There is something wonderful about sharing stories; something joyous about sharing poems. My spouse and I read to our children when each was tiny. We read to them still – our eldest nearing ten, our youngest starting school soon.
I commute to work. I used to arrive back home once or twice a week with a new book for the children from not long after our eldest was born. Over the years I have arrived home with “Next Please”; “Monkey Puzzle”; “The Little Mole Who Knew it was None of his Business”; “The Kiss that Missed”; and others.
We would read as each child lay in their cot. We would read as they lay on their playmat. We would cuddle up together in bedrooms reading. The sounds of our voices, playing with the rhythms and the rhymes became part of the bedtime ritual. Watching with glee as each child scanned the pictures in the books for the little quirks in the background, for clues about the emotions of the characters.
Reading to our children remains a pleasure. We’ve shared Doctor Who and Dodie Smith; Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren; Wibbly Pig and Percy the Park Keeper; Steve Cole’s time travelling cows and Robert Louis Stevenson’s pirates.
Every year we take the children to the Book Festival in Edinburgh. We’ve seen Lydia Monks; Julia Donaldson; Axel Scheffler; Ed Vere; David Melling; Oliver Jeffers; and others. And each show has seen an audience of children rapt listening to stories, or participating as children are encouraged to act out parts of the story, or assume the roles of characters within them.
Two shows have stood out.
Steve Cole is an annual treat. His tales of dinosaurs in spaceships gripped our eldest five years ago. And going to see Steve Cole is an event. He sparks with ideas, engages the children in the creative process, making up stories from what is around them. The kids build up superhero tales from a couple of pieces of fruit lying at the front of the theatre. And when he finishes and heads for the signing tent there is a stampede as children rush with piles of books asking for them to be signed. And with great good humour and charm Steve Cole speaks to each child, shares in their view of his world. The children leave enthused, buzzing with ideas, desperate to read more.
One year we were lucky enough to see Michael Rosen. His books had been a fixture in the house. “We’re going on a bear hunt” was much read – the familiarity meaning that ultimately at bedtime the children were reading it to us. We’d read others. I’d cried when I read “The Sad Book”. Michael Rosen’s show was wonderful. He spoke about language and rhythm. He played with rhymes – beginning little poems finished by the children in the auditorium. He performed his poems. He introduced the audience to other poets who had written for children. The audience – primary school children and their parents – sat: at times rapt; at times shouting with glee as they anticipated the rhyme.
Our middle child loved it. She wanted to read his poems, to hear the words in her head. We bought her a couple of Michael Rosen’s poetry books. While she was learning to read Michael Rosen’s poems helped encourage her in her reading. The music of his writing has given her a feel for language.
A couple of years ago she got various Christmas presents from various relatives. her favourite? Not the toys. Not the games. Not the cuddly animals. A book of Michael Rosen poems with a CD of him reading his work. She still talks about going to see him. She lies reading his school poems, and his poems about relatives. Bedtime passes and we’ll go upstairs half an hour later and she will be asleep her hand clasping a book.
Now, yesterday, this man, who has given my children so much pleasure was attacked by Michael Gove in a speech about education, and grammar, and the books children should be reading in primary school. Today Michael Rosen was attacked by Toby Young for omitting a comma in an article.
Well, like many other parents, I’d just like to thank Michael Rosen.
And Steve Cole.
And Julia Donaldson.
And Lydia Monks.
And David Melling.
And Chris Riddell.
And Astrid Lindgren.
And so many others. They have given my children so much.
And I’m grateful to them all. And (on his birthday) I’d like to thank Terrance Dicks. And Tove Jansson. And Robert Westall. Because they’ve given me so much too.
I like the fact that my children love reading.
I’m glad there are Michael Rosens out there.