Wednesday 27 April 2016

Again! Again! or How to avoid burning your child’s books

I’ve always loved children’s books. When I was first pregnant, one of the things I was looking forward to was reading picture books with my child. But I discovered that small children have dubious taste and that they love repetition. Really love it. ‘Let’s read a book!’ I would say, cheerily, to my small daughter. And before I had a chance to lay my hand on something fabulous by the Ahlbergs or Lauren Child or Julia Donaldson, or any of the marvellous, clever, beautiful picture books that exist, she would produce Tinky Winky’s Bag from somewhere or other. (This was some years ago. I suppose it is possible that you may have missed out on Tinky Winky. He was one of the Teletubbies and featured in a TV programme for pre-schoolers).

‘What about Each Peach Pear Plum?’ I would say, weakly. ‘Or Where the Wild Things Are?’

‘I want this one,’ she’d say, settling herself on my lap.

There was no persuading her. Every time we sat down we had to read Tinky Winky’s Bag. I might get away with reading one or two other books as well. But sometimes I had to read Tinky Winky’s Bag twice.

I hated that book. I hated every word of it. I hated the expressionless faces of the characters, the repetitive text, the sheer dullness of it. The funny thing was, I quite liked the TV programme. There was a charming randomness about what happened in it; it seemed to me to reflect the experiences of little kids in a completely engaging way. We never missed it, even the repeats.

I tried various ways to avoid reading The Book.

‘Daddy loves this book,’ I would say. ‘He’ll read it when he comes home.’

‘OK,’ she’d say. ‘He can read it to me then. You read it now.’

‘How about you read it to me?’ I’d say. ‘You know all the words.’

‘Don’t be silly, Mummy,’ she’d laugh. ‘I can’t read.’

So what happened was this. First The Book fell apart. She picked it up one day and the cover fell off. It was pretty ratty-looking by this stage. You should have seen her: a picture of misery. So, of course, I mended it. And then I read it to her.

Then it fell apart again. When I was tidying up. After she was in bed. And the fire was lit. And so… You know what I did, don’t you? I threw it in the fire.

To this day, my husband guilt-trips me about this. He says this was Wrong (with a capital W). He says it was a mean thing to do to a child. He went on quite a bit about Burning Books.

But you know what? She never even looked for it. It wasn’t there and she wasn’t bothered. Suddenly we were reading the Ahlbergs and the Julia Donaldsons and the Quentin Blakes and all the other glorious, riotous, silly, funny, clever, imaginative stories. There never was another one that stuck the way Tinky Winky’s Bag had though. But I think maybe it was a stage that she had to go through, like all those other reading stages that you’d like to hurry your children through, the one when they have to read every single book in the Beast Quest or the Rainbow Fairies series, the one when they seem to be unable to see the value in anything that makes them read slowly enough to stop and think.

I managed to avoid another Tinky Winky’s Bag with my two other daughters. I’d like to think that this was judicious book management on my part, but I suspect it was simply that my older daughter was listening in and wouldn’t put up with anything as boring as that.

My advice? If your child loves a book that you hate, try hiding it for a day or two in the first instance. If they’re not bothered, get rid of it. If they are, ‘find’ it again and try to make sure someone else gets the job of reading it to them.

If there are older children around, get them to read. Either they won’t mind the boring book or they’ll tell the younger child that it’s rubbish. Chances are the younger child will be happy to accept their opinion.

You could also try not buying any picture books at all, but going to the library instead. That way you have to take all the books back every week or so, so nothing’s ever going to get the chance to turn into a Tinky Winky’s Bag.

That’s not that realistic though, is it? Who can resist a picture book? Just make sure you buy the best you can find – it’s not that hard, there are so many out there.

Ten of my family’s favourite picture books
(i.e. those that sprang to the minds of my daughters and me immediately the question was posed – we didn’t ask Dad, who’d probably have added Tinky Winky’s Bag)

Each Peach Pear Plum                        Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Gruffalo                                       Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Pants                                                   Giles Andrae and Nick Sharratt

Bread and Jam for Frances                 Russell and Lilian Hoban

Guess How Much I Love You           Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

Cowboy Baby                                     Sue Heap

Queenie the Bantam                           Bob Graham

Mrs Armitage, Queen of the Road     Quentin Blake

The Enormous Crocodile                    Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake

Dear Zoo                                             Rod Campbell

1 comment:

  1. Farmer Duck (Martin Waddell & Helen Oxenbury)
    We're going on a bear hunt (Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury)

    We still have them all, in a box - the children fondly remember their favourite books, but I keep the books because they remind me of the children.


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