Friday, 25 October 2013

How a passion is born

People come to children's literature from all kinds of pursuits: some from education, others from librarianship, Medieval or Victorian studies, folklore, history of childhood. I have recently been trying to remember when my interest for children's literature first appeared, and it seems to have always been there. I have a book, or used to have a book, published in Moscow in 1965, titled Anthology of English Children's Literature, with nursery rhymes, folktales, excerpts from novels, and extensive introductions and footnotes. From today's vantage point, I cannot really see who the intended audience was, since children's literature was only taught at schools of librarianship, and the students there probably didn't read English. But the book was compiled by a devoted scholar of English children's literature, and for many years it was the most reliable source I had.

I remember buying this book, which means it wasn't a gift, and it was relatively expensive, while I didn't receive any pocket money (a non-existent concept in my home country). It means that I had to ask my parents for money to buy the book and took the trouble to go to the only bookstore in Moscow that sold books of this kind. It means that, as a thirteen-year-old, I already knew that children's literature was part of my future profession, worth an investment.

About the same time, my grandfather was granted the privilege to travel to England and Ireland, which was very unusual, even for his high academic position. He asked me what I wanted him to buy for me. Most of my classmates would certainly have asked for pretty clothes (there wasn't much choice of these in Russia at the time), pencils, souvernirs. I asked for two books: Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Pan. My grandfather didn't know about paperbacks and was horrified by the prices of hardbacks, but he did buy the books for me (I still have them).

When, age fourteen, I finished middle school, I seriously contemplated going to a vocational library college, because they taught children's literature there. I didn't, but the very idea, as I see now, indicated the depth of my interest. When it was time for university I didn't choose librarianship because it wasn't what I wanted to do, so I studied English as the closest alternative, and since there was practically no research in children's literature I was planning a career as a translator.

So how did it start? When did the love of children's books as reading matter turn into love of children's books as a study object?

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