I’m really enjoying the age we’re at now. All the children’s books we’ve been hoarding for years, the old favourites from both our childhoods that we assiduously collected in second hand book shops before we left England, now make the perfect bedtime reading for all three kids. We used to have to separate out for story time. Dad would read The Chronicles of Prydian or the Narnia series to our son, while I would read The Tiger who wouldn’t go to Bed to the girls. Now that Youngest is nearly 7 and can concentrate as well as the older ones, we can all read the same books and I look forward to bed time as much as they do. They more often than not decide to forego watching TV after supper, so that they can get into bed earlier and have longer story time.
And the books that started this modern miracle? Victor Canning’s The Runaways trilogy. All of them fell in love with the adventures of Smiler, a fifteen year old wrongly accused of mugging an old lady, who has run away from an approved school until his Dad gets back from sea to clear his name. There is a parallel story of a cheetah escaped from Longleat safari park, who makes a home on the wilds of Salisbury plain. We took a quick diversion after the second Smiler book into Noel Streatfield’s Party Shoes, which has all three of them equally captivated, but once the pageant is successfully staged at bedtime tonight, we will be returning to Smiler to see how he extricates himself from his latest dilemma and whether his father will finally return from sea. After that Ballet Shoes is booked in and our bookshelf is groaning with more of my old favourites which I want to read to them.
I loved all the historical books as a child: Geoffrey Trease, Cynthia Harnett, Barbara Willard, Rosemary Sutcliff but so far our son has avoided them in his voracious excursions into literature. His own choices tend to be fantasy adventure and the bookshops here bulge with endless series of that genre, but very few ‘real-life’ stories seem to have made it onto the modern reading list, except for the eternal Enid Blyton Secret Sevens and Famous Fives. So I am determined to brainwash the kids into some of my old classics while they’re still open to them. I’ve got a feeling though that the books will have to stand on their own merits. Our son usually has his own book on hand as I read and, if the story isn’t gripping enough, manages simultaneously to read to himself as well as keeping an ear open for our story hotting up.
What books are you reading to your children now, or do you remember loving when you were a child? I’d love to compile a list of really well written children’s books that stand the test of time.