clearing our attic so no hiding place for my books there at the moment!

Julia said...

I have some annuals that my mum had when she was a youngster. I wouldn't dream of parting with them.

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh, I'm so glad you're keeping those. I found an old nursery rhymes book in my collection a few years ago. The illustrations are worth every wrinkled page.

I cleaned out my "library" last year and I think ended up giving away almost 600 books. I'm planning on doing another sometime before Christmas. Downsizing is the way to go.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I love old annuals, Julia - quite right to keep them!

Hi Anne - I love good illustrations from the past. Wow - I thought our book clear out was large but yours is impressive!