Having children offers the ideal opportunity to revisit some of our favourite childhood memories. For many, this means dipping into beloved stories that settled us into bedtime, and later paved the way to reading alone. I fondly recall curling up with Ladybird books, and tales by the Brothers Grimm. My reading material was largely from this side of the pond – Dr Seuss passed me by, and I was amazed to read Where the Wild Things Are last week, only to find it was written in the 1960s. How on earth did I miss it?
Topsy and Tim was a firm favourite of mine, as were many, many Enid Blyton stories, including The Faraway Tree and The Wishing Chair. Oh, to be able to wish oneself to a magical, distant place and have your own furniture transport you there.
I saw a Wishing Chair compendium in a local charity shop a few weeks ago, and almost bought it until I noticed the character Chinky, who appears on almost every page. Like Blyton’s golliwogs, this character never offended me as a child, and I could never understand what the fuss was about. Now that I have a daughter of Chinese heritage, the idea of a slanty-eyed elf with such an obvious moniker sticks in my throat somewhat. I left the book on the shelf with some regret for my lost innocence.
But there are plenty of new books out there to enjoy. I now make a beeline for the kids’ section at Waterstones. My last purchases were Hairy MacLary and Zachary Quack, and I Love My Mummy (which encourages devotion for one’s mama by describing how animals care for their babies). In them I found an innovative use of language and an awareness of characters that I felt would provide a spark for my daughter’s imagination.
They also tugged at my own heart-strings – I Love My Mummy bring a particularly unsubtle example. The books needed to be as much fun for me to read as they will be for Daughter to listen to, with the ability to withstand endless readings without turning my brain to mush.
Daughter may be too young to focus on books right now, but I hope she’ll enjoy the sound of words, the colourful pictures and the gradual unfolding of each story. Already she is reaching out to touch the pages – the finger puppet book “Little Penguin” is a favourite.
Therein, for me, lies a key argument against e-books. Call me a Luddite, but I really hope they don’t take over the world of literature as some predict. There’s something so satisfying about turning a page to reveal the denouement of a story. Even the smell and feel of the paper suggest the promise of delicious adventures in the way that a back-lit screen never could.
I look forward to the day when my daughter can actually turn the pages herself, and read her stories to me. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some classics to buy little ones for Christmas, here are the favourites offered up by Facebook friends:
1. Wibbly Pig by Mick Inkpen
2. Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julia Donaldson and David Roberts
3. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
4. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
5. Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd
6. The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
7. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
8. Each Peach Pear Plum by Jean and Allen Ahlberg
9. That’s Not My Puppy/Dinosaur/Tiger…
10. Anything by Robert Munsch
11. Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Vicki Churchill and Charles Fuge