Sharing books

Top children's author Nick Butterworth tells us why he thinks sharing a book with your child is so important

I was lucky enough to have books read to me when I was a boy. My Mum read stories to me at bedtime and her mum, my Gran, who lived nearby, would often be around to read to me during the day. What my Gran lacked in height she made up for in width, but I never thought of her as fat. She was ‘comfortable’ and it was very comfortable to curl up with a book in an armchair with her and listen to Beatrix Potter tales, or Noddy or, if there was time, a longer, ‘Just So’ story by Rudyard Kippling.

It didn’t occur to me then, that not all children grow up surrounded by stories and books. In fact it has taken me by surprise to discover, fairly recently, just how many children and parents don’t experience the pleasure of sharing books.

When my own children were young, it was natural for me to read every night to them. (I would hate people to think I’m bragging here. I could never feel virtuous about it because it was just too much fun.) We had a whale of a time.

Not that our ‘story time’ was only about stories. We did read stories from books of course. Loads of them. But we didn’t approach that time as if it was ‘important’ or in a sort of religious way, as if what you have to do at story time, was written in stone. There were no rules. If we wanted to take a break in the middle of a story to play a game of ‘I spy’ in the pictures, well, we were free to do that.

We could take a break for all sorts of things actually. What did it matter if the giant in the story was just about to get his comeuppance? If someone suddenly remembered a joke, well, we’d better hear it. If someone wanted to demonstrate a new gymnastic move or a dance learnt at school that day, well, we’d better see it. And if someone needed a wee, well, the story would still be there when they got back.

Stories don’t just live in books. We all have our own story, and when children are young they will want to know our stories.

‘Did you have a bike when you were a boy, Dad?’

‘I certainly did–in fact the best Christmas I ever had was when I got a new bike. I was the first one into the sitting room on Christmas morning, and there, in the light of the Christmas tree, was a wonderful, shiny, red bike! It had straight handlebars and special breaks and . . .’ and so on . . .

When we tell our children about our own past, they are not only finding out about us, but they are discovering their own roots. A bit more of the jigsaw of their own identity fits into place. They learn a bit more of who they are and people with that sense of identity are generally more secure both as children and later as adults.

There’s another bonus from this regular time spent sharing books (and other things!) with children. Whilst we’re having so much fun, the process sometimes described, rather dryly, as bonding is taking place, which really means that precious relationships are being enriched, strengthened, deepened.

This is tremendously worthwhile in itself, but it has the added benefit of ‘getting something in the bank’ whilst children are young, which we might need to draw on later. By that, I mean building a strong relationship that will survive a bit of testing. Who knows? The teenage years, which are not really that far away, can sometimes prove very testing. Children need to make a bid for their own independence at some time. No one can guarantee a trouble free transition but, where there is a good relationship, the process stands a chance of being a less bumpy ride than it might otherwise be.

Can all this come out of time spent sharing books? Well, yes. Really? I believe so.

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