On this day nearly forty years ago Joan was invited to write a letter to children to celebrate the joys of reading.
Here is her letter:
~~~~~ Take a Book Wherever You Go! ~~~~~
If you were going to sail round the world alone in a small boat, and could take only one of these things to amuse you, which would you choose? A big iced cake, a beautiful picture, a book, a pack of cards, a paint box (and paper), a pair of knitting needles and wool, a musical box, a mouth organ…
It would be a hard choice. Myself, I wouldn’t want the cake. I’d eat it too fast. Nor the cards, they might blow away. Nor the wool, it might just get wet. The mouth organ would be better than the musical box, for one could make up one’s own tunes. I wouldn’t take the picture, for I could look at the sea. Nor the paint box, because in the end I’d use up all the paper. So the last choice would be between the mouth organ and the book. And I’m pretty sure I’d choose the book.
One book! I can hear someone say. But if you were sailing round the world, you’d have read it hundred times before the trip was over. You’d know it by heart.
And I’d answer yes, I might read it a hundred times, yes, I might know it by heart. That wouldn’t matter. You don’t refuse to see your friend, or your mother, or your brother, because you have met them before. You don’t leave home because you already know what’s there.
A book you love is like a friend. It is like home. You meet your friend a hundred times. On the hundred-and-first meeting you can still say, “Well, I never realized you knew that!’ You go home every day; after ten years you can still say “I never noticed how beautiful the light is when it shines on that corner.”
There is always something new to find in a book, however often you read it.
When you read a story you do something that no animal can, however well trained; only man can do it; you are stepping out of your mind into someone else’s. You are listening to the thoughts of another person. While doing this, you are making your own mind work. And making your own mind work is the most interesting thing there is to do.
So I’d sit my boat and read my book over and over. First I’d think about the people in the story, why they acted the way they did. Then I’d think about the words the writer used, why he chose them. Then I’d wonder why he wrote the story and how I’d have done it, if I’d written it. Then I might carry on the story in my mind, after the end of the book. Then I’d go back and read all my favourite bits and wonder why I liked them best. Then I’d read all the other bits and look for things that I hadn’t noticed before. Then I might make a list of the things I’d learned from the book. Then I’d try to imagine what the writer was like, from the way he’d written his story…
It would be like having another person in the boat.
A book you love is like a friend, it’s like a familiar place where you can go when you choose. It’s something of your very own, for no two people read the same book in quite the same way.
If every single person in the world had a book – just one book – and they’d have to be able to read it of course, we’d have a lot less trouble.
Just one book apiece. That shouldn’t be too hard to manage?
How shall we start?
A letter from Joan Aiken for International Children’s Book Day, 1974