With a mixture of dismay and delight, I feel the summer holidays coming to an end. Thrilled though I will be to pack my kids off back to school, I will miss them being around, and I have to face the real world again myself. I am a teacher, and September is definitely the cruellest month for us pedagogues. Do you have any reading suggestions to see me through this transitional time - from freedom to routine?
To calm your feverish brain when it trembles at the thought of eager faces looking up at you, awaiting your wisdom, seek out the beautifully produced Story of Swimming by Susie Parr. Arm yourself with this lovely hard-backed tome, and discover the history of swimming in Britain. Its pale blue cover with it demure, naked, nonchalant swimmer illustration is enough to salve your soul. From the Roman soldiers who swam in almost full armour, to the decorous Victorians who plunged in in hats, coats, shoes and corsets, Susie Parr tells us inventive and fascinating tales of the cultural history of swimming. The Romantic poets treated immersion in the briny as an encounter with the sublime, she reports; literary references abound with Shelley, Byron and Jane Austen all cited, and the visuals are equally rewarding. Many of the modern photographs are provided by her husband, the photographer Martin Parr, and his superb images of British bathers sit happily alongside the saucy seaside postcards of Donald McGill. This salty companion will fill you with optimism for the challenging months ahead; you may be inspired to do some wild swimming yourself every morning before school, or at least to plunge into a nearby river to clear your head at weekends. Even if this idea sends you rushing for a hot cup of tea instead, the pleasure of vicarious swimming from this lovely read is intense.
Now find a book that’s all about the joys of ‘wagging” (that means “bunking off” to the Southerners among us) school. Ross Raisin has recently published his excellent new novel Waterline. Read this soon; first, if you missed the wave of publicity that followed his prize-winning debut’s publication, get hold of God's Own Country. In this compelling Yorkshire –based novel, Raisin describes the life of a young man who has been effectively excluded from school because his entire society abhor him. He did something never fully described to a female classmate when he was fifteen, and has not been allowed back at school since. He now works on his parents’ farm, helping with the sheep, and the farm’s daily chores. When a family from London move in nearby, complete with adolescent daughter, we have our worries: but our hero seems innocent enough, misinterpreted by his peers and elders. Sam Marsdyke adores the countryside surrounding his clearly threatened way of life, and his descriptions of the Moors bring Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights to mind. Sam is a funny, intriguing hero, and when he runs away with the girl next door, it seems at first like an innocent enough adventure. The whole book is told in his words, which are rich, evocative, born of his landscape – but not necessarily reliable. He calls himself Lankenstein, and speaks of trunklements and hubbleshoos. He speaks to birds, stones and, rather a lot, to himself.
By the end of the book, you will have no desire to either wag or bunk off school, you’ll be positively glad of your routine.
As an antidote to this superbly dark, unsettling novel, obtain Keri Smith’s Living Out Loud: Activities to Fuel a Creative Life. This is one of a series of excellent books by the Canadian artist and illustrator who has pioneered a whole new way of kick- starting your creative juices on a daily basis. Her massively successful approach is surprising, challenging and fun. You will find yourself doing mad and wonderful things while you have breakfast - such as constructing a tree with ten scintillating words to describe the day you hope to have - and this will certainly inspire you to treat both your day and your pupils with extra energy and passion for your job. You will very likely use some of her ideas in your work, and soon your whole school will be Living Out Loud.
Ella Berthoud is a Bibliotherapist with The School of Life. She will be running our Parent’s Bibliotherapy Workshop as part of the Mumsnet Academy series on Thursday 27th September. For more information and to book click here. You can also catch up on all the previous Dear Bibliotherapist columns in our Library archive. Library Archive