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Artyness columnist and writer Barbara Henderson reveals how a love of stories became the lifelong consolation prize for a nasty accident as a youngster

By Margaret Chrystall

A wee warning for the squeamish: I had a bit of an unfortunate accident as a young child.

Picture the scene: I was riding my cousin’s old scooter down a steep hill. When a car came towards me, I swerved out of the way, but in doing so I lost my balance. As I opened my mouth to scream, the rusty handlebars twisted and, on impact, tore into my throat. Four operations and several weeks on the couch later (consuming pureed food – the dangly bit at the back of my throat still has a hole in it!), I was a story-lover.

Barbara Henderson.
Barbara Henderson.

Stories got me through those weeks. My sisters and parents read to me, and in time, I discovered new stories on my own too. I particularly adored stories about horses, I recall. It’s hard to disentangle the memories now – I associate so many great stories with my childhood. But if I had to choose, the books which cemented a lifelong love of the written word in me was Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, written in the 1940s and 50s and set against a backdrop of the horseracing world in the USA. At the time, it felt as if nothing could be more removed from my own life – and that’s what I loved about it.

I am now lucky enough to meet booklovers wherever I go. I often wish I could ask: which book made you a reader?

Stuart McBride, one of Scotland’s most recognisable crime writers, unashamedly cites Winnie-the-Pooh as his first major influence – “AA Milne made me a reader,” he admits cheerfully, and he can still quote large chunks of the classic. I’ve seen him do it..

Perhaps that’s why the Scottish Book Trust’s current Christmas appeal strikes such a chord with me – and not only because I have a daughter called Isla.

“To Isla, there is really no such thing as a Gruffalo!” the eye-catching picture proclaims.

The graphic features a woodland illustration of The Gruffalo’s ‘deep dark wood’, but with the Gruffalo missing – a powerful message that for many children this is true: they don’t have books at home.

New campaign features no Gruffalo!
New campaign features no Gruffalo!

The fundraising campaign, backed by Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler, wants everyone in Scotland to have access to books so that no-one missed out on the many lifelong benefits this brings. Since the pandemic, with many libraries closed, the charity has been overwhelmed by increasing demand for its vital work to support vulnerable children and families.

Without access to books, children are missing out and the impact can last a lifetime.

Books help families bond, give children a sense of escapism and improve their mental health and wellbeing. New Scottish Book Trust research revealed 85 per cent of parents from Scotland’s most deprived areas said reading helps them bond with their child and that reading makes their children happy, while 95 per cent of all parents in Scotland said they think it is important for children to own their own books.

My life, without books, would have been very different. And very much the poorer for it.

To learn more about the campaign and to donate, visit www.scottishbooktrust.com/donate

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