High on the list of things I hope E&W pick up from me is a love of reading. I’ve always got a book on the go, or a magazine to hand, or pieces from the web stored on my phone, ready to be whipped out and got lost in when I have a spare moment or two. While I’ll pretty much give any book or author a try, my fiction-of-choice leans towards the fantasy/sci-fi genre, with a generous dollop of ghost stories for good measure. I’ve spent huge chunks of my life lost in fantastic worlds, on daring quests, battling nefarious foes, or creeping around dark graveyards, all through the wonder that is the written word.
We read to E&W for about 15 minutes every evening, taking turns. I’ve just finished Treasure Island, and Kate is now on Five Children and It, after recently finishing Through the Looking Glass. At the moment, we read to them as part of the bedtime routine, rather than thinking they might understand any of what we’re saying to them. In the past we’ve done The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (I do a world-class Ford Prefect, if I do say so myself), The Jungle Book, some of The Arabian Nights, The Wind in the Willows and Park Honan’s Shakespeare: A Life (okay, that last one was really for my benefit).
E&W have a large selection of books of their own. The That’s Not My...series has been particularly popular, and they love Each Peach Pear Plum and Oh No, George. William in particular loves books. Often when he wakes from a nap, he'll be a little bit grizzly, in a "I was having nice dreams! I don't want to be awake!" way - give him a book and he'll smile and sit paging back and forth through it contentedly (we call it 'the morning papers'). They both seem to really enjoy sitting down with a book, flicking through it, paying particularly close attention to their favourite pictures (William shrieks “CA!” at the witch’s black cat in Each Peach Pear Plum, and Eliza always giggles when she looks at the photo of a tiger cub in a book of photos of baby animals). When they get a little older, they have the delights of classics like The Gruffalo and Dr Seuss and Diary of a Wombat (which we first saw on holiday in Australia in 2007 and made a pact that if we ever had children, it would be one of the first books we bought for them). I'm looking forward to - one day - sitting and reading with them, not just to them.
Why do I want them to grow up to love reading? I could waffle on for a bit, or I could just share a beautiful cartoon by the always-fabulous LunarBaboon, which sums it up perfectly:
(Huge thanks to LunarBaboon for letting me use his cartoon in my blog - check out his website at www.lunarbaboon.com).
If I was a pithy, bon mot-ish philosopher, I’d now say something like “Read to a child, and he’ll be entertained for 10 minutes; teach him to love to read for himself, and he’ll be entertained for life.” But I’m not, so I won’t. Except I just have. Hmmm.
So when it comes to reading to E&W, I think I'm on the right track.
And then my friend Richard, dad to Toby, raised the stakes when he posted a message on Facebook one evening not so long ago, which he’s kindly let me share:
"Rambling stories to entertain my child have tonight included the tale of Jerimimah the Pirate Parrot, who has a wooden leg called Terrance, which is named after his original pre-wooden leg also called Terrance. It was a tale about an altercation in a pub filled with ordinary hardworking teddy bears."
(How many of you are wondering what the other leg is called? Perhaps all will be revealed in a sequel!)
I was immediately envious. Making up stories for your children is awesome. I need to up my parenting game. Not that I think parenting should be at all competitive (remind me of that when it’s time to line up for the Dads Race at school sports day). But if I see a great idea, I’ll gladly pinch it. And this is a great idea.
I used to love making up stories as a boy, rip-offs of the fantasy romps I was reading, full of derring-do and bright magic. And then I got a bit older, and it seemed like there were more important things to do than noodle away with tales of Bragalath the Bad-Breathed and his Boisterous Band of Boglin Brigands. On the odd occasion I have sat down to write a story in recent years, I quickly decide that what I’m writing is nonsense, not going anywhere, no point to it, and give up.
But, as Richard's story shows, you can really let loose when telling tales to little folks. Who cares if it doesn’t make sense? Who cares if it jumps the storyline tracks (and the odd shark here and there)? Who cares if the elves turn out to be aliens? I don’t think the story is the point - the sitting with your children and telling it to them is. Don’t just read someone else’s creation - create something for them. Be in the moment, interact with them, let them ask you questions and make suggestions. Spark off them, make them laugh, make them happy.
Maybe I'll write down some of these tales. Maybe I'll work on them, rewrite bits, add bits on, take bits out. Maybe I'll collect them together in a book, and give a copy to E&W to read when they want. Maybe this will start a tradition of telling stories through following generations (hey, dream big!)
And on reflection, I’ve decided I don’t want to know what the other leg is called. I like that maybe only Richard and Toby know that. Or that Richard doesn’t know, but Toby does, and will share that secret with his children one day.
Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, give feedback, or make suggestions for what you'd like to see me write about (I'll happily do requests!) below - and please share this blog with anyone you think might be interested in it. Thank you!