Girls’ Own: the obsession begins

My name is Abi, and I read children’s books.

I started off with Postman Pat, moved on to Ragdolly Anna, and continued with A Little Princess, What Katy Did and Anne of Green Gables. My first serious collection was Arthur Ransome, beginning with Winter Holiday and ending, regretfully, with Coots in the North. From there I moved on to Just William – a more satisfying collection to build, since it contains thirty-eight books as opposed to the thirteen in the Swallows and Amazons series.

When I was nine years old I found The Chalet School at War in the school library, but since it begins with the staff discussing events that happened not only in the previous book, but during the Second World War (which I had not yet studied), it left me cold. A couple of years later my Mum completed my Just William collection with William and the Pop Stars and suggested that I borrow Mary-Lou of the Chalet School from the town library. I suspect that she now regrets this, seeing where it led, but I did as she proposed, and thus was an obsession born. I began collecting the Chalet School towards the end of the time Armada were reprinting the books, so among my first were Reunion, Future, Adrienne, Two Sams and Prefects, as well, of course, as most of the earlier books, and I do retain a soft spot for some of these later ones.

I was sixteen when I started my first job, in a second-hand bookshop. I got books for half-price, and guess where most of my wages went? After extensive, if furtive, searching on the internet, I found that Elsie Oxenham was a promising candidate for lovers of the Chalet School. The bookshop had two Oxenhams – Robins in the Abbey, a Seagull hardback, and The Abbey Girls at Home, one of the notorious Children’s Press reprints. The latter being a quarter of the price of the former, I bought it, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

That was just the pointy end of the proverbial wedge. I began to collect feverishly. At first it was just the famous names – Elsie Oxenham, Angela Brazil, Dorita Fairlie-Bruce and Enid Blyton. Then I found The Schoolgirl Refugee by Olive C. Dougan, still one of my favourites, A Rebel Schoolgirl by Frances Carpenter, Terry’s Best Term by Evelyn Smith and many, many others. Now I have more than eight hundred Girls’ Own books and my collection is constantly growing. And at last I have succumbed to the self-indulgent temptation to talk continually about them on the internet.

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