Reading Out Loud & Telling Stories
My career as a five year-old author – Janet Aitchison on “The Pirates’ Tale”
As a five year old I had no ambitions to write a children’s book, indeed my five year old self could not conceive of such a thing. But I had recently learned to read and write, and one day embarked upon a rambling story written in erratic sloping lines on large sheets of scrap paper.
My parents tell me I woke them early in the morning asking how to spell words like ‘volcano’ and ‘mountain’ but, apart from this assistance, they had nothing to do with the writing until it was finished, at which point my mother decided to send it to the Puffin Club. Like Frank Key, we were members of this charming club and received the Puffin Post magazines every quarter. My mother thought my story might get printed in the magazine as they regularly published children’s poems, jokes and stories.
To my delight, the story appeared in the next edition… but little did I know that Jill McDonald, the staff illustrator at Puffin, had taken a shine to the story and suggested it be made into a Puffin book. A couple of years later, the book was published, complete with Jill’s wonderful illustrations.
It remained in print for about ten years and was translated into two or three other languages. Its publication propelled me into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s youngest published author and I received some attention from the news media when it was published being featured in a few newspapers and on the local BBC news program.
No further works of fiction followed – I like to say I peaked at five and it’s been downhill ever since! However, the experience did have some effect on my career path – I entered the publishing world as an editor and am now a Publishing Director at Cambridge University Press in New York. I’m sure my early experience with the Pirates’ Tale helped propel me in this direction– Janet Aitchison
The Pirates’ Tale was gloriously illustrated by Jill McDonald who sadly died in 1982. Jill McDonald was a New-Zealand-born children’s writer and illustrator, working in the United Kingdom from the mid-1960s. Much of her work was done for Puffin Books.
Born: 30 October 1927, Wellington, New Zealand
Died: 2 January 1982, London
So there we are. And now I am going to faithfully reproduce it so that you can enjoy it too, and I do it with the greatest respect and acknowledgement to both the author and the publisher. It has probably been out of print for at least 40 years, but I have written to both Penguin, Random House and Janet Aitchison.
I have explained that I didn’t intend actually publishing or selling it. So far neither has replied.
Saturday April 30th 2022
I am not sure how this page is going to develop.
I started with The Pirate’s Tale because I thought it was wonderful, partly because Janet was only five and a half when she wrote it, and because my kids enjoyed it when I read it to them forty odd years ago.
I like The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson because I think it is a very neatly constructed story with an unlikely winner.
I listened to a couple of audio versions of it and hated them for being overdone and gimmicky. It was gratifying to find that lots of other people don’t like these over the top versions either. In fact what I really wanted was to hear a child reading it, but couldn’t find any examples of children actually reading anything out loud.
Of course, there are some wonderful readers of stories, but there are also a lot of pretty dreadful ones. The point is that all of them are reading to us ( or at us ).
I cannot find a single example of children reading either to each other or to us, let alone just telling us a story in their own words.
I am working on it.
In the meantime, with full copyright acknowledgement to Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler and Macmillan etc, here is me reading The Gruffalo.