I love catching up with my nieces, nephews and assorted little ones over Christmas. I was delighted to hear that my nephew’s most-loved present was The Roald Dahl Treasury (The BFG is his favourite story) and my neice’s favourite gift was her Animal Encyclopedia (which we consulted after dinner when my brother-in-law was described as a ‘sloth’ lying on the couch).
As pleased as I was to hear that they enjoyed the books more than other presents, I did wonder – do we put so much scrutiny on children’s reading habits that they feel they have to like books in order to impress us? Do they know they’ll please us more if they tell us they prefer them to their Xbox? Also, when it comes to gifting books, do we push the ‘old’ authors too much as a safe choice for us instead of taking a risk on a new book?
Meeting my friend’s 15-month-old girl for the first time, I gave her the stunning How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens as a present. She held the book up, looked at the cover, turned it around and upside down, and then pointed at herself and then at her mum to be read to. Her mum read a page and then she wanted the book back, which she then passed around the table for us all to admire. It was obvious that she already had a strong, innate interest in physical books.
I suppose it can only be a positive thing if we, as adults, place a high value on books and communicate this – consciously or subconsciously – to the young readers in our lives. And I like to think that it is our duty to celebrate the authors we loved as children, to pass on a storytellling heritage, as long kids still enjoy them and we allow them to discover new authors and explore their own interests.
So this year I’ll continue to ponder about the books we create for children and how they support their development, and children, I hope, unsupervised and unanalysed and unabashed, will keep reading the material they like the most.
How to Hide a Lion, by Helen Stephens, published by Alison Green Books, The Roald Dahl Treasury, published by Puffin, and Animal Encyclopedia, published by National Geographic Society, are available now.