“Read one more story, mummy!”
“OK – one more, then it’s time for sleep. Which one would you like?”
And so I began to read Julia Donaldson’s ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ for what could possibly have been the 400th time. I lost count one bedtime about five months ago. I could probably recite it to you now, as I could with any of Joe’s other favourite books which he never seems to tire of hearing. In fact, he seems to become more enthusiastic with each reading, narrating along with me and shouting out his favourite lines just before I get to them. And even though I can tell each of these stories pretty much on auto-pilot now, whilst thinking about something else at the same time, I will keep doing it as many times as Joe wants me to. I don’t think there are many things in a child’s life more important than books.
I have always loved reading. As a child myself, I spent many a happy Sunday afternoon, in the absence of smartphones and iPads, lying on my bed reading a book from cover to cover in a couple of hours. Roald Dahl was my absolute favourite; his enduring and fantastic stories remain popular to this day for a reason. I also had a sizeable Nancy Drew collection – those who remember the girl detective and her numerous tales of run-ins with Scooby Doo villains will probably look back on her escapades as fondly as I do. I revelled in the escapism that reading provides, and would get lost in the worlds created on the pages in front of me.
Books help to foster a child’s imagination, broaden their knowledge and improve their language skills. I got into creative writing at a young age because of my love of books. I won a short story competition run by the local paper when I was 10 with a tale I made up about a time-travelling cupboard under the stairs which transported me back to Elizabethan England! The mind of a child can be a powerful and wonderful thing if it is provided with the stimuli to develop – and it is a sad truth that too many of today’s children aren’t given this opportunity.
Some children are too pre-occupied, too disinterested or even too embarrassed to read for its own enjoyment, and without encouragement at home from an early age, these kids will probably never pick up a book for fun and will miss out on so many benefits as a result. Figures released in 2010 indicated nearly a fifth of school leavers were ‘functionally illiterate’, lacking the basic language skills to get by successfully in society, and were essentially unemployable. Research conducted by the National Literacy Trust in 2012 found that over a fifth of children rarely or never read in their own time, but that children who did read outside of class on a daily basis were 13 times more likely to read above the level expected for their age.
Before our little ones are even old enough to understand what a book is, it is up to us as parents to introduce them to the wonders that lie between those covers. There is a stunning array of children’s books out there for kids of all ages to discover – from the simplest picture books to the whole genre of teenage fiction – and they deserve to be enjoyed. Attractions such as Seven Stories in Ouseburn showcase the fun to be had from children’s books, and that the story doesn’t have to end when you put the book down.
As a busy working mum, it is a shame that I don’t now make the time to read for myself as much as I used to when I was younger – but I am certain I am never going to be too busy to read to Joe. And if tonight’s choice is going to be ‘The Highway Rat’ for the seventeenth bedtime in succession, then I am more than happy to indulge him. I just can’t wait for the day when I can lie down and have him read to me instead.