Cover image for The child that books built : a life in reading
The child that books built : a life in reading
Spufford, Francis, 1964-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Metropolitan Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
213 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Faber and Faber, 2002.
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Z1037.A1 S74 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A wise and tender tribute to childhood reading and the power of fiction

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 earliest encounters with books, exploring such beloved classics as The Wind in the Willows, The 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, which then reveal . . . a dragon. Weaving together child development, personal reflection, and social observation, Spufford shows the force of fiction in shaping a child: how stories allow for escape from pain and for mastery of the world, how they shift our boundaries of the sayable, how they stretch the chambers of our imagination.

Fired by humanity, curiosity, and humor, The Child That Books Built confirms Spufford as a profound and original thinker, evoking in the process the marvel of reading as if for the first time.

Author Notes

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

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Anxious to uncover the roots of his addiction to reading, British journalist and critic Spufford revisits the books he so avidly consumed as a boy, titles by authors ranging from Tolkien to Ian Fleming and from Laura Ingalls Wilder to C. S. Lewis, whose Narnia he evokes with an aching and poignant yearning. By resurrecting the personal circumstances of his early reading, Spufford mixes richly evoked childhood emotions with the necessary distance of his adult sensibility. The result is a fascinating amalgam of memoir, literary criticism, child psychology, epistemology, and quest. His journeys are both figurative--into his subconscious past--and literal, for one of the most interesting sections of the book is his account of a writing assignment that takes him to DeSmet, South Dakota, to investigate the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. By the end of his quest, Spufford has learned what he needs to know about his personal history, but in the process he--and his readers--have learned even more about how books become part of "the history of our self-understanding." This brilliantly insightful and elegantly written life is essential reading for anyone who loves books and their power to help us "see beyond the horizon of our own circumstances." --Michael Cart

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this often incisive childhood memoir, a British journalist and award-winning author (I May Be Some Time) recreates his early reading itinerary and pinpoints the universal experiences of the constant young reader. Most important, he understands the escape that books offer a child "More than I wanted books to do anything else, I wanted them to take me away," he writes. He follows with musings on the particular effects created by the books he encountered: the ecstasy and longing of C.S. Lewis's Narnia chronicles, the community created in the Little House on the Prairie series (here Spufford offers interesting asides on how daughter Rose Wilder Lane's arch-conservative politics shaped her mother's books, which she helped write), and the "godsend," at a certain age, of science fiction, particularly that of Ursula Le Guin. Discussions of the ideas of Bettelheim, C.S. Lewis and others are serviceable but pale in effect beside rich evocations of communions with books, such as the pleasing power of libraries, the comfort of reliable Puffin Books, the experience of reading "faster than my understanding had grown" and the inevitable moment when a young reader reaches the "saturation point" and must move beyond children's books. Moments of literary discovery (even for "one-handed" reading of porn) are offered concisely. Readers will luxuriate in the memories of being consumed by books and the ways in which Spufford shows his developing talent as a reader. (Oct. 8) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"I need fiction. I'm an addict," confesses Spufford, a British journalist and critic. Few will dispute the sincerity of this confession after following this autobiographical journey of an obsessive reading life, which Spufford began as an escape from the envy and pity he felt toward his seriously ill younger sister. To Spufford, reading is a way of balancing the real-world experience of incident with a controlled, or "piped," experience and is the force that shaped his values, imagination, self-understanding, and personality. With humor and passion, he chronicles reading experiences and the impact of books by authors such as William Mayne, Peter Dickinson, Alan Garner, Jill Paton Walsh, Kenneth Grahame, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Jane Austen. Spufford connects his personal development through reading with research and theories in child development, cognitive psychology, language development, and literary criticism. This is a boldly honest, enlightened, and enlightening testimony of the power of reading that all librarians and other educators should read. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Confessions of an English Fiction Eaterp. 1
2 The Forestp. 23
3 The Islandp. 64
4 The Townp. 108
5 The Holep. 149
Acknowledgmentsp. 211