When our daughters were younger, we read to them every night, either myself or my wife would read a picture book or a Ladybird or a Disney story and as they got older they chose the book for their night-time ritual, and as there is a three and half years between them, the eldest had a time to herself before her baby sister got to join in.
There were a lot of repeats, one that sticks in my mind is a picture book called Tall Inside, about a girl who is, you’ve guessed, small, she meets a clown in a travelling circus who walks on stilts, you can guess the rest. We borrowed and reborrowed that book from the library so often we ended up ordering it from the bookshop so that we would have our own copy, one of the few picture books to survive the years it’s still in the house somewhere.
After awhile I introduced ‘chapter’ books, Stig of the Dump, Roald Dahl and the whole of The Chronicles of Narnia, starting with The Magician’s Nephew through to The Last Battle. Basically I was using it as an excuse to read books that either I hadn’t read myself or hadn’t read for many years and couldn’t quite remember them. I tried to read Harry Potter, but I’m no Stephen Fry, in many ways I’m no Stephen Fry, and I found it difficult to read it aloud and had to give up part way in, leaving it to them to read it in their own time. Obviously I read Dickens’ Christmas stories at the appropriate time, my favourite being A Cricket on the Hearth.
This ritual eventually faded away, ending with a whimper rather than a bang, with no fanfare, no closing ceremony (The Christmas tradition lasted longer than the day-to-day readings, but eventually went the same way). They continued to read the bedtime stories themselves without us, well in a way…
It’s a nature/nurture conundrum, both girls brought up in the same house, same rules, and same bedtime reading habit. However, while the youngest reads with a voracious appetite that I recognise, she has a reading list for her A-Level English and has created another herself of books she wants to read, the eldest reads, as many adults do, a book or two while on holiday, however, she listens to a story tape each night, maybe an unconscious echo of her childhood bedtime ritual.
Growing up there were four of us, three brothers and a sister, myself and my youngest brother read anything and everything in the house, my middle brother and sister never had the same passion and now, typical of many people, read biographies or best sellers sporadically, whereas we continue to delve into the deepest and dusty corners of classic literature. We were all brought up in a house that our mother filled with paperbacks that ebbed and flowed from jumble sales and the like, that had a collection of Jennings, Just William and Famous Five books, yet only half of us got the bug and continued to read for pleasure, so what happens to set one person off on the yellow brick road to the wonderful world of literature, and leaves another at the crossroads?