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“Lights Out!” (Duncan Ball)

Today we welcome Duncan Ball to the blog, talking about what he liked to read when he was growing up — he didn’t like to read under the covers! Duncan Ball wrote the books in the Selby series (including some Selby joke books), and the Emily Eyefinger series, but did you know he has also published a book of poetry, My Sister Has a Big Black Beard?

"Selby Book cover""My Sister Has a Big Black Beard book cover""Emily Eyefinger book cover"

"Duncan Ball photo"
Duncan Ball

I didn’t read when I was a kid. I could read a bit but I was a very slow reader so it wasn’t fun. I never read books when I didn’t have to. I’d been read books so I liked what was in them but I didn’t have the key to unlock their secrets. So I didn’t read under the covers after lights-out. I’m sure my parents would have happily given me a torch if I did.

In primary school I lived in Alaska, the northernmost state in America. There was no TV and a lot of the year it was very cold and dark so you couldn’t play outdoors. We had toys, mostly basic wooden toys, but also games and puzzles to play with. My sister spent all her time reading. Even when we were driving somewhere and there was beautiful scenery she barely looked up from her book.

"Duncan Ball with his sister, Sally. 1949 ca Mountain View,  Alaska."
Duncan Ball with his sister, Sally. Mountain View, Alaska, around 1949.

Comic books saved my life. They were exciting and funny and I could manage the few words on each page. At school our reading books said things like: “This is Dick. He is a boy. This is Jane. She is a girl. This is Spot. He is a dog.” If they’d given us Superman or Batman comics I’d have learned to read much sooner.

When I was twelve my family moved to Spain. I was put into a Spanish school where no one spoke any English and I didn’t speak any Spanish. But the kids were great and soon I had lots of friends and had to learn Spanish to talk to them. We lived in the middle of Madrid, a big city completely different from the tiny place we’d lived in in Alaska. There was so much to see and do. It was a wonderful three years.

"Duncan as a student in Madrid about 1953"
Duncan as a student in Madrid, about 1953

In Spain, I was able to get American comic books. I also read a few Spanish ones. Spanish comic book dogs said gua gua gua when they barked instead of bow wow or arf arf. If you pronounce that in Spanish I think it comes closer to a real dog’s bark than bow wow and arf arf.

As a teenager in Spain I started reading for enjoyment—in English. I loved poetry because a good poem can bypass your brain and go straight to your guts. But I also started reading novels, adult novels because what we now call “young adult” novels didn’t exist yet.

It seems strange that a boy who couldn’t read when he was in primary school now writes books like the Selby and Emily Eyefinger books for primary school kids. When I write them I try to remember what I was like at ten and I try to write stories that I think I would have loved when I was young. Recently I took time out and wrote a book of funny poems for kids called My Sister Has a Big Black Beard. It was great fun to write. I wonder if I’d have liked to read it when I was young.

© 2010 Duncan Ball

Visit Duncan Ball’s website and his blog to find out more about him and his books.

"Undercover readers logo"Alphabet Soup magazine is celebrating the launch of Undercover Readers (our new reviewers club for kids)!  If you’d like to join the Undercover Readers Club, you’ll find an information pack you can download from the Alphabet Soup website. As part of the celebrations, we have a different children’s author or illustrator visiting Soup Blog each day until 29 June 2010 to talk about what they used to read after ‘lights out’ when they were growing up.