‘Dodie Smith and the Dalmatians’
There were two things that I loved when I was a kid – reading and following rules. It’s my particular Autistic tendency to follow rules religiously, and though I’m not quite so uptight about it these days, when I was a kid, I felt very uncomfortable if I did things I wasn’t supposed to do, particularly at school.
So when I was first starting at school, I was already a very competent reader. To give you an idea, I fell off the end of the reading age scale by the time I was a ‘Top Infant’, which is to say, a Year 3. So, age 7. To balance things out – I couldn’t spell for toffee.
Anyway, the point of this is, that when I started school in Year One (I remember this clearly, because we moved house just before I started in Year One. I did do Reception year, but I don’t recall it) I had a conundrum. Like all schools, my school had a reading scheme. It was the Biff and Chip Magic Key books, followed by ‘Banana Books’ which was this series of identically sized and coloured books, like chapter books with illustrations and writing. They got increasingly more writing focused as you progressed through them, if I recall. Even aged five, I was well beyond the need for Magic Key books. They were good stories, fortunately, but it was somewhat insulting to my reading skill to have to read repetitive monosyllabic sentences.
But the rules were you had to read through them in order. And I couldn’t break the rules. I had to read through them all in order.
So I did what any other rule-driven, precocious reader would have done. I made it my mission to read through them all as quickly as possible.
I was fortunate that my mother was very supportive of reading, making sure we regularly read our reading books at home. And the teachers caught on pretty quickly that I could read a hell of a lot better than I could spell. I raced through the Magic Key books (really enjoying them, so it was good in a way that I had to read them) into the Banana Books. I remember them being in this little basket in the Infant classroom, and there were probably about thirty of them.
I hated them. They lacked the engaging characters and illustrations of the Magic Key books. They were chapter books, without the lengthy satisfaction of proper chapter books. It was like teasing me. So I read through them as fast as I could.
Getting back to the point of this post, I made myself a promise that I’d read something decent when I finished. I stepped right off Banana books into The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. I think I was six.
It was not an easy transition. But I was arrogant and determined, and I did love to read. Going from forty page books that are half illustration to a 180+ page novel was challenging, and the jump in vocabulary, complexity of story and the decrease in size of writing all worked together to make it a more difficult read than I think I had anticipated. I know it’s ostensibly a children’s book, and read by most children from around the age of ten, and therefore not the most challenging book in the world, but compared to those Banana books, it was
With help from my mother, and sheer dogged (pun intended) determination, The Hundred and One Dalmatians became the first proper book that I read. And it will always hold a special place in my heart for that.