Like many parents, my husband and I have always read with our children. When they were babies, we read fairy stories and nursery rhymes to them and gave them board books to chew and dribble over. Touch-and-feel books were popular, as were lift-the-flap books (usually reinforced with triple layer sellotape to cater for even the most boisterous of readers), scratch-and-sniff books, and musical books (batteries often mysteriously stopped working in these although even today, 16 years later,we could hum you the tunes).
The novelty books quickly gave way to the more traditional and, although we always bought books, I’ll never stop being grateful to the various local libraries we lived near in the early days of family life, and all the fantastic librarians we encountered, who not only organised ‘Rhyme Time’ read-aloud and sing-along sessions, but who also created dens, nests, and irresistible spaces for small children and their parents to settle into with piles and piles of books.
Then there was the incredible adventure of our children learning to read. They are fortunate enough not to experience any learning disabilities and both learned to read early, easily and joyfully. It was beautiful to watch them decipher the mysterious code of letters and make the transition from non-readers to readers.
Even when they were independent readers, both children found being read to comforting when they were extra tired or not feeling well.
At this time, we continued to read stories aloud to the children, as well as listening to them read to us, and the bedtime story in particular was a unmovable and extremely popular daily fixture in our house. There’s only 19 months between our two children so we tended to clamber into bed together or cuddle up on a sofa for shared reading. Meanwhile, our daughter, the eldest child, was becoming a more and more proficient reader, and the day finally came when she lifted the book out of my hands because I wasn’t reading fast enough, and she was desperate to reach the story’s end, and she took it away to a corner to read by herself. Even when they were independent readers, both children found being read to comforting when they were extra tired or not feeling well.
As well as physical books, we often enjoyed listening to audio books on long car journeys. The Harry Potter series read by Stephen Fry and the Just William books read by Martin Jarvis were particularly good, I thought.
I can’t remember exactly when it was that shared reading stopped. You look away for what feels like a moment and turn back to find there are two young adults living in your house. Rather than cuddling up for a bedtime story, you find yourself saying goodnight to your kids and asking them to turn out the lights when they finally make it upstairs. (This is only during school holidays, by the way – for the time being).
But this year, now that our children are 16 and 14, our family has begun a new phase of reading together. It started when we were on holiday in Portugal, in a house with no wi-fi. As well as playing cards and charades, we began to swap and share our books and it’s brought back some of the closeness we used to experience when we were snuggled up and reading together. Of course, we’re not clambering onto the same sofa anymore, but we are, once again, reading the same page.
In recent years, we’d already begun to share and recommend books, as the children, especially our daughter, looked to expand their reading, but now that both of them are studying for English Literature exams (GCSE and ‘A’ Level) their reading lists have provided our family with an opportunity to share our reading again.
We’ve even unplugged our personal devices in the car and listened to a very good BBC Radio Drama adaptation of An Inspector Calls together. And we watched the recent, excellent, BBC TV adaptation of the same play. You can find both productions to buy here, by the way. Also, there was a fantastic performance of Othello by the RSC which we watched at our local cinema.
So, we’ve stumbled into a new phase of our reading lives and it’s a satisfying and enjoyable place to be. I just wish my daughter would hurry up and finish Rebecca because that’s next on my reading list.