‘We couldn’t wait to get into bed!’ Dads reading to their children

My dad reading to my kids, just as he read to me when I was their age

My dad reading to my kids, just as he read to me when I was their age

Sometimes when I’m planning a blog post, life has a strange way of tossing me a hook. ‘What book have you been read aloud that you loved?’ tweeted the Library as Incubator Project, and I was instantly taken back to evenings lying in bed sucking my fingers, listening to my dad reading his way through the Narnia series, The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It must have taken him months to get through that lot – in my memory it took pretty much my entire childhood, as the only other book I remember him reading to me is Watership Down. I should write a post about this, I thought.

The very next day, the reading and writing charity Booktrust announced their campaign to get dads reading more to their children. Apparently only one in eight dads take the lead in reading to their kids, 25% of whom blame working late for not reading stories at bedtime. Thank you Booktrust, for the perfect hook!

What benefits do children get from their dads reading to them? I can only speak for myself, but I hardly know where to start my list. Dad introduced me to some of the literary greats from a very young age – I was only six when he read the Narnia books, and barely seven when he read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. He brought those stories alive for me by virtually acting them out, giving every character his or her own accent and characteristics – when I re-read those books as an adult my dad’s voices were in my head.

It gave me time alone with him, which was rare in our house – I usually had to share him with two brothers and a 60 hour-a-week job. As a result there are tiny memories that are exclusive to the two of us, which brought us closer and that over the years have helped deepen our relationship. By reading me books which some would consider too complex at my age, he widened my vocabulary, my love of language and my confidence in what I was capable of reading and understanding. He gave me an experience that I remember with absolute pleasure.

I did a straw poll among Facebook friends and Twitter contacts about their experiences of dads reading to them, and people broadly echoed Booktrust’s findings – many said that their dads didn’t read to them because of commutes to work or long working days (we are mostly children of the 80s after all). But I also elicited some beautifully-expressed andn obviously fondly-held memories. Books that were mentioned included some stalwart classics – Black BeautyThe JumbliesTom Sawyer, Treasure Island, The Princess and Curdie and The Midnight Folk, plus an American author I’d not heard of called Holling Clancy Holling. Slightly surreally, my sister-in-law’s unreligious and Jewish father read her and her sister the Old Testament…

Those whose dads did read to them used words such as ‘safe and secure’ and ‘comforting and reassuring’ to describe their memories. One talked about feeling scared (hers read ‘Little Suck-a-Thumb’), but that it was ‘ok to be scared with a dad there’. A few remembered the exciting, hilarious or crazy stories their dads would make up for them. One image I especially loved was a dad sitting on the end of the bed each night with a book, glass of whisky in hand. A memory for all the senses!

What I wasn’t expecting though (although it perhaps should have been obvious), was the number of people who said that their dads now read or tell the same stories to their grandchildren, or didn’t read to them but do now read to the grandkids. And of course there are those of us (myself included) who now read their children the books that their dads read them. There is clearly a strong and vital legacy of the ongoing cycle of dads reading, and passing on that sense of safety and security to the next generation. The photo above is my dad doing just that for my kids last spring. What more compelling reason could there be for all you dads out there to read to your kids at bedtime tonight!

Which books do you remember your dads reading to you? And dads – do you read to your children now?

On reading favourite childhood books to your children

Since the day my children first drew breath I have been waiting to read them my favourite childhood books. No, really. Patience is not a virtue I possess. It was fun with the picture books – The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Where the Wild Things Are, Mog, The Hungry Caterpillar and the rest. But as we move through each phase of literacy and development and get closer to the big-hitters, I can hardly contain my excitement.

As you might have gathered if you read this blog regularly, books from my childhood and young adulthood are hugely important to me and who I am. Certain books have influenced my values and choices, formed some of my most influential memories, contributed to the person I’ve become. I love the idea of my kids getting older so I can introduce them to the authors who meant the most to me.

On the other hand there’s a real anxiety. What if they don’t like the books I loved, or don’t get them, or find them dated, or simply aren’t interested? Books can be pivotal in forming relationships – love the one I couldn’t live without and I love you. Love the one I threw across the room in disgust and our friendship is doomed. If my daughter felt no affection for Pippi Longstocking would this lessen our bond?

Well, we’ve done Pippi Longstocking and thankfully they loved it (despite my hasty editing out of some of the shockingly racist language). Roald Dahl is a guaranteed hit and luckily they appreciated my absolute favourite, Danny the Champion of the World (“Why are you crying?” my son asked in awe as I choked through the last line of the final chapter). We’ve done Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat (a lot wordier than I remember), and the little-known (but much loved by me) The Tale of Holly and Ivy which had my daughter transfixed. And now I’ve finally taken the plunge with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Yes, I know it’s not the first one in the series. Yes, I know The Magician’s Nephew is possibly better. But they’re only 6 and 4, and I’m honestly not sure they’d get all the nuances of the first book. It’s also quite frightening in places – Jadis with her bare arms and giant stature standing amid the ruins of a dead city terrified me 35 years ago. And anyway, this is the order in which I read them and it never did me any harm. It probably made me appreciate both books more, in fact – The Magician’s Nephew is almost like a prequel to the more famous Lion.

So I started the tale of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy at bedtime this evening, with, I’ll admit, some trepidation. The kids listened, they asked lots of questions about fauns, and about dryads, and about who would be next to go into the wardrobe. They were very specific about the children’s ages, and who had been my favourite when I was a little girl (Lucy, obviously). Strangely they didn’t ask what was meant by ‘Daughter of Eve’, so we’ll save that piece of theology for another day (I’d better brush up, as there’ll be plenty more as we proceed through). But most importantly they wanted another chapter, and when I kissed my son goodnight I noticed him eyeing up the wardrobe in the corner of his bedroom with a curiosity I’d not seen before….

Anyone out there read old favourites to their kids? How did they (and you) react?