I am a self confessed book worm. I always have been and always will be. Now that I am a parent there is nothing more delightful than sharing some of my most favourite stories with Arlo. For me it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and for Arlo he’s discovering new worlds for the very first time. I’m going to reach for some of the lesser mentioned stories on our bookshelf and share some of the magic with you.
We read together every evening before bed, and the ones we reach for most often are those by Shirley Hughes, which are full of relatable stories and poems. “Things I like” is probably the one I would recommend to anyone as an introduction, as it’s a collection full of things which a toddler will experience.
We can sit together and read a poem about splashing in puddles or about leaves on trees which then helps us discuss things we have experienced ourselves that day. It reinforces learning experiences and we sit and pore over the pages together looking at all the little details. If you love Shirley Hughes then you also need to read all about Annie-Rose and bad Harry too (I actually think he could be Arlo!)
Continuing down the nostalgic childhood path, I must also give mention Janet and Allan Ahlberg. There are so many books of theirs which I could mention, Peepo, Each Peach Pear Plum and Funnybones – but the most popular on our shelf has to be “the Jolly Christmas Postman” This is probably one of the most innovative children’s books of all time and the work gone in to designing this is incredible.
In a world before iPads were invented this book captured my imagination and kept me busy for hours – a simple story following a postman’s journey delivering letters, with every other page featuring a real envelope containing surprise gifts for the reader to open and explore. The attention to detail is second to none and even now as an adult reading this book with Arlo I find things which I’ve never noticed before. It’s truly magical and one to put in the Christmas Eve box to treasure forever.
Another of my favourite books is by Nick Butterworth, and for a similar reason. His Percy the Park Keeper book has beautiful illustrations of animals and a series of fold out pages which open to reveal important story elements. This book is a firm favourite of Arlo’s right now because we spend so much time in parks and it’s so familiar to him. This book is a good one to aid discussions about changing of seasons and weather, not to mention all of the different woodland creatures.
We love books which have rhythm and rhyme, you’re probably all familiar with Michael Rosen and “We’re going on a bear Hunt” this is like a rite of passage for all children and it’s super easy to get kids motivated on the last stretch of an outdoor walk when their little legs are tired by chanting the rhyme – a great first introduction to this wonderfully eccentric poet is “freckly feet and itchy knees” – it’s a lovely little book and another one to help inspire interaction between parents and babies. The only problem with this one is it might be a bit too energetic before bedtime, at least it is when we read it out loud together and act it all out!
The illustrations and text in all great children’s books are designed to help encourage independent reading, without knowing it children can sit and listen to a story being read out loud by their parents and follow the text with their fingers, books have simple sentences and repetitive sounds, as a grown up now I have a repertoire of voices and sounds which I didn’t know I was capable of creating – it’s so much fun for Arlo he doesn’t even realise he’s learning.
I must pause here to mention Rupert Bear, originally a comic strip, which has had many authors and illustrators over the years. My mum had the annuals every year as a Christmas gift when she was a child and we have kept up the tradition here. I’ve noticed with these books how they offer something to children of different ages. Each comic strip is accompanied by a rhyming couplet which perfectly represents the story, and so I can read these with Arlo and flick through the pictures to tell the story, but on the same page there’s also a full descriptive paragraph for each scene – these books provide different experiences to readers of different ages and Logan who is eight will sit and read these stories independently.
Hamish McColl’s Paddington is seemingly the more popular bear about town these days, probably because he’s been bought to life recently by Hollywood, in my opinion Rupert Bear stories have that quintessentially British feel about them and are just as delightful to read. There’s something wonderful about following a protagonist which is an animal, and children often find comfort in having soft toys which they recognise from their most loved books. I still have a Paddington and a Rupert which are over thirty years old!
I have to pause here and give mention to Richard Scarry here, “Mr Frumble’s worst day ever” was given to me when my little sister was born so that I didn’t feel left out and the story follows Mr Frumble (another anthropomorphic animal – this time a pig) and a day of misfortunate escapades. It’s a really funny book and again there is a lot going on in all of the illustrations to create talking points for discussion. My five year old nephew Lincoln has a wonderful sense of humour and he finds these books delightful to read. I have older editions of these books, which aren’t quite so politically correct these days but it’s reassuring to know that many of these books have been edited to reflect social changes so that the stories and illustrations are still relevant for children today.
As I got older I delved in to the world of Enid Blyton and began reading independently, the Famous Five and Mallory Towers captured my imagination, in fact I was determined to follow in the steps of Darrell Rivers and head to an all girls school! Noddy is also well known and quite controversial these days but my favourite of all her works was always “the Magic Far Away Tree” – a group of children discover an array of different worlds which appear as they climb a tall tree. It’s actually quite odd trying to explain it, the land of Topsy Turvy is a place the children discover where everyone walks on their hands, and then there’s the land of “do as you please” – each story has some sort of moral lesson, the children get in to trouble and have to help each other to make everything right.
Many of Blyton’s book’s were written over eighty years ago and have attracted critical backlash for various reasons over the years. As an adult I can read back some of these books and see why, but as a child I was blissfully unaware of the controversy and thankfully there have been many updates to Enid Blytons work to make the stories more appropriate for a modern audience.
As I grew older and went to secondary school I actually volunteered to help in the library and used to take home new books every evening. I used to have a torch to continue reading after lights were turned off to get to the end of a story, I slept with so many books under my pillow I had a crick in my neck. I would take the books from the reading list and read them over and over again. I discovered the baby sitters club, goosebumps and eventually the horrors of Stephen King’s short stories.
My thirst for new texts meant that my teachers would recommend their own childhood favourites to me, Mr Jones lent me his copy of Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery which were challenging for me at the time, but are two books I always remember being fascinated by, and then along came Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I would have so many questions and found it fascinating that people could have different interpretations to the same story.
Our English teachers would help explain the context stories were written in, both historically and politically and suddenly things would have different meanings, which is eye opening when you’re learning to navigate the world as a teenager. In fact I don’t think there’s any other ‘coming of age’ story which covers so many challenging topics. We spent a term pouring over To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, furiously debating politics, religion, gender inequality, racism, social and class divides, justice and many other themes inspired by this text and I think this is one of the most important books for anyone to read, and more relevant than ever even now in 2020.
Books are so important to me. Whenever I read a new book I write my name in the cover and then leave them for someone new to find, especially on holiday. Arlo and I have also done the same and have hidden his books in the park and participated in book exchanges to share our love of literature. I have tried audio books and digital book’s but there’s still nothing quite like thumbing through the pages of a book, curling up indoors on a rainy day, or finding a shady spot under a tree in a park when it’s sunny outside.
I could go on forever and talk about the time I went to a book store at midnight to buy the last ever Harry Potter book as soon as it was released, and stayed up all night to finish it, or how I cried with laughter reading the diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4 as a teenager, or how I felt reading the diary of Anne Frank for the first time. I’ll finish with a quote from one last favourite book of mine which I think explains exactly how I feel about reading – there’s nothing more important than inspiring a love of book’s with your children.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss, from “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”