Reading to my kids is one of my favourite things to do. Reading before bedtime is the best option of all. Lying snuggled up next to them, soft light to read by, toys sprawled across our feet.
It’s easy to be present, to soak up the moment. There is nothing else that needs (or can) be done at this time. No washing to be piled into the laundry while I try to get them ready for school. No cleaning, tidying, or attending to their different requests. No multi-tasking.
All we have to do is cuddle and read. Perfect.
And then there’s the books.
Over the years I have had my favourites. Liking what you read does of course contribute to the enjoyment of reading to kids. If it’s a book you can’t stand the first time you read it, chances are it won’t improve once you’ve read it 1,000 times (which you will, if your kid loves it).
Here is my list of books that I still love reading, five years down the track:
#1. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
My friend Alysia gave this to me when my eldest was still a baby.
This book leads you through how and why babies are loved around the world. You’re distracted by the rhythm and the rhyme, the beautiful pictures, and a slightly smug satisfaction that you’re already teaching your child to embrace diversity when they’re still so small and then, pow! You get the line:
“But the next baby born was truly divine, a sweet little child who was mine, all mine….”
I cried when I read it then (sleep deprived and loved up) and I would probably still cry today.
#2. The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler
I can still recite the first line of The Gruffalo, four years after I first read it.
“A mouse took a stroll through a deep, dark wood…” Both of my kids have loved this book.
Julia Donaldson is a fun read out loud. There is something about her rollicking tales that make them tongue twisters and a joy to read. The Gruffalo was the start of a family love affair with all of her books.
We still read several of hers today, but this one is a classic.
#3. Once Tashi Met a Dragon, Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg and illustrated by Kim Gamble
Tashi is quite well known if you’re a child of the 90s, but retro as I am, I didn’t know anything about him when I first picked up this extraordinary book. I saw it poking out of a pile of other books, and its extraordinary illustrations caught my attention.
Each page has a painting that is moving, mysterious and beautiful. I bought it at once for the pictures, but then I started reading.
“That’ll be the dragon, simmering away like a great pot on the boil,” Grandmother said. “Don’t worry Tashi, he’s cooking up rain, big, lashing, whooping, roaring rains that wash away all the dirt and dullness of the year and make the air sparkle like a million diamonds, that’s what a dragon does for you.”
The poetic language in the book is just as captivating as the pictures. The words bring to life a unique character and story that is completely different to anything I had read before.
The Feinbergs often collaborated with Kim Gamble, but there are only two picture books like this one. The other is There Once Was a Boy Called Tashi. They both have a special place on our bookshelf.
#4. The Lorax, written and illustrated by Dr Seuss
I didn’t read Dr Seuss when I was a kid. Or if I did, I don’t remember it. But Dr Seuss books are an absolute delight to read as an adult. Like Julia Donaldson there is the challenge and fun of a tongue twister, but there is also something in the silly words that is strangely evocative and wistful.
My favourite lines are:
“No more trees. No more Thneeds. No more work to be done.
So, in no time, my uncles and aunts, every one,
all waved me good-bye. They jumped into my cars
and drove away under the smoke-smuggered stars.”
The Lorax is a story about the destruction of the environment, so it also gives you the chance to talk about the importance of conservation.
I never get sick of reading The Lorax.
#5. The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S Lewis (yes, all of them)
The book that had the biggest impact on my life has to be The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I have been waiting for years to read this to my daughter, and when I saw the entire set for sale I grabbed them.
Reading them as an adult has been eye-opening. I had no awareness of the religious allusions when I was a child, nor the undercurrent of misogyny. Still, if all I got was the magic and wonder of the story, then that’s what I’m counting on my daughter absorbing.
I credit this series as sparking my love of reading, and driving me to become absorbed in stories generally, which was the most magical part of childhood for me.
This is what we’re reading at the moment (and will probably still be reading come Christmas).
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