Phil: It’s World Book Day today. To quote the website, “a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading.”
This started me thinking, what was my first book ?
The first one I read, rather than had read to me. Initially my thoughts turned to Book 1 of the Rev Awdry’s Railway Series – the ones that are now better known as “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends”. Thomas didn’t turn up until book two in fact but presumably Britt Alcroft & Co. who made the TV series decided that a cheeky tank engine was better for the market than the real first engine to star in print was Edward. I always prefered Edward.
To be fair, Rev Awdry himself recognised that Thomas was the star, presumably because young Christopher, who the stories were originally written for, liked him so much. Having met Chris a few times, I can’t quite imagine this but then he was at least 40 years older by that point !
However, this was relatively late in my discovery of books being at around the age of 4. There was a book before this that was much more important apparently. The only problem is that as soon as I mention this, Candice will be moved to tears if she isn’t there already at my anorakiness.
The publication in question was The Ladybird Book of Commercial Vehicles.
For those who haven’t read it, LBBOCV was first published in 1964 and 52 pages long. Half of the pages contain a pair of paintings illustrating a couple of vehicles. The opposing page provides the information to match the pictures. We start with the Bedford 1 1/4-ton Spurling Van and discover that “The Bedford 1 1/4-ton chassic can be fitted with a variety of different bodies. The one shown opposite is the Spurling van which is used for general goods delivery. The sliding door at the side enables the driver to get in an out easily.”
Riveting stuff, but there is more. We get the specifications so the reader can know that both petrol and diesel engines are offered, the later of 3,285cc. capacity, developing 64 brake horse-power.
Can you imaging pitching this as a childs book today ? No, I can’t. Top Trumps maybe, but a book ?
Anyway, there are many other fascinating vehicles such as the Karrier 2 to 3-ton Low Loader, Dodge 7-ton tipper, Thorneycroft “nubian” Crash Tender and finishing up with the fantastic Scammell 6X6 “Super Constructor”. Each painting, by David Carey, is a masterpiece I would love to own as much as a Canaletto and the text is short but informative. If this wasn’t enough, there were different vehicles in later editions including one I liked because it seemed to be loaded with one enormous piece of my Mum’s shortbread.
Apparently I would spend hours sitting in my little chair as a small child, reading out loud from this book. You might think this is a bit odd.
What really is odd is that at this point I couldn’t read. I had memorised the whole book from countless bedtime readings by exceptionally patient parents. I knew every word, including the technical stuff. I even knew when to turn the pages and did so as I went through.
I still don’t really know why. I had lots of other Ladybird books. Why I should choose to memorise Commercial Vehicles is beyond me, but I did, so I suppose this was the first book that was really special to me.
What was yours ?