Elma Family Kitty Pip Reading

Sharing favourite stories – It’s all about the timing


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?





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  • Kim 19/04/2016 at 10:22 am

    I love reading to my little man, and it is something he asks for a few times of day, most days. I have read most of my favourites to him, some are still to come as he gets older. Reading together is something that he really enjoys, and really connects us, so sharing these books feels right at the moment. He will one day want to read them on his own, and maybe saving a few for him to discover on his own is a good idea…something I will ponder 🙂

    • Carie 19/04/2016 at 10:58 pm

      It’s a fun one to think about isn’t it – so many of my memories are tied up in being read to, and then just as many in devouring books myself – and I want both for my three too 🙂

  • sustainablemum 19/04/2016 at 11:51 am

    I haven’t started on Swallows and Amazons yet and like you they were my favourites when I was a child too. We have visited some of the places in the books by canoe and on foot so they will have a frame of reference when I do get to reading them. So why haven’t I yet? Well if I am reading to both my children I want them both to appreciate the story, my youngest will be seven next month and I am not sure she is quite old enough to really appreciate the stories. I know I read them in the upper years of primary school and I know that reading them yourself is different to having them read to you, but I am going to wait a couple more years before starting on them.

    When I choose a story I consider many factors, what peril there is and whether they will be ok with it, how old are the children in the story if there are any, can they relate to the characters and if they can’t if there is anything else I can read first to help with that, where the story is set (I try to vary this otherwise I find we are reading lots about the countryside where we live and not much about urban life), does the story link in to what they are studying/learning about (this is really important to us and the deciding factor for a lot of what I read to them).

    Having said all that we know our own children best, what is right for one child at seven might not be right for another till ten! It is about being mindful, I think.

    • Carie 19/04/2016 at 11:00 pm

      I think that’s very true, it’s all about knowing what they’re ready for at any given age. Elma I know can cope with chapter books now in a way that Kitty probably couldn’t at that age, and it’s probably because Elma copies Kit. Lucky your two to be able to visualise all the key spots around the lakes when they do get to Swallows and Amazons – I think we shall have to plan a camping trip when the girls are about the right age!

  • Doris 19/04/2016 at 12:14 pm

    Since I have no children and my childhood is about 30 years ago and, more importantly, I do not know the books you talk about, I can’t for the life of me come up with an advice. Just maybe that I do not remember ever having been disappointed that I had had a book read to me in stead of having it read myself first.

    And I do know that I still treasure the months in which my mother patiently read the entire Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings-cycle to me before bedtime. I was 10 of 11 at the time and very well able to read (and did so in abundance), but this was special. Just a tad to difficult for me to process alone and a treat to have someone read to me.

    Of course that was reading to just me. I think in our household (two sisters, about 3 years apart), reading before bed was mostly first to my sister in her room and then to me in my room.

    • Carie 19/04/2016 at 11:01 pm

      Oh now that was true love on your mother’s part – Lord of the Rings is long!! What a treat though, no wonder it left such a lasting memory 🙂

  • Verily Victoria Vocalises 19/04/2016 at 2:42 pm

    I really used to love reading to my daughter. Now she reads to me. You have a great range of books for your children 🙂 x

    • Carie 19/04/2016 at 11:02 pm

      Thank you – I shall have to look forward to that day for Kitty too 🙂

  • Rebecca Ann Smith 19/04/2016 at 2:44 pm

    Ooh this is such a lovely post – I understand your passion for sharing beloved books with your kids! I once made the mistake once of trying to read The Wizard of Earthsea with my eldest before he was ready for it. It’s one of my all time favourite books – I think there are whole sections of it I can recite by heart. I know he was old enough for the story, but the language flummoxed him and that put him off. I hope he picks it up again one day. I also understand the issue of reading it with them, or waiting til they’re old enough to read it on their own – but both are wonderful, so maybe it doesn’t matter?

    • Carie 19/04/2016 at 11:03 pm

      I hope so – I quite like the idea of enticing them into the stories by starting, or reading the first book in the series and leaving the rest to be discovered – that feels like the best of both worlds 🙂

  • Brandi 19/04/2016 at 7:07 pm

    You have more patience than I do! Once my oldest could sit through chapters, I read all my favorites. And as I have a range of children, they have been exposed over the years. Sometimes they get it, but if not, it is only that much more reason to read them all again! I have never heard of the Swallow series you mention, but will look for it!

    • Carie 19/04/2016 at 11:04 pm

      Oh do – it’s a British classic. I know of some people Stateside who have come across the first of the series but there’s not a bad book among the whole lot and lots and lots of adventures along the way:)

  • Alice @ The Filling Glass 19/04/2016 at 8:58 pm

    Oh I loved Swallows and Amazons! They were great books. I still have my copies somewhere. We don’t read much together, at the moment, its hard to find the time, but we really should. I know they would love it. #whatimwriting x

    • Carie 19/04/2016 at 11:06 pm

      I have my Dad’s copies of Swallows and Amazons, Peter Duck and Pigeon Post, my paperback copies of the rest, and then when they reissued hardback copies with the original paper covers H bought them for me as a series of Valentine’s presents – there’s a reason I married him!

  • Sophie Lovett 20/04/2016 at 5:48 pm

    I love the way you write about reading with your children here – you completely capture the magic of it that I still remember from when I was a child! My son is three, so just old enough for us to begin to explore some favourites together – he loves Paddington, and Winnie the Pooh. There are definitely lots that I’m holding back, and I like your idea too of waiting even longer for some until they’re old enough to read them for themselves and experience the wonder of the words creating worlds inside their heads. Great post xx

  • Maddy@writingbubble 21/04/2016 at 9:40 pm

    I still read to my three year old every night but my older two (8 and 6) are both avid readers so they mostly read to themselves. I do think reading and being read to is a lovely thing to do so we try to do it when we can but, I have to admit, by the time bedtime comes round the temptation is to tuck them into bed to read to themselves so we can grab some grownup time! My eldest tried reading swallows and amazons recently but I think he found it too old fashioned? I’ve never read it! Some of my favourite books to share with the boys have actually been brambly hedge books. My six year old LOVES them (just like I did as a kid). Keep meaning to blog about them actually. Sharing much-loved childhood books with your kids is wonderful, isn’t it? Thanks for linking to #WhatImwriting x

    • Carie 22/04/2016 at 10:43 pm

      I never really got into Brambly Hedge as a child – I might have to revisit it with Kitty and see what she thinks. I suspect the advantage of having a baby brother is that I’m still going to be reading bedtime stories for a long while – even if that does mean I have to wait on Pip to start Swallows and Amazons!!

  • Claire @ Clarina's Conemplations 22/04/2016 at 7:18 am

    Carie, what I love SO MUCH about this post is that we are at exactly the same stage! Our girls love read aloud time, and I’m loving sharing my childhood favourites! You should definitely check out the Readaloud Revival podcast by Sarah MacKenzie… I’m loving it and think you would too… Some very interesting research about the value of reading to older children…. Might help you with your quandary!! PS – Pippi and Heidi are some of our favourites too!

    • Carie 22/04/2016 at 10:41 pm

      Oh thank you for the top tip, that sounds exactly like the kind of thing I’d enjoy – I’m all in favour of reading to big kids too – after all, I really like audiobooks!

  • Carol Cameleon 23/04/2016 at 3:22 pm

    I’ve never really consciously thought about the timing of reading books to/with our children. Our little adores reading, so much that she started chapter books quite early and the pictures in the stories are getting less and less, which is quite sad from a parenting point of view really. She’s 6 and we’ve got a whole Alice in Wonderland box set that we got from a book club. My feeling is that she’s way too young to ‘get’ them and the pictures are quite ‘old’ too. She did start on them a few months back but went back to old faves. but yes you’re right, timing is definitely the key. I think they naturally find their own timing and we should go with the flow! #whatimwriting

  • Suz 30/04/2016 at 1:05 pm

    Ooh, I loved Swallows and Amazons too.
    When my children were small we always had a story before bedtime.
    My two eldest were great readers but my third was dyslexic and wouldn’t read much through choice. However, he did like stories so story time continued for many years and the older two usually came to listen even though they could read perfectly well themselves. It’s a great family bonding activity.
    Strange thing is, I reeeeeeally hate being read to. It makes me cross because people always much slower than I could read to myself.