Friday, 4 September 2015
Guess How Much I Love You.
We're home and it's raining, just for a change, and Eldest wants a lift somewhere. The perfect moment to ask him for a favour.
"That's fine," I say, "but can you just help me carry these picture books up from the basement to the car first?"
It's time for a clear-out so I'm taking some of our massive stash to the charity shop down the road.
He happily obliges, but then as we're shoving books into plastic bags he stops, book in hand: "Not this one!"
It's a book he remembers me reading to him when he was little, so we put it aside. "Okay," I say, "maybe not that one."
Somehow trying to get rid of just a fraction of our many picture books sums it all up: his childhood, the past, moving on, the fact that he's about to go to university…
Can't you sleep … In a dark, dark house…. When Max wore his wolf suit ... All the way to the moon and back again… And all of Daddy's beer… Rapscallion cat… She swooped through the trees… Each peach… Look what the caterpillar turned into!
It's his childhood soundtrack, played on constant repeat in my head. When I'm old and all my faculties have finally gone, head lolling, dribbling down the front of my polycotton blouse (please don't put me in a polycotton blouse), I will still be able to recite the whole of Owl Babies perfectly from beginning to end, and Where The Wild Things Are and We're Going On A Bear Hunt and Guess How Much I Love You and The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Tiger Who Came to Tea...
I loved reading to them when they were little, even when they were not so little. I was never very keen on getting down on the floor with Lego or trains or doing a jigsaw, but give me three wide-eyed little boys and a rainy afternoon, throw in a massive supply of picture books because I used to work in children's publishing and then children's television (Jackanory for one), and then briefly reviewed picture books for a children's books magazine. Add a mother who's a bit of a frustrated performer ("I was in plays at uni you know,") and there you have it, a perfect storm, no, a veritable blizzard of storytelling.
The rise and fall of a beautifully honed text, written by a genius such as Martin Waddell or Michael Rosen (I've met both, the first, grumpy, the second, charming) is a pleasure to read aloud. Worn smooth sounds that roll from the tongue to fall as a series of heartfelt kisses atop a rapt child's head.
You might not be able to see his expression, as you both face forward looking at the illustrations together, but you can certainly feel his frozen attention. A small boy, lost in a fantasy of owls and hares and bear hunts. Is there anything better than a moment like that? Is there any gift more precious you can offer a child? There isn't. Except, perhaps, for a lift when it's raining.
Love E x
P.S. Did you see the article in the Guardian by Emma Brockes (this August 27th) about starting to see sub-texts in picture books where none is intended? She wrote that perhaps The Tiger Who Came to Tea is really about stay-at-home mums. Agree!