The Story Telling Cloak (2014)

The Story Telling Cloak

Community artist Jean Compton ran a fabulous drop in workshop for parents and children at the Western Park Museum in Sheffield. Jean constructed the lady and the children added tissue paper collages showing pictures of their favourite story.

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During 2014 The Story Telling Cloak was exhibited at The Winter Gardens and the annual Reading Sheffield event in the Carpenter Room at Sheffield Central Library.

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Shirley L’s reading journey

Shirley L, born in North Wales in 1944, is an artist. She and her husband lived abroad and around the UK because of his work, before retiring to Sheffield in 2004. She is a keen member of a book group.

I have always read to my children, and grandchildren, and I enjoyed every minute of it, but I do not remember myself being read to as a child.

Shirley at the age of four

My home did not have bookshelves full of books. Looking back, I don’t think I gave it a thought, or felt that I was missing out. It may sound strange but it never registered with me until I started to think about it now, for this reading journey. I do remember having one book for Christmas when I was quite young, and it was all about film stars. This was most probably due to the fact I loved going to the cinema with my friends.

I was always encouraged to do well at school, so of course there was a lot of reading then. Later on, when I was about 11 or 12, I read What Katy Did, Susan Coolidge’s book about the adventures of a young American, Katy Carr, and her brothers and sisters. A lovely red hardback if I remember correctly. I really enjoyed it. I read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books too, I think when I was about nine or ten. Being an only child, friends were important in my life, so I loved reading about the children’s friendships and adventures.

Illustration, p. 8, What Katy Did, 1873, Addie Ledyard (public domain)

All this is a very long time ago, so please forgive me if I appear vague! I have little recollection where all these books came from, but I do know that I mainly read my books at home and that I did visit the library – Rhyl Library, on Wellington Road I think. It was actually within the Town Hall. The adult section was at the front and the children’s at the back. The building is still there but the library has been moved.

My friend Jill, who I’ve been talking to about our childhood reading, thinks that I most probably got the Enid Blytons from the library. This makes sense to me. Jill also says that when we started grammar school, aged 11, of course, for our first year we were told to read novels during the school holidays – three in the summer and obviously less during the smaller holidays. This was compulsory, hence my visits to the library. I was wondering if I had read Treasure Island and now I am sure I did.

Shirley in her school blazer, aged about 11
Shirley and her schoolfriends ‘goofing around’ at age 14.
Shirley is in the centre and her friend Jill is on the left.

Thinking about What Katy Did, I just feel it was my book, not the library’s, but I cannot be sure. It might have been a little present for passing the 11+ from someone or from Sunday School. My family wasn’t able to buy me books, any more than Jill’s could. Money was short in those days in our working-class homes.

As I’ve said, the cinema played a big part in my life. It was time spent with my friends, who were so important to me, and obviously a lot cheaper than buying books! When we returned home, we would act out what we had seen on screen. Books did not come into it. But writing this has reminded me that I did go to see Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s cartoon from 1940, and I have a feeling I read the book of the film. I was very young then so maybe I read the book later. I just don’t know.

As I’ve already said, I was always encouraged to do well at school. Reading to me was about enjoyment, but schoolbooks, especially when I went to grammar school, were there to give me a good education and hopefully a good future. I was never told reading was a waste of time. I never re-read books then, and I am not keen on it now, but there are no books I wouldn’t dream of not reading again.

I do still have one book, a Bible, from those days. It wasn’t new and had little pressed flowers in it, here and there. This was a present from our local grocer’s daughter for passing my 11+. Now the thing that has clicked in my head is this. Over the years, with my husband being in the RAF, we have moved a lot, overseas and around the UK. We have cleared our home out numerous times with each move, but I have the Bible, never lost, still by my bedside. I’ve never been an avid reader of it. I just pick it up now and again and open it up wherever, read a small amount and put it back. So for the last 57 years as we have travelled around, it’s always been there.

Shirley’s Bible

Have books changed my life? Looking back, growing up, books have played a big part in my life for lots of reasons. I have read fiction, non-fiction, all kinds of books. We can get lost in books – some make you laugh, cry, tell us things we never knew, things that help, make us think.

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