I was only going to do two posts on reading. Then Elizabeth Fitzgerald asked me what makes me really want to read a book, and I conceived a third. Then I read this Huffington Post article: 20 New Classics Every Child Should Own, and a fourth popped into my head. I decided to do this one first, just because reading to my kids was first on my list of why I read books.
The Huff Post article made me sad my kids are past the age of picture books. (I consoled myself with the thought of the new list of wonderful gifts I now have to chose from for my littlest friends.) But it also made me think about why I choose the books I do to read to my kids. This list of 20 new classics was compiled by Jordan B Nielsen, a children’s book buyer for an independent book store, and reviewer of children’s fiction. She was driven to create this list as a response to her dismay over her experiences with adults who, buying books for children, eschew purchasing more recently written books for the books that they loved as a child.
Nielsen is sympathetic; she acknowledges that the choices of these adults for ‘time-worn favourites’ come from a desire to share with a child a much-loved reading experience from their own childhood. But, as she rightly points out, there are so many really wonderful new books for kids out there.
This made me think about why I choose the books I do to read to my kids. Without doubt, there is a selection in there of books I have read and loved, and that have played no small role in shaping the literary landscape in which my imagination plays. A selection of these includes:
- All But A Few, Joan Aiken
- The Harry Potter books, J K Rowling (technically I read these as an adult, but I started before I had kids.)
- The Snow Spider, Jenny Nimmo
- The Ramona books, Beverly Clearly
- The Faraway Tree & Wishing Chair books, Enid Blyton
- Howl’s Moving Castle (which might be the best book ever written) and its sequels, by Diana Wynne Jones; actually, make that pretty much anything by Wynne Jones
- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
- The Ordinary Princess, M M Kaye
- Playing Beattie Bow, Ruth Park
- Pretty much anything by Roald Dahl.
But I am totally with Nielsen in agreeing that this is only a small selection on the vast and wonderous selection of enchanted worlds on offer for children thesedays. Some stories that were not around when I was 12, but which we have dived into gleefully (I invite you to imagine the howls of protest when I close the book and insist they go clean their teeth after I have read myself hoarse over the course of three chapters in an evening):
- The Skullduggary Pleasant books by Derek Landy (A skeleton detective? Awesome. Not to mention his equally awesome teenage sidekick, who is the protagonist and a great female character.)
- The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black. Oh how I wish these had been around when I was a kid.
- The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. I can’t tell you how much I love this man’s work. These books were written to be read to kids by adults.
- The Beasts of Clawstone Castle, Eva Ibotson
- The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke
- The Tashi stories by Anna Fienberg
Which brings me to the one guiding principle I have in selecting books to read my kids. I don’t so much want to share with them the experience of reading a specific book, as the experience of being completely transported by a wonderful story. The clues I look for? An intriguing title, a beguiling concept, fascinating characters, a world that makes me want to get dinner over and done with so we can pile onto my son’s bed and sink together into the pages.
My 12 year old daughter just finished reading the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare – books I have not read (yet). She came out of her room yesterday, and curled up next to me on the couch with a sad little look on her face. She snuggled up against me and said forlornly “I’m going to miss them.”
She was talking about the characters in the story. And that makes me feel like I’ve done it. I’ve shared enough of my own reading experiences with her, and we’ve shared enough new ones together, that I’ve succeeded in instilling in her the love of reading and story that is so precious to me. Now she can go off and have her own experiences that will enable her to shape a unique landscape of imagination of her own. I have given her that gift.