Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Reading to Children - a grandfather's perspective

Reading to Children – a grandfather’s perspective

I am sure that I’m not alone in having cherished early memories of being read to while sitting  on someone’s lap, or at their feet in front of the fire. I don’t recall being read to by my mother as she died when I was quite little – although I am sure that she did read to me: I have a dog-eared edition of “Orlando the Marmalade Cat Becomes a Doctor” (dog-eared perhaps not being quite the right way to describe a book about a cat. Sorry Orlando). It is 62 years old and signed inside “To Henry, with love from Mama”. Yes,I am sure she read it to me, and I am sad that she never saw me read it in turn to the grandchildren she never had the joy of knowing or indeed her great-grandchildren, who have all delighted in it in turn.
            I certainly have memories of being read to by my father. He was a kindly if rather austere man – probably something to do with his never ceasing to grieve for my mother until his own death, 18 years after hers. His choice of books perhaps reflected this – Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes Short Stories”, Kipling’s “Puck of Pooks Hill” and Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”. His live-in housekeeper who – although my father was never comfortable with it – did the essential mothering after my own mother died, liked a different genre: Alison Uttley’s “Little Grey Rabbit” series, and the “Rupert Bear” annuals. Oh – and Blyton’s “Noddy”. Those got passed on to my own children, then on to theirs. And how deliciously un-politically correct those original editions are too. But I don’t think my little grandchildren even notice what so many of their elders would consider gross beyond words.

            My grandchildren are as involved with the television and their computer games as any others of their age. But it is not difficult to coax them away with the promise of a story and loving physical proximity. Last weekend we spent the day with my younger daughter and her husband and their three little ones. The youngest, Jimi, will be 4 in September. We’d bought a book back from Italy for him, of all things about a grand-dad and his truffle hound (we’d had a holiday in Piemonte, famous for its truffles). It was perhaps a little old for him, and with a good smattering of Italian words. But he wasn’t deterred. He snuggled up dreamily to me while I sat cross legged (yes, some of us 65 year olds can still sit cross legged. I am rather proud of that) on the grass, like an old Buddha. Jimi’s  rabbit nibbled the grass at my feet. His attention held for a good ten minutes, and he was as mesmerised as any child would be in such a situation. Magic.

            And it reminds me of two of my nieces in the west of Ireland. They are in their mid-twenties now, and both qualified teachers. But on the (sadly) rare occasions that they see me they never fail to run up excitedly and hug me. ‘Do you remember, Uncle Henry, how you used to read “Peter Rabbit” to us. And we loved your English accent!’

            But how could I forget?

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I remember Orlando! And did you ever come across Ferdinand the Bull? And Sam Pig? I find some of th eold ones are too dated for my gandchildren, but others are timeless. I have used Peter Rabbit when giving creative writing classes, as it is a perfect example of story structure (hero, villain, conflict, satisfactory ending etc). But it did feel strange, reading it to a class of male prisoners (who all listened very politely, although I'm sure they thought I was mad).