Rosemary Sutcliff spent a limited time in formal school education, but it did not hinder her in becoming what The Guardian newspaper called on her death ‘a writer of genius’.
I didn’t go to school for a very long time because of traipsing around so much. My mother used to educate me herself, chiefly by just reading to me the books that she liked. (But I did go to school, and I’ve always been very thankful that I went to an ordinary school, I never got incarcerated with other disabled children).
(But) chiefly I had books read to me, which is a thing I love to this day. I didn’t learn to read for myself until I was very old. Me and Kipling, we were both nine before we could read: I think in my case this was because my mother read aloud to me so much, and this I loved very very much.
I left school, which one could do at fourteen in those days, and put in three years at art school. I did the general art course—painting in oils and water-colours and making charcoal drawings of the Apollo Belvedere from the north, south, east, and west!
I had not written as a child, I had not written stories. I wasn’t at all writing-minded at school.
Julia Eccleshare, expert on children’s and young adult’s fiction and literature (and Book Doctor at The Guardian), recently wrote a piece for theguardian.com with recommendations for historical fiction for children and teenagers which is not about the world wars. Of Rosemary Sutcliff she said:
In her many novels, Rosemary Sutcliff charted the making of Britain from the simple living of the upland shepherds of the Bronze Age in Warrior Scarlet to Elizabethan England in The Queen Elizabeth Story. She concentrated particularly on Roman Britain reflecting the many attitudes and experiences around the coming together of different cultures as the Romans and the indigenous population learned to live together and to blend their two very different ways of life.
In a loose series of titles which includes The Eagle of the Ninth and Dawn Wind Rosemary Sutcliff writes of Romano-British occupation and skirmish but she also details the home life of both sides describing the cooking, weaving and celebrations of the British tribes and the more advanced home comforts of the Roman invaders such as the installation of central heating in their villas.
Other authors she recommended were: Geoffrey Trease, Leon Garfield, Jill Paton Walsh, Berlie Doherty, Sally Nicholls, Adele Geras, John Rowe Townsend, and Melvin Burgess .
My schooling began late, owing to a childhood illness, and ended when I was only fourteen, owing to my entire lack of interest in being educated. But I showed signs of being able to paint, and so from school I went to art school, trained hard, and eventually became a professional miniature painter.
I did not start to write until the end of the War, but now I have switched completely from one medium to the other, and it is several years since I last touched paint.
Source: Rosemary Sutcliff’s monograph on Rudyard Kipling.
Rosemary Sutcliff could not read until she was ten or eleven years old. Certainly aged nine she saw no point!
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?
Source: Donald R. Gallo (1990) Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults. National Council of Teachers of English.
The Times newspaper published in mid-2013 a list of the top 50 ‘books that all children should read’, which included Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth (at 27). Of course all such lists reflect the preferred reading of the selection panel and it is good, indeed essential, to know who was on the panel. In this case it was: Amanda Craig (then Times children’s books critic), Lucy Coats (author), Wendy Cooling (founder of Bookstart), Tom Gatti (Times Saturday Review editor), Katherine Langrish (blogger and author), Anthony McGowan (author), and Nicholas Tucker (children’s literature specialist). Their list:
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
- Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
- The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
- The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
- The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
- Just William by Richmal Crompton
- Matilda by Roald Dahl
- The Midnight Folk by John Masefield
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
- Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
- Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde
- Hellbent by Anthony McGowan
- The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban
- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
- The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
- The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
- The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
- The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
- The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
- The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson
- The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
- The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate by Margaret Mahy
- Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
- How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
- Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton
- The Snow-walker’s Son by Catherine Fisher
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
- Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond
- Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
- Vice Versa by F. Anstey
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd