My father was a solitary man in many ways and didn't have much patience with small children.
Despite this he was the one who read me a bedtime story - every night if possible. From what I can remember we started off with Beatrix Potter stories and A.A. Milne poems, moving on to Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows. I remember my father sitting on the edge of my bed wearing the dark navy pinstripe suite and crisp white shirt he always wore for work. He would smell vaguely of ink and machinery because he owned a printing factory and sometimes there would be oil on his cuffs. The kitchen was directly below my bedroom and in a sixteenth century cottage there isn't much soundproofing so I could hear my mother preparing their supper but, as soon as my Daddy began to read, those sounds of everyday life would disappear and I would be transported into a magical world. Not just the world of the story but to a place where, just for a while, I had my father's precious time and attention all to myself.
According to a report in the paper last week bedtime stories are in decline. Only one in five parents get a book out every night and, shockingly, a third of parents never read to their young children. I'm afraid it gets even worse; a quarter of a million children aged up to seven years do not own any books. So why, when seventy-five percent of the parents surveyed said they had received the gift of bedtime stories themselves, is this tradition not being carried on? Thirteen percent blamed a lack of time and nine percent said they were too stressed. This makes it sound as if they consider reading a bedtime story to be a chore, something they HAVE to do, not a joy, not a chance to spend a small portion of time feeling close to and connected with their child.
My husband and I took it in turns to read to our children. Curling up on the sofa to watch television together is good but it's not the same as reading a book. With a story you can pause to discuss what is on the page, look at the pictures, ponder over the words. Good stories have a beautiful rhythm which relaxes and soothes away the cares of the day, not just for the child but for the parent too. That little person snuggles up next to you, warm and fragrant from a bath, their trusting form tucked up next to yours. It should be a sacred time, a time to prioritise above all others, a time to send a child to sleep happy, feeling safe and secure. Sometimes their eyes will close as they listen to the sound of your voice. Sometimes your eyes may droop too but it doesn't matter because you are together in a special place, a place which will not stay the same for long. Before you know it bedtime stories will become a thing of the past. They are too important a part of childhood to be neglected and I feel sad that many parents and children are missing out. As a family we had many favourite stories but these are three of them.
This is, on the surface, such a simple story but look deeper and it is incredibly cleverly put together.
If you've never read it I urge you to do so especially if you aspire to writing picture books.
The next one is an absolute classic. You could never tire of it.
And finally 'Sniff, sniff, sniff, where is Wiff? Where did that little dragon go?' I can still remember the words all these years later. Such fun!
Thank-you for reading. I'd love to hear about your favourite bedtime stories. In the meantime, it's the first week of Autumn in the U.K. I hope it's a good one wherever you are.