I found a children's book today called Timothy's Resolve, by Winifred Wilson. It was good, wholesome stuff. Just the sort of book you'd award as a school prize, to reward 'good conduct' and 'diligence'.
This copy of Timothy's Resolve was awarded to a boy called Robert Swift:
Unfortunately, Robert Swift didn't receive his prize with good grace and the back endpaper looks like this:
I wonder where Robert Swift is today. If he's alive, he'll be in his sixties and I wonder how he'd regard his juvenile scribblings.
I have a lot of sympathy with Master Swift. As a boy, I was forever being given books that I didn't want to read. Even at eight, it was clear that their agenda was to improve me, rather than provide the fun and escapism that Enid Blyton gave me. My aunt, who was a missionary in Africa, gave me Christian adventure stories. Another person handed me a copy of The Incredible Journey and kept quizzing about it every time I saw them. The only people who didn't burden me with unwanted gifts were my parents.
As a result, I have a horror of presents, particularly books and films. The moment somebody gives me a DVD or novel, I know that at some point in the future, I will be expected to tell them what I think of it.
When I worked in a bookshop, customers would often ask me for a recommendation for a child who was starting to read. My reply was always the same: 'Give them a book token, then they can make their own choice.' Even if the child buys complete crap, it doesn't matter. They have bought their first book and they are now a reader. The rest will follow.