Tales from the Reading Room – Episode 32

Happy World Book Day!

World Book Day is a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. It has been designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading and is marked in over 100 countries all over the world.  This year is the 16th annual World Book Day and it’s key aim in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to read and enjoy books.

In honour of World Book Day, we asked colleagues who you may have encountered in the Reading Room three questions!

1.  What were your favourite childhood reads?

2.  When did you first read Shakespeare?

3.  (Tricky!)  What is your favourite book in the Collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust?

Paul Taylor, Collections Manager

  1. Interestingly the three books that I still have are The Hobbit, Treasure Island and Dr Doolittle so that must be some indication that I enjoyed them a lot and wanted to keep them! The Hobbit was a clear favourite though I remember ordering it through some form of book club we had at school and sitting down to read it as soon as it arrived and then going back over it a number of times as I grew up.
  2. I don’t recall encountering Shakespeare until secondary school, so I must have been 14 or 15 when we read Macbeth in English.
  3. I haven’t yet settled on this yet as it’s always changing. If pushed I would probably go for the Holinshed as this links my own interest in history (which I studied for my BA), with Shakespeare (as source material), and collections as a really interesting item in its own context.

Maddie Cox, Reading Room Services Co-ordinator

1.  I loved reading from a young age and particularly remember enjoying The Tiger Who Came To Tea, Richard Scarry’s books and Mog.  I moved onto Enid Blyton and the adventures of The Famous Five (though despaired of their choice of snacks as I’ve never liked ginger beer or fruitcake!).  As a teenager I loved Gone With the Wind and Doctor Zhivago.

2.  Although we did a lot on Tudor history at primary school, including visiting Mary Arden’s Farm  and making a wall collage of Queen Elizabeth I’s visit to Kenilworth Castle, I don’t think I came across Shakespeare’s works until I was in Year 9.  We studied Romeo and Juliet and quite enjoyed taking it in turns to play the parts and read it aloud in class.

A woodcut of a ferocious hamster from Topsell!

A woodcut of a ferocious hamster from Topsell!

3.  I am struggling to narrow it down to one book!  Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts is always a favourite, as is Ortelius’ pocket atlas, “Epitome of the Theatre of the Worlde”.  I love our foreign language editions of the plays too – there’s something wonderful about seeing Shakespeare’s words in other languages and other alphabets!

Victoria Lawston, Reading Room Services Assistant

  1. When I was very young The Hungry Caterpillar was a particular favourite and later I enjoyed books by Roald Dahl (e.g. The BFG) and Dick King Smith (The Sheep-pig) and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  2. I think I was about 13 – At the start of secondary school we sort of did the Merchant of Venice but didn’t read the whole text, we looked at some pieces in written form as an introduction to printed Shakespeare but apart from that the BBC animated Shakespeare was used to fill in the gaps!
  3. My favourite book in our collections changes all the time! I have a new favourite in the Early Printed Books which is Michael Drayton’s Polyolbion published in 1615. It is a book of topographical poems about England and Wales and I enjoy looking up different parts of the country to see how it describes them as well as looking as the beautiful illustrated maps for each county. I am originally from the New Forest in Hampshire which is described in a mystical way with woodland spirits and fairies.

 Mareike Doleschal, Collections Librarian

  1. Die kleine Hexe (favourite book when I was about six or seven. Translation: The little witch – witches appealed to me because of their power and magic.)
  2. I think I was  sixteen – we read Macbeth and had to memorise the dagger speech and obviously I loved the witches.
  3. Too difficult to answer this one but I should say it’s one of the first folios but the foredge painting comes very close to being the top favourite.

Helen Hargest, Archives and Imaging Co-ordinator

1. The Load Of Unicorn and The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett (aged 8)

2. Looking at my father’s editions of Henry IV part 1 and Julius Caesar aged 6 or 7 (but more interested in the pictures!)

3. Apart from The First Folio of course, the Kelmscott Chaucer. (Have kept it to one but there are others!)


Some of our many books for children, together with Shakesbear...And our very own 'asp' (a present from our friends at Interlingua School in Liski, Russia).

Some of our many books for children, together with Shakesbear…And our very own ‘asp’ (a present from our friends at Interlingua School in Liski, Russia).

World Book Day also seems a fitting occasion to announce our latest addition to the Reading Room.  We have nearly finished our new Children’s Section!  Whilst we are a research library, we have had quite a few visits from children working on school projects and welcome readers of all ages.  We also enjoy helping teachers to find ways to bring Shakespeare and history alive to children and students .  We have a surprising number of books for children in the collection, many of which have until now been kept in the basement, interfiled with books for adults and therefore rarely used.  It has been heartening to see children working on projects on subjects such as Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare and the history of local buildings and showing real enthusiasm, both for topic in hand and for being able  to use such a special library and archive.    Is there a ‘right’ age to encounter Shakespeare or to start using libraries/archives?  It seems like it can only be a good thing to encourage children to feel they can use these resources and ‘find things out’ from a young age, rather than relying purely on the internet, or waiting until they are undergraduates before getting to grips with these skills.  Our new section in the open access book area will incorporate Shakespeare’s life, his works, Elizabethan/ Jacobean theatre and history, for KS3 and below, as well as a shelf of books for teachers.  This also ties in with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s exciting new project – Shakespeare Week!

What were your favourite books when you were young?  And how did you first encounter Shakespeare?  Have you a favourite in our collections?  Let us know!




  • Liski

    Lyudmila Aleksandrovna Chuchupal, an English teacher:
    1. Hard to say. There were so many of them, including the ones which were mentioned above: Dr Doolittle, The Famous Five and Die kleine Hexe.
    2. At the age of about eleven. We’ve got a book of tragedies. The first scene I’ve read was the about Juliet’s “death”. I was so surprised when it turned out she was alive! I read the whole tragedy two years later. And I fell in love in it at the age of 16.
    3. I think my favourite book in your collection is…the one we’ve sent to you (sorry for my “modesty”).

A freely available online exhibition exploring keys aspects of the music in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as music inspired by Shakespeare.