I’m writing this on Monday evening, having just tucked three sleepy little people into bed, closed the curtains, turned out the light, and left them snuggling down to their dreams. We were reading The Root Children today, it’s a firm favourite, especially at this time of year when the girls can look out into the garden and see the Root Children’s work in progress. It’s one of those books that’s so lovely and gentle it just encourages all three to come and curl up wherever they can find space, Kitty and Elma in my lap and Pip giving cuddles in-between trying to throw himself from Kitty’s bed to Elma’s.
We’ve been reading a couple of chapter books recently because with arms full of little ones it’s much easier to read if there aren’t pictures for everyone to fight to see, and they can let their eyes close, and their imaginations do the work. Or that’s the hope at least.
We’re finishing up Pippi Longstocking and alternating with the start of Heidi at the moment, the first being Elma’s favourite and the second, Kitty’s. They’re both books I loved as a child and love still (and may have borrowed to read to the end one night because I couldn’t wait for one chapter at a time) and it’s been such a treat to introduce these old friends to my little girls.
We’ve read Paddington too, and the Seven Year Wonder Book, full of magic and fairy tales and just the sort of things to go to sleep dreaming about.
But there’s one book, or one series of books, that I’m holding off on, that are sat on my shelves just waiting for the chance to be read and shared and enjoyed – but not yet. I absolutely adored Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons from the first moment that my Dad started to read it to me when I was a little girl. He read from his boyhood copy which includes in the blurb the exhortation that “if your children do not like it – take them to the doctor!” which I remain convinced is an actual prescription.
When we were little my sister and I were Nancy and Peggy, or sometimes we’d mentally co-opt my parents to be John and Susan, leaving us as the younger Swallows. We camped, we sailed, we even went on holiday to the Lake District, and there’s a picture of a maybe 9 or 10 year old me standing tanned and happy at the top of Kanchenjunga, looking out over the slopes of the Old Man and down to Coniston. Those books were, and probably still would be, my Mastermind subject. And yet they’re still sat on the shelf.
Parenting it seems is all about timing. When they’re little it’s about timing naps and car journeys so they aren’t screaming their way through a traffic jam, and meals and all the basics, but the older they get the more it becomes about striking a balance – and I have a funny feeling that we’re only just tiptoeing into cooler waters with this iceberg. And in the case of stories, it’s about finding the time when they’re ready.
In the purely practical it’s about waiting until they’re ready to sit through a whole chapter; Paddington’s chapters are shorter than Pippi’s and I’m pretty sure that there are times when Elma has been asleep before the end of Heidi.
But that’s just part of the joy of reading at bedtime and being read to; the quandary is whether to share or to let them read them themselves. If I’ve been reading the characters to them since they were teeny tiny then they grow up with the books as their friends from early childhood; a familiar and happy memory. If I wait, and only let them in on the secret when they’re old enough to read then they get to feel like the first person ever to have discovered these adventures.
I think that I’ll try to hold out until Kitty is seven, and then maybe read the first book to all of them; but leave the other eleven for them to discover (assuming they can wrestle them out of my hands – once I start the series I have a bit of a habit of powering on through to the end!), but what would you do, or what have you done? Do you read all your favourites now, or are you holding some back?