The Child That Books Built A Life in Reading

Francis Spufford




Trade Paperback

224 Pages


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In this extended love letter to children's books and the wonders they perform, Francis Spufford makes a confession: books were his mother, his father, his school. Reading made him who he is.

To understand the thrall of fiction, Spufford goes back to his earlier encounters with books, exploring such beloved classics as The Wind in the Willows, Little House on the Prairie, and the Narnia chronicles. He re-creates the excitement of discovery, writing joyfully of the moment when fuzzy marks on a page become words. Weaving together child development, personal reflection, and social observation, Spufford shows the force of fiction in shaping a child: how stories allow for mastery of the world and escape from pain, how they shift our boundaries of the sayable, how they stretch the chambers of our imagination.


Praise for The Child That Books Built

"Exhilarating . . . It's a brilliant book, beautifully written, its insights hard-earned, filled with stuff that will make you understand a whole lot better your own life in reading."—The New York Times Book Review

"[An] enormously interesting memoir . . . This book grants much the same sort of sentimental satisfactions as might be gained from a dark winter's afternoon spent rummaging through an attic. It also offers an intelligent, thoughtful inquiry into how the pleasure of reading actually works."—The New Republic

"Ambitious . . . His enthusiasm for this material is often charming . . . Spufford is at his best recalling his bookish discoveries."—Newsday

"It is refreshing, when so many disquisitions on the pleasures of reading have a smug, cozy tone, to hear Spufford describe himself as an 'addict' and wonder why reading is more socially sanctioned than video games. This is followed by an account of his childhood reading, from The Hobbit, at age six, to Ursula K. Le Guin and beyond. Spufford intersperses his survey with excursions on what psychologists and cognitive scientists have managed to deduce about the way children think, and these insights in turn inform his own memories. Spufford believes he became a book addict because of the severe illness of his younger sister. Readers might have liked to hear more about this; that we don't is the natural corollary of his desire to lose himself in books and become 'just a story among stories.'"—The New Yorker

"Francis Spufford lures us in to reveal the original power of books—as landscapes, as spurs to inwardness, as the very crucibles in which the self is formed. Here is the addict's unrepentant confession, poignant, witty, and true in the way that every reader will recognize instantly."—Sven Birkerts, author of The Gutenberg Elegies

"A brilliant personal view of why we read and why we should."—Kirkus Reviews

"Francis Spufford has written a rare book with crucial implications for 6every reader. At a time when writing for children has never reached farther or deeper, he has recast the concept of the childhood autobiography as a story of mental acts and fantasy figures rather than as a tale of events and people. In the process he has thrown an original and fascinating light on the effects of culture in the making of a person."—Marina Warner, author of Six Myths of Our Time: Little Angels, Little Monsters, Beautiful Beasts, and More

"Sublime . . . Here lies Pooh Bear, the witch and the wardrobe, the Swallows and the Amazons, all jumbled together in the box of their common childhood associations."—Peter Ackroyd, author of London: The Biography

"The recent successes of The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series remind us of the imaginative power children's literature wields . . . Where does that power spring from and what effect does it have on us? In this sophisticated, stylish, and beautifully written book, Spufford has come as close as anyone to answering these difficult questions."—The Economist

"This book is a marvel, opening old forgotten treasure chests in my mind. Spufford has given me insight into how literature became a way of understanding the world, a kind of religion. For people like me this book has something valuable to say on every page."—Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Years of Rice and Salt

"I cannot think why this book has not been written before . . . It should make provocative reading for many: Parents, teachers and all those [who've been] obsessed with books for as long as they can remember."—Penelope Lively, author of All About Alfie

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Francis Spufford

  • Francis Spufford is also the author of I May Be Some Time. He was named A Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and received the 1997 Somerset Maugham and Writers' Guild Awards. He lives in London, England.