When my daughter was a wee one she hated going to sleep. We had a great bedtime routine, and she always went off to bed happily, but just couldn’t make that step from awake to lying quietly to asleep. We always had a story in the routine, but I found that picture books just kept her sitting up and awake and turning pages. For a while I would read a couple of picture books and then sing to her until she started nodding. They had to be long songs too. No cute little lullabies, or she would just end up demanding “MORE!” We’re talking Stairway to Heaven and American Pie here. To my surprise she has turned out quite musical. I would have thought only someone completely tone deaf could tolerate my singing for any length of time. As an aside – my son, who is really not into music at all, would cover my mouth when I tried to warble to him. I think “Don’t sing Mummy!” may have been his first complete sentence.
Finally after about a year of dubious renditions of rock ballads, I decided enough was enough, and hit upon the idea of reading some novels aloud to my daughter. We started with some Blyton, but they were a little too interesting and not conducive to sleep. I delved further back into the classics and we read Little Women together, quickly followed by Anne of Green Gables. The beauty of the older stories is that they have a lot of descriptive passages. What better way to nod off than by listening to the Anne-girl waxing lyrical about the countryside around Avonlea.
It was also a lovely way to share books that I thought may not appeal to her by the time she was old enough to read them by herself. Together we read Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan and even R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island. As she got older, we continued with modern tales like Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Now she is twelve, we are enjoying teen fiction with themes we can discuss together. We recently finished The Hunger Games and have started Tomorrow When the War Began, and have come full circle – once again she is sitting up excited, wanting to hear “just a little bit more”.
For parents who want to kindle a love of reading in their children beyond the picture book age, I suggest taking some time to read novels together. There’s a real sense of intimacy when sharing a story. Even on the nights when I just want to send them off to bed while I curl up with a glass of wine, to look up and see their eyes mirroring my own tears as I read a poignant scene, or smiling with delight at a hero’s moment of glory makes it all worth it.
Which of your favourite books are you looking forward to sharing with your kids? Which have you shared already?