Looking back, I don’t remember much from when I was Isaac’s age – he turned five last month – but I do have vivid memories of my father reading to me at bedtime and tolerantly pandering to my endless requests for “one more story”. I can distinctly remember a book of Disney character tales, which I made him read so often that I’m certain both he and I memorised each story word for word. I look back on those memories with extreme fondness, and I can only hope that my own brood of junior bookworms will remember bedtime with even half as much affection in the years to come.
So far the signs are good. With each of our three children reading books has been part of the night-time routine from an early age. Like me, studious Isaac has never required any encouragement, consuming books with voracity, quickly memorising them and always asking for one more. For a while Toby walked a narrow spectrum between indifference and grudging tolerance, but over the past year has become far more accepting and interactive as his verbal skills have accelerated. And Kara (all eight months of her), sociable soul that she is, seems to enjoy sitting in with the boys and just being part of the experience. (She’s also a fan of classic ‘flappy’ books such as Dear Zoo and Where’s Spot?)
Story-time is my favourite part of the day. I make a point of trying to get home in time – on average I probably miss it less than once a week. Sometimes it is the only time I get to spend with them on a work-day, so no matter how tough a time I’ve had at work, it’s immensely gratifying to get in, drop all my stuff at the door, head straight upstairs and get straight down to stories.
We’ve been through distinct stages with both boys, from the comparative simplicity of books such as the Maisy series via the obsessive Mr Men phase and on to gradually more complex stories. It never ceases to amaze me just how much they understand what they are reading. Recently I found a fantastic illustrated and abridged version of Alice in Wonderland for Isaac, which we must have finished in four days flat and then re-read repeatedly for weeks afterwards, and I have been amazed at the complexity of the questions – both factual and emotional – which he has come up with regarding the story. (We’ve since added Treasure Island from the same series – you can’t go wrong with pirates.)
I’m proud that the boys are so amenable to being read to – we often end up with one or both of them snuggled in our arms as we read – and the sight of a bedroom bookcase jammed with books of all ages and sizes is one which makes me distinctly happy as a parent. If our kids are genuinely interested in reading we must be doing something right, and one of the regular things they do with Heather is to take trips down to our local library to stock up with a fresh supply of stories.
In the case of Isaac, reading is starting to take on a whole new dimension as his ability to read himself increases and his confidence grows. He is constantly coming home from school with a new book to read, and he takes enormous pride in being able to sound out new words aloud and unaided. Already he’s starting to pick out words and phrases in his ‘big-boy books’ himself. It won’t be long until we’re able to start reading things like the Harry Potter books together. I can’t wait. There’s something joyous and very tangible about watching your kids’ reading develop, and I hope that one day they will pass a love of reading down to their children, just as my father did for me.