Reading and books defined a large part of my childhood. I’m an only child so along with my menagerie of cats and dogs, characters in books became my best friends and I spent many an hour immersed in magical lands.
But don’t feel sorry for me, I wasn’t an isolated and socially awkward little loner, I was in fact quite the opposite; I was the ring leader of a naughty little gang who hung out down the adjoining cul de sac to my house and we spent hours shooting cap guns, practising wheelies, playing kerbies and racing on our bikes; I just preferred my own company and to lose myself in my imagination a lot of the time.
And as a mum, and still passionate reader, I want my boys to experience that same joy. My little man is only 5 so we’re on the start of that magical journey together, but it’s early days for him – he’s just starting to navigate the joys of chapter books – but my ten and a half year old is exactly at the age where he can start to really enjoy the many many books that I have read and re-read over the years and I can’t wait to introduce them to him.
But alongside wanting to create and cultivate a home that is filled with books and happy readers, I have a particular bee in my (always overcrowded) bonnet at the moment; I want to introduce the boys to the more classic texts. We’re not talking Shakespeare and Proust here, I’m talking more your Lord of the Rings, Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe; the foundational childrens’ texts that many have gone on to emulate. And here are the reasons for my quest.
Because reading and subject matter shouldn’t always be easy. I don’t want my eldest to drift along on a sea of vapid Tom Gates and Andy Griffiths’ romps. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely a place for those in his library; they’re clever, well written and fun but there’s also a place for complexity, challenging themes and interesting language. I want books to challenge and inspire not just entertain; I want to be able to talk about difficult themes which is often easier to do when you’re experiencing them through a fictional story rather than in the abstract. I want Wonder and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas to sit alongside his Harry Potters, Percy Jacksons and Nevermoor.
And returning to the Classics once more, I want the boys to experience more challenging writing styles and language; to really think about what they’re reading and what the author is trying to tell them in the context of the time that it was written. I want their heads and hearts to be engaged rather than reading become a box ticking exercise on a homework sheet and a speed read to get the job done.
Because the past is important. Modern classics are magical but they come from a long line of predecessors – which have captured generations of young minds – and we shouldn’t forget them. Think Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Huck Finn’s adventures with his mate Tom Sawyer and Bilbo Baggins’ eventful journey in The Hobbit. These characters that captured our hearts and souls when we were growing up, have stayed with me; I can still remember sobbing when Charlotte died in Charlotte’s web and want my boys to really lose themselves in books the way that I did; to explore the Secret Garden with Mary and metaphorically jump into The NeverEnding Story with Bastian.
To create a legacy. And finally, because reading is such a big part of who am, I would love for my boys to have that love too and to have that shared connection; I want to share these important stories with them so that they too can pass them on to their children and play their part in our family legacy as readers and storytellers.