Monday, 24 June 2013

Story Time

Julia “Gruffalo” Donaldson is quite right to ask why we don’t appear to take children’s books as seriously as adult writing. In the big stack of Sunday papers I wade through every weekend there are acres of reviews of fiction and non-fiction for grown ups but hardly ever a recommendation for what the nippers should be reading or having read to them.

I remember the frustration in the last year of primary school when the reading of longer stories with no pictures was clearly a turn off for many but I couldn’t get enough. I asked the school librarian what I should read and she said something about teenage boys liking science fiction and fantasy so maybe I should head into that section and see what I fancied. There then followed a difficult period of a couple of years when I slowly chipped my way through enormous volumes by people like David Eddings and Stephen Donaldson, not to mention terrifying stuff by Stephen King and James Herbert, and the obligatory Tolkien. I’m ashamed to say Tolkien’s what I got to last, and back then I regarded it as a silly wheeze about a dragon - this coincided with my move to an English-run overseas military secondary school where cricket and rugby were compulsory, and for a very brief period I was more interested in sport than reading.

I wish there had been more structure and guidance. Think of all the great things I could have read! Never mind. I’ve done my best to catch up. Indeed, some of the best books I’ve read in recent years have been for a younger audience. No, not the Harry Potter stuff but Charlie Higson’s Young Bond stories and the heartbreaking real life grit of Melvyn Burgess. Junk comes close to being my Desert Island book. I’d also beg Kirsty Young to shred the Complete Works of Shakespeare and let me take the Complete Calvin and Hobbes instead.

We’re really lucky in Musselburgh in that we have a pretty good public library. The staff are lovely and the children’s section is incredibly varied. But on the whole it is teeny tiny compared to the town’s 20,000 population, and it‘s never busy when we‘re in. What’s that all about? Musselburgh doesn’t have a bookshop unless you count the charity shops or the Waterstone’s at Fort Kinnaird retail park three miles away.
The Bairn’s latest favourite - and I love it too - is Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree. With hilarious consequences. No, really. It’s a genuine hoot.

Other recent favourites include the Mo Willems Pigeon series. Trust me, you’ll never look at a pigeon at a bus stop the same way again.

I still remember the two earliest books I read to the Bairn - Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo. Those flaps! Those holes! Genuine works of genius.

A good book is a sure fire way of uniting a kid who’s four and a dad who’s heading for forty. I’ll keep you posted on other gems we come across. Meantime please do share your recommendations for story time. 

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