Rosemary Sutcliff | Made the story-teller she was by the stories told to her as a child?

Michael Rosen (writer, poet, performer, broadcaster and Professor of Children’s Literature) recently said about children’s literature:

Most adult readers were made into the readers they are by the ‘repertoire’ of reading they did as children. The link, then, between children’s literature and adult literature is not so much via the writers as through the reading habits of the readers. That said, there are various key children’s literature texts that have informed adult writing – most notably perhaps, the Alice books; although I would guess that much of the readership of crime fiction was inducted into the genre through Enid Blyton.

This set me thinking about two questions:

  • Are most story-tellers made the story-tellers they are by the stories told to them as children?
  • Are most writers made the writers they are by the ‘repertoire’ of what was read to them as children? 

Rosemary Sutcliff , an ‘emminent writer of genius’ (Guardian obituary) and story-teller ‘of the minstrel kind’ (Margartet Meek in Books for Keeps) could not read until she was ten or eleven years old. Because of major illness and many hospital visits she was educated at home, read to by her mother.

My mother in her own splendidly unorthodox fashion, taught me at home, chiefly by reading to me. King Arthur and Robin Hood, myths and legends of the classical world, The Wind in the Willows, The Tailor of Gloucester, Treasure Island, Nicholas Nickleby, Kim, Puck of Pook’s Hill, and Little Women, all at more or less the same time. The result was that at the age of nine I was happily at home with a rich and somewhat indigestible stir about of literature, but was not yet able to read to myself. Why, after all, read to yourself when you can get somebody else to read to you?

Historical novelist Rosemary Sutcliff's mother Nessie Lawton 

Source of Michael Rosen comment: Brief Q and A with Michael Rosen in Times Higher Education

Source of Rosemary Sutcliff comment: Donald R. Gallo (1990) Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults. National Council of Teachers of English.

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