It’s World Book Day, an occasion I love. I frequently tell my children there’s nothing more incredible than getting lost in a good book. Consequently, books tend to get lost around them. Books of all shapes and sizes seem to spread throughout house – on the floor, on the sofa, under beds, in beds, and sometimes actually on the bookshelves where they’re supposed to be. We have a strict household rule: always put the school reading book back in the school bag when you’ve finished. Otherwise, it will be consumed by the bedroom-that-looks-like-a-library-exploded-in-it and mummy will end up with a fine.
In my view, reading is a gift. Hand-in-hand with imagination, it allows a person to explore places, characters, ideas and situations that wouldn’t be feasible in real life. No, not even Minecraft can compare! I like computer games and television, but a great read offers an escapist intimacy that no other form of entertainment can match.
As a children’s author, parents often ask me how their kids can be encouraged to read more. It’s really quite simple: give reading a sense of value. Make it pleasurable. I read with my rabble daily, even if it’s only for a few minutes. And while learning to read is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of enjoyment. My seven-year old daughter reads competently now, but she still loves being read to, because it allows her mind to relax into the storytelling. It keeps her wanting more. Eventually she’ll be able to handle the big, exciting books all by herself, but it doesn’t hurt to show her the way. I want her to know that there is so much more to reading than the prescriptive logic of letter sounds and blends.
Fundamentally, I’d say it’s never too early to get a child interested in the existence of books. It starts with those squishy cloth books and bath books, with simple nursery rimes and cuddles. Next, come the board books, which tend to be enjoyed more for their chewable quality than their content. Gradually, however, curiosity unfolds. My eleven month old now gets the idea that pages turn and that there’s good stuff on them. He likes to point at things and listen to me repeatedly say the words ‘cat’, ‘mioaw’ and ‘shed’. He has a long way to go before he’s head down in Harry Potter, but I’m pleased he’s started the journey.
All this aside, however, World Book Day has triggered a few cold sweats this year. With two school age children, I now have two costumes to come up with. This means buying on Amazon Prime (expensive) or getting crafty with some fun fur and bubble wrap (lame). My eldest has shown marvellous loyalty by suggesting she goes as one of my characters – good girl! My middle boy is currently deciding between Harry Potter and Ron. He prefers Ron, but in his clear-cut five-year old’s mind, it’s best to be Harry, because Harry’s the hero. And, actually, from my point of view, drawing a felt-tip zig-zag scar on a forehead is far cleaner than messing about with a box of ginger hair-dye…