Open Road to Reading

June 29, 2014 at 11:22 pm | Posted in Australia, Family History, Reading | 22 Comments
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Girl reading 1940s

I have always loved reading. I don’t actually remember learning to read – the letters, phonics, word recognition, etc; I just remember reading. I feel like I have always done it.

I do distinctly remember the early years of school and the books we used to read. I started school in England when I was five, but we came to Australia only six months later. So it is the books we used here that I remember best.

The first reader I remember was a red soft-covered one that was followed by one with a blue-cover, “Stories to Read” The stories were illustrated in colour, which made them more attractive to young kids – to me anyway.

Stories to Read cover

More advanced readers, written for the NSW Department of Education, were “The Open Road to Reading” and “Travelling On”, and another I can’t remember now. The stories in these books really grabbed the imagination of this little girl who still believed in fairies, elves and a natural world that felt and responded to what people did to it. My favourite stories included “The Elves and the Shoemaker” and “The Little Fir Tree”.

The Open Road to Reading

One book from my childhood – when I was about eight years old – I will always remember. My brother Peter had probably borrowed from the library, as it was only there for a relatively short time. It was one of several flower fairy books by Cicely May Barker, I think “Flower Fairies of the Trees”.

Flower Fairies of Trees cover

I so wished it were mine, and I would get hold of it whenever I could.
That book would keep me engrossed for hours, drinking it its gorgeous pictures and the verse that went with each one. I wanted so much for those beautiful little fairies to be real, and more than half believed they were.

Australian public primary schools received magazines published by the Department of Education. Catholic schools, which we attended, had to buy them. They were graded in difficulty by age and class, with content aimed at the appropriate reading level. They were cheaply produced on white paper, and we would file them into a folder that used string to hold the issues for a year.

The magazines contained true stories, fiction and poems, many, if not most of them Australian, opening me to stories that were quite different from the English ones I usually read. The magazines came each month of the school year (ten a year, I think). I loved those stories too, and the nuns had no trouble getting me to read them. I would have read each item many times myself before we had to read them in class.

School magazine cover

I joined the local public library as soon as I was able to and when there was one I could get to. We lived in a mainly dairy farming area, with small villages here and there. The nearest decent sized town was fifteen miles away. There weren’t a lot of public services then either. So I also used to read any book at my level wherever I found it.

Do you remember when you first learned to read? Are books and reading important to you?

© Linda Visman


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  1. Reading. There is nothing quite like it.

  2. Yes I have fond memories of learning to read. I have always liked to read and still read a lot even today. The reason I remember learning so well is that when I entered 3rd grade I was just above kindergarten level for reading. My 3rd grade teacher would work with me everyday one on one. When I was tested in 6th grade my reading level was high school. I do not know what I would do without books.

    • You have a lot to thank that 3rd grade teacher for! 🙂
      Often, when kids don’t get that extra help, they fall through the cracks. Some of them become barely literate. (I was a schoolteacher & worked hard to help my pupils with their reading).
      I don’t know how I would have got through some of the hard times if I didn’t have books to read and escape into! 🙂

  3. I can remember the early readers we had at primary school and how we had to point at every word and sound it out. When I was a little older books in which faeries featured were in big demand. Are you telling me that faeries aren’t real? Please no!

    • Well, I’m still not really sure fairies aren’t real, Linda. Sometimes I’m sure I see one out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn it’s gone. One never knows 😉

  4. It was great to see you and Dirk today. I remember the Cecily Mary Barker book amongst my grandmother’s books but not the books you read at school. I must have had different ones.

    • We were really pleased to spend time with you and Matt, Debbie. I loved it. 🙂 I went to a Catholic school, so mayhave had different readers to those you had.

  5. I remember the School Magazines…
    I learned to read when I was about six, and I read very well by the age of nine. I loved books, and often borrowed from the library. Books were one of my most-treasured Christmas or birthday presents, too.

  6. […] is my fifth article on my love of reading. My earlier posts can be found here, here, here and […]

  7. Does anyone remember a early school reader with the story of Pitter and Patter raindrops in it?

    • Hi Jan, I think Pitter & Patter were in either the blue covered book in the photo, or the red one that came before it. I remember that story!
      Isn’t it amazing what comes back to you after so many years?!
      Thanks for visiting and commenting. 🙂

  8. I just came across this blog and had to check on Pitter and Patter. They are in “Open Road”. We managed to collect a few of the books you have talked about as they were being thrown out of schools (my husband and I are both retired teachers). I learned to read with these books at school too but the Flower Fairies books were my favourites at home as they were set in a country so different to mine. The Flower Fairies of the Wayside were full of weeds and blackberries so quite a few were familiar. We lived in the country and once or twice a year would visit Greenwoods Second Hand Bookshop in Castlereigh Street, Sydney. I would be allowed to choose many books at a time so over the years came away with the Billabong books, Heidi, Katy books, Enid Blyton, Anne books, Little Women as well as some more challenging ones like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Coral Island and Kidnapped.

    I remember someone reading me a book when I was very young and looking at the black squiggles on the page and wondering how they could turn into words. My grandmother used to try and get me to read “Seven Little Australians” when I was six but I would tire of it quickly so she would take over and read to me. Her favourite part was the death of Judy and I would sit there with tears streaming down my face every time.

    I’m now in a Book Club and have plenty of time to read. I still have that feeling of guilt when I read a book during the day as my parents used to tell me to get out in the fresh air or do some chores. I don’t feel guilty on the computer though because they weren’t around then.

    • Are we about the same age, Linda? I remember “Drip and Drop”, the one about the rolling plum, one about a fir(?) tree that had its needles changed to different substances, like glass, and others. It’s great that you’ve been able to find them again.
      I have wanted to find copies of the school magazines we used to get in primary school – the ones from the late 1950s – but haven’t found anything earlier than the 1970s.
      Funny thing is that I have never read “Seven Little Australians”! I must get a copy and read it.
      I always remember Mum getting cross with me for reading and not hearing her call me. Now I don’t get feel guilty at all when I read. 🙂
      Good to have you visit, and especially to read your comment. Perhaps you’d like to see some of my other memoir stories as well. 🙂

      • wish i could find them my grandkids would love them like i did

  9. I seem to remember books like those pictured here. 🙂

    • I think how many you remember depends on how old you are Margaret! Although you may have seen them as old books later on.
      Thanks for dropping in. 🙂

  10. i wish i could find these books very fond memories just wish i could read them to the grand kids

  11. […] Linda Visman, an English-born Australian, a former teacher/school principal’s blog […]

  12. […] Written for the NSW Department of Education, was “The Open Road to Reading” […]

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