I do remember Janet and John books. I'm not sure if they were the main reading scheme books we used- but I remember thinking they were boring and it was a lot of effort to sound out those words under the bland pictures, only to find out that Janet was helping mummy (Good girl, Janet!). Besides, my dad was reading me the Narnia books at home; they were exciting, full of plot and my dad is a brilliant reader-aloud, so I thought I wouldn't bother finding out whether Janet and John ever swapped roles, with John helping mummy (Good boy, John!) and I wasn't even motivated by their dog Darky (Look, Janet! See the dog run!)
Reading didn't make sense to me until I was nearly 7. I remember that it was wet play, and I was looking for something to do, and for some reason I went to the book corner. I hadn't gone there much because the book corner was two bookshelves, jointed in the middle. They joined together and could be locked, and were only used by the teacher and the "free readers" who no longer had to read Janet and John and the other more interesting reading scheme books for children who weren't "slow readers". I picked up a Through The Rainbow Silver reader. I remember it had a story about Robin Hood in it, and had very detailed coloured pictures. I could read it! When she came back from her break, I convinced my teacher to let me read it to her- and low and behold, I went from Slow Reader to Free Reader!
The Dark Is Rising, the second in the Dark Is Rising sequence. We were in a mobile classroom not far from Buckinghamshire, where Susan Cooper set the novel, although I can't say if that was why the book resonated so strongly with me: in fact, until I reread it I forgot it was set not far from where my aunt and uncle live. But the sense of place in the novel is extremely powerful. The fourth chapter, The Walker on the Old Way has a description which is so vivid I was convinced that the novel had been dramatised on children's television in the late 70s. Will Stanton, an eleven year old boy who is the seventh son of a seventh son, has discovered that he is one of the Old Ones, the defenders of the Light, who are striving to defeat the rising power of the Dark. Will has just discovered his power, but doesn't yet know how to use it, and on his way home after Christmas shopping, he decides to instruct a fallen branch to burn:
"And there on the snow, a the fallen arm of the tree burst into flame. Every inch of it, from the thich rotted base to the smallest twig, blazed with licking yellow fire. There was a hissing sound, and a tall shaft of brilliance rose from the fire like a pillar. No smoke came from the burning, and the flames were steady; twigs that should have blazed and crackled briefly and then fallen into ash burned continuously, as if fed with other fire within."
Will's impulsivity has a consequence of course: it attracts the Dark to him, but it also convinces the Walker, who has been doomed to carry the second Sign of Power for centuries, to give it up to him.
I read the whole of the Dark is Rising sequence because Mrs Stowell read to us. I think I bought Over Sea, Under Stone, Cooper's first children's novel. I vividly remember reading Greenwitch, where Will meets Simon, Jane and Barney Drew in Trewissick, Cornwall. The section where Jane joins the local women in building the Greenwitch, a pre-Christian fertility figure, has stayed with me for thirty years. (Thankfully Jane's character is much developed from the Anne from the Famous Five crossed with Susan from Swallows and Amazons in the earlier work). I look forward to re-reading the rest of the sequence: The Grey King and Silver on the Tree.