Reading With Your Children
There are very many wonderful memories connected to this highly pleasurable activity. I have two daughters, now in their late twenties, to whom I used to read each day when they were young. One became an avid reader, staying up late into the night reading some treasured stories, over and over, with her parents blissfully asleep and unaware. Roald Dahl was a favourite author at that time.
I have vivid memories, which I hope they share, of laughter, safe “terror” and tears for those really sad endings followed by cuddles. I also loved watching them as they re-enacted various stories together or made up their own versions. It was wonderful to watch their development, from just pointing at pictures with smiles or frowns, to remembering the words by heart (it’s a shame that it can become so much harder in later life!) Of course it became a game to change a word here and there - they were so pleased when they had to correct me.
As parents we may begin by sharing our own childhood favourites: Beatrix Potter; Kate Greenaway; Iona Opie, The Water Babies and The Wind in the Willows, especially as they most probably evoke treasured memories for us, but you can also introduce the more contemporary authors and illustrators such as Phillip Pullman; Terry Pratchett; Maurice Sendak; Eric Carle; Nicola Bayley and Quentin Blake. Some books become firm favourites because of the storyline or illustrations or the inventive way the book is presented. There was one such, but can I remember the title or anything else useful in order to find the book now? Of course not - just like many of the customers who come into our shop. However, this particular book had a line of text running around the four outside edges of each page and, as you followed the text, you saw, for example, that the illustration in the centre metamorphosed from a cabbage to an old lady. Magical!
One of the earliest books I read to my daughters was that good old favourite ‘Nursery Rhymes’. As the girls grew a little older we had fun substituting their names for one in a loved rhyme. Another thing that seems to come naturally to children as they learn to talk is to make up nonsense rhymes, almost like Edward Lear, but only in that they make no immediate sense – just that the sounds are fun.
Then there are the treasured books that are brought out for special supervised times only - the old and yellowed ones with the rougher paper and uncut edges, perhaps illustrated by Arthur Rackham, or those that may be easily broken such as pop-up books, or books that may not be collectable but hold treasured personal memories.
We always had great fun trying to copy how books were made and illustrated; I still have some of these wonderful “books”, infinitely better than real collectable books, to me of course.
Our visits to the library were fun. I always had to leave plenty of time for the children to settle themselves down on the comfy floor cushions, a real rest for us all. We could take books home to learn something, make a toy, take the idea on holiday with us or just escape into a different world for a while. Authors who were in the process of writing series such as The Redwall Chronicles by Brian Jacques or A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket or Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – these made choosing birthdays and Christmas presents really easy. Do you remember the mixed blessings of series such as I-Spy or the Observer Books? They were really good for information, but possibly with unfortunate consequences in the back of the moving car!
Many people who visit our shop sink gratefully into fond childhood memories, not just of the books themselves, but the people with whom they shared the book and the places where they were read. Many people remember childhood books by the story or a particular character, or the illustrations, colour or shape. It’s always fun to try and put a title, author or illustrator to their memories and sometimes wonderfully, and even emotionally, re-uniting them with the book, or advising them where it may be found.
Sometimes the memories are really dramatic, as with one person who came in and seemed quite overwhelmed with our books illustrated by Edmund Dulac. It transpired that as a teenager the books had been borrowed, without telling the parents in order to write up a school project. At the end of the day the books were given to a trusted friend to take home so they could be taken back to the parent’s home when they were out. Sadly one parent of this friend threw those “dreadful old books” out for the dustbin men!!! The only hope was that the dustbin man saw and rescued them. This had happened over forty years ago and was still deeply felt.
I hope today’s authors and illustrators are just as inspiring as those from my childhood and my children’s young days. Books can provide useful information or engender a sense of adventure and excitement which can be carried outside into the fresh air with friends or even to begin the dream which will turn later into a career. They can also give you much needed uninterrupted time and space and encouragement to look at the natural world and all its different peoples with enlightened eyes and minds.
Whether your home was full of books, or you went to a good local or school library, there is no doubt that the books we read in childhood do leave lasting impressions.
Contributed by Rosemary Davis
(Published 29th Oct 2014)