This is the Information Age and the Social Age. Whether on a tablet, PC, ipad or smart phone, people wade through masses of information every day. The better you can read, faster and with more comprehension, the better you will cope with the information deluge and the constant social connectedness. So, how do you, as a parent, “grow a reader”? You read, and you read to your children. I still remember the words from some of the books I read as a child. Today there was a man being interviewed on TV, Tony Blinken by name, and into my head popped an old children’s poem, Wynken, Blynken and Nod, by Eugene Field. It was written in 1889 (!!) and my parents gave it to me in a gorgeously illustrated book, Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry (Collins, 1968). I never knew who wrote it, I just knew the words. And like an actor’s lines, they would sneak into my head in the moments before I drifted off to sleep. And of course, I would hear my mother’s voice as she read it to me. Here is the first verse:
“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.
“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”
Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.”
What a beautiful image those words evoked in me; “sailed on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew”.
My love of reading and writing started with my parents reading to me; children’s poetry, like A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1885), and Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry, and fairy tales, like the classic collections by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Wilhelm Hauff, Charles Perrault and the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights.
From the fairytales I moved on to the best in the world of children’s literature, and never stopped reading. The illustrations in these children’s books were my start to a love of art and a sense of aesthetics. But it is the poetry that gave me my love for the words, the lilt and rhythm, playfulness and punning, and imagery and ideas of the English language. I was lucky – my parents were teachers and librarians, and not only did they read to my brother and me, but they read to us in four languages.
But even if you are not an academic or a teacher, read to your child. If you can’t afford books, take them to a public library. If you read, so will they. Give them that gift. They will thank you for it later. (Here’s a list of reading activities you can do to turn your child into a reader.)
This is why I am giving a colleague who has just had a baby, what I think will be her new-born Canadian’s first book: The Darkest Dark (published Sept. 2016), by Chris Hadfield and the Fan Brothers. After all, it takes an actual astronaut to write a book about a boy who wants to go into space but is scared of the monsters in the dark. The story has a bit of Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) in it – but when it comes to describing space, it sounds like the real thing. The illustrations by Terry and Eric Fan look like subtle watercolours and perfectly match the text.
If you had a choice of what to remember, the bad in the world, or the beautiful, wouldn’t you rather have something beautiful in your head? Yes, the world is full of things that are “incredibly loud and extremely close”, and not all that nice. But if you have just a few beautiful, quiet lines that you can remember, either a poem or a song or a bit from a book, it will remind you that not everything in life is merde.
My classic picture book list