Just recently my two and a half-year-old son achieved a milestone I had been particularly looking forward to; that of being able to sit, listen and enjoy longer picture books such as The Gruffalo. We are now very much past the baby board books and the Usborne ‘That’s Not My…’ books (thank God!!) We are still very much into flaps (Is There A Dog In This Book is a constant favourite) but we have moved on from touch and feel baby board books.
Finally, I can say with slightly emotional pride, my little lad can sit through the entirety of Room On The Broom without losing attention for a second. Oh, what wonderful opportunities now flood our way! Literally, bookshelves full of them!
He has enjoyed ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ and ‘Rattletrap Car’ for some time now, but the length of rhyming prose in books like The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom were too much for him until recently.
I’ve felt quite tearful reading to him lately, for many reasons. Of course, when your child passes a milestone, whether it’s starting to walk or starting to talk, you always feel a strong mix of emotions. Pride and excitement are the dominant ones, but there is always an added pang of wistfulness. Your little baby is growing and changing and time stands still for no one. I sat with him last night, his little legs pressed next to mine, his bottle of milk on his lap, while I read him The Gruffalo for the first time. By this, I mean for the first time since he’s been able to appreciate longer books! He was leaning over the pages and I could feel his concentration and anticipation. I wondered how much of the story and the tricks the mouse plays on everyone, were getting through to him.
I found myself drifting back in time, just as I had the day before with Room On The Broom. I have a strong minded, very individual fourteen-year-old daughter, who was once an equally strong-minded two-year-old. After her bath, we used to wrap her in a towel, sit her on her potty and read Room On The Broom to her. I will forever associate that book with potty training! And reading it again in its full glory, to my little boy brought back so many memories I could have cried. I found myself doing the same voices (I make the witch sound rather old and croaky, and of course the dragon has to sound like a ruffian from the East End of London)
The same thing happened while reading The Gruffalo tonight. My voice was getting louder, my accents more pronounced, along with my hand gestures! My little boy cracked up when the mouse said ‘gruffalo crumble!’ and we laughed about it for ages afterward. God, I must have read that story so many times to my older kids. How wonderful to be introducing such magic and laughter to another generation.
It was my oldest son, my nine-year-old who got into the Julia Donaldson books the most, though. For a fair few Christmases we would ask friends and family to buy him one of her books, so we have quite a collection now, which I am so pleased we held onto. The other day when reading to my youngest, his older brother drifted into the room and joined us on the bed. He requested Tiddler, which if I remember, was his favourite when he was just a tiddler himself. I hadn’t read it in years, but it all came back to me, and yet again I felt transported back in time. The loveliest thing was that my older son started reading it too, matching my voice, so that we were both reading it out loud at the same time. Tiddler! Tiddler! Tiddler’s late! Like an earworm, the refrain has been in my head for days since. I like tiddler’s story, said little Johnny Dory…and he told it to his Granny…who told it to a plaice!
Childhood books are like windows in time, taking you back to another you and another place, filling you with sweet warmth and stoking your belly with fresh giggles. I recently re-read Watership Down for the first time in adulthood, and I was hooked from start to finish. Not only that, I felt like a kid again. Touched by magic and wonder, on the edge of my seat with worry for this troubled band of runaway rabbits. Every chapter delivered a new adventure, the stakes even higher once they finally found a new home and discovered the vicious dictator in the next warren. I cried when I read the last chapter. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I was that ten-year-old girl again, curled up in the arm chair in my childhood home, totally absorbed, my cloth ears closed to all but Hazel and Fiver and Bigwig, my teeth biting my lip, my eyes welling with tears when Hazel realised he didn’t need his body anymore… (Gulp)
Children’s books are powerful magic indeed. Reading them, sharing them, reliving them in later years. Research shows that reading to babies and toddlers helps them associate books with love and affection, fostering a lifelong love of books and reading. I look at books as adventures waiting to happen, as worlds waiting for you to step inside them. I am so excited that my youngest can enjoy longer books; there are so many places we can now go!
What about you? What were your favourite books as a child? What books have your own children become obsessed with?