It seemed to take me a very long time to read. I wasn’t exceptionally bright at school and it was hard to turn letters into words and words into sentences. I grew up in London in the 1970s and learnt to read with the Dick and Jane Readers. Dick and Jane were the main characters and they had a dog called Spot.
A typical page went something like this:
Look, Jane. Look, look. See Dick. See, see. Oh, see. See Dick.
I had an aversion to those books and blame them for me taking so long to learn to read. Dick and Jane’s world seemed to bear little resemblance to my life. My little brother is four years younger than me and our conversations went something like this: “No Tim, no.” followed by “Mum!” which I wailed in a high-pitched shriek. Dick and Jane never seemed to lose their tempers the way I got mad at Tim.
Mum relentlessly filled up the bookcase in my bedroom. We went to jumble sales at our local church hall and Mum stocked up on books. Not just for her, but for Tim and me too. My bookcase steadily filled and I ignored it, until one day out of sheer boredom I pulled out a book. And that’s how the reading bug finally got me – a bookcase full of books sitting waiting in my room. It seems quite amazing looking back at how little I used to value books because now every spare dollar I have is spent on books. I would much rather buy books than anything else.
Books for children need to be engaging, not like those dull Dick and Jane readers. They need to pull children in and show them their own worlds as well as other worlds too. It is a difficult task to write children’s books. Children quickly pick up on unauthentic voices. At the same time, too much hum drum about everyday life can be tedious.
When I was about eight years old, my favourite book was The Magic Faraway Tree. How I longed to meet Silky, Moonface, and the Saucepan Man. I longed to slide down the slippery dip and drink lashings of lemonade. I was desperate to visit the lands which stopped at the top of the tree. The Narnia Chronicles were another magical experience for me which resulted in my pushing on the back of the wardrobe and wishing with all my might I could exchange places with Lucy.
Books allow children to explore their boundaries, discover exciting, different worlds, and make new friends. As parents we should give our children access to books. We don’t need to force children to read particular books but we do need to give them space to discover books and the stories within in their own time.
Now it seems my reading journey has come full circle. I read voraciously because I can’t imagine life without books and because they stretch me in ways I could never envision. I write to explore my inner world and to create. And now, finally in my forties, I am forging a new career in books and words.
Thank goodness my mum stocked up the bookcase in my bedroom all those years ago.