Feeding our imaginations and broadening horizons brings joy and wonder to all our lives and faiths. With International Book Day coming up soon Sandra Palmer invites us to consider the special place children’s books have in enriching all our lives.
I brought home a book I had been given for Christmas – Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel. Anne, our parish assistant, fell on it with glee, it was a treasure from her childhood. A happy time passed as we laughed about the stories.
My childhood was filled with such books. That made me a lucky child despite the tensions in my home and the poverty of our living conditions in London before we returned to Australia. Studies have repeatedly suggested that children who have access to books and love reading are more likely to achieve academically and survive the vicissitudes of dysfunctional family lives. Books gave me pleasure – feeding my imagination with characters, pictures, plots, phrases and words.
The primary reason I buy books for the children in my life is that I want to share the pleasure of reading in general and the pleasure of particular books. Sometimes that pleasure is in the laughter provoked. I still chuckle at the thought of Paddington Bear covering the bathroom floor with shaving cream and letting the bath overflow , and also at Pooh Bear stuck trying to leave Rabbits burrow. The children in my classes chuckled with me- it didn’t matter that the stories were set in a far away country and, in the case of Pooh Bear, written decades before.
Escaping into other worlds is another pleasure – it could be the Far Away Tree , Narnia or Hogwarts, these are worlds where parents can’t trespass unless the parent is the reader and then it is a shared adventure . Not all the worlds need be imaginary, for the young child all worlds other then their own is a new one whether it is Katy Morag’s Scottish island or Alfie and Annie Rose’s London.
Some recent books feature in my ever growing canon of children’s books, others belong to earlier generations . The themes of loss, redemption and reunion in Heidi are as relevant today as they were when I was a child when it was already seventy plus years old. A local year six teacher once told me how much his class , among whom were many refugee children, loved the Edwardian novel The Railway Children by E. Nesbit . Some knew what it was like to have a father falsely imprisoned, or to need leave home abruptly. And most knew the pain of separation and the joy or reunion.
One joy I have in reading children’s books with children is in the rhythm of a well – written text , in the rhymes of some and also the delicious choice of words and phrases , most in common use, some created especially. Did you know that dreams are made of zozimus? ( Roald Dahl)
The quality of the illustrations of picture books also affects my pleasure and I think subtly makes a difference to children who pore over them looking for the intricate detail , imagining stories for themselves. Julia Donaldson owes part of her success to her wonderful illustrators – – Axel Schaffer’s depiction of the deep dark frightening wood in the Gruffalo adds to her tale. And there are some magical , mysterious books told with few if any words such as Raymond Briggs Snowman.
For this adult there can be the great joy of reading to the child snuggled up close, attentively listening, wondering what happens next ( though this may not always be the case after the twentieth request for a book ) and the joy of seeing children read to themselves whether it’s when they are quite small and are reciting the books by heart or when they are curled up finding peace in a nook with a book.
But I can’t finish without mentioning Ann of Green Gables. When I meet someone who also loved that feisty redhead there is an act of recognition – we are kindred spirits belonging to the same world wide club.
Sandra Palmer invites you to her home for an afternoon of discussing children’s books, especially those winning the Carnegie prize, on Saturday 11 th March 3.30 – 5.30 (Contact the Church Office for directions)