Monday, April 26, 2010
A funny asymmetrical book shelf, bought in a antique/junk shop long ago, before I had a house, before I’d found my man, before I had children, way back in that misty time when the nesting instinct was starting to take hold, feathers and twigs busily collected, the ingredients of a home put together in a hotch potch, ramshackle way without a recipe.
Once we met, we found we had a love of books in common, a shared history of favourite children’s books to explore: a list that often overlapped, but also brought each of us great new stories to explore. Any second-hand bookshop was a magnet. We’d dive in and head for the children’s section, finding old favourites and starting a collection for children that weren’t yet born. Unthinkable that our future offspring should grow up without the joy of exploring Narnia, Pridian, Green Knowe and Earthsea. We were eager to share the treasures of Susan Cooper, Ursula LeGuin, Geoffrey Trease, Cynthia Harnett and so many more.
By the time our first child was born we had assembled a fine library, re-read most of them more than once and filled the book-shelf to capacity and beyond.
My memory of our son’s first introduction to the library we’d so painstakingly assembled for him is set in our rented flat in South London. The bookshelf stood just inside the sitting room door. He was fascinated with it. For weeks his favourite activity was to pull all the books joyously off the lower two shelves and distribute them around the doorway. His first lesson in appreciation of fine literature was to learn how to put the books back on the shelf again.
Yet another move and a third baby saw us in South Africa with the bookshelf. It stayed swathed in packing materials for a year, its books in boxes, while our house was built. Then it took up its rightful position in the centre of our living room to be raided in turn by the Youngest toddler of the family, following her brother’s earlier example of pulling books off shelves.
All this time it was patiently awaiting the time when it could share its stories. It began slowly. Bed-time stories for the oldest child took him to Pridian, battled the Dark with Will Stanton in The Dark is Rising series, while the girls were still listening to fairy stories. He was selective though when choosing books for himself to read from the book shelf. Fantasy worlds and adventures were his preference. All those stories set in historical times so beloved of his mother were overlooked. They waited their turn.
In this last year, the pace has picked up for the book shelf. The same bed-time stories now enthral all three children. Victor Canning’s The Runaways trilogy was so absorbing that evening DVD watching was frequently abandoned, to have a longer reading of the story each night. Some choices are more magnetic than others. Oldest often has his own book in hand, especially if he’s read the story we’re reading before or thinks it’s too young for him, but the good old classics can lure him back into the story fold. A Little Princess, ostensibly being read to the girls, had him asking questions to be brought up to date whenever he’d missed a bit. Heidi had them all glued despite its simplicity. So now I’ve slipped in my own choice, a Geoffrey Trease set in Ancient Greece that I’d tried to interest our son in a while back when he was looking for something new to read, but which he’d never taken to. Two chapters in and he still seems to be listening.
The bookshelf is now regularly despoiled of its contents, no longer the random pulling off the shelves of toddlerdom, but a focussed raid by Youngest and Middle Daughter, competing for the easier books to read to themselves. At the moment they still go by the size of the type, anything too small is rejected as too difficult. Any minute now they’ll discover that they can actually read anything on the shelf to themselves, a world of stories, adventures, poignant tales, humour, history, fantasy and old-fashioned moral tales all theirs to explore at will.