I don’t recall anyone reading bedtime stories to me when I was a kid. That’s not to say they never did. Not at all. There’s a lot I don’t recall mostly because my “I think I can, I think I can” little brain hit maximum capacity some time back.
But I do remember Dr Suess and his foul green eggs, I remember the otherworldliness of Magic Faraway Tree but, absolutely, I remember Roald Dahl and feeling somewhere deep inside that I was adopted and he was actually my Dad and I, his forgotten bastard child.
But let’s put the past behind us for a moment. Actually, let’s not. Because those books rescued me from troubled times as a child. Even under sometimes disempowering and unpredictable conditions that rancid-looking ham gave me a glint in my eye and Dahl’s George’s Marvelous Medicine gave me belly laughs in place of tears.
James and the Giant Peach made me want to skip childhood and write my own stories for the rest of time. Which I’ve now done in one way or another for a long time. The first story I ever wrote was as an 11-year-old and I took on the role of being John McEnroe’s well-beaten and abused tennis ball. I then delivered it at a public speaking event for school parents. The writing of it was electrifying, the telling of it was horrifying, but utterly worthwhile.
I’d be grateful if you’d take a moment to read this short passage from Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.
“We may see a Creature with forty-nine heads
Who lives in the desolate snow,
And whenever he catches a cold (which he dreads)
He has forty-nine noses to blow.
‘We may see the venomous Pink-Spotted Scrunch
Who can chew up a man with one bite.
It likes to eat five of them roasted for lunch
And eighteen for its supper at night.”
So, I put to you, give your kids books as soon as you possibly can. Sooner or later they will be a gift. But this gift is not about literacy. It runs far deeper than that. This gift is a blooming tree, but the flowers never die. Sure it will help them read and articulate and do well in school so they can go to uni or college or do-gooder heaven or corporate hell or wherever.
But most of all it will give them mystery, vision, inspiration and creative power. And when things aren’t going so well, books will give them a quiet place to go inside their ravenous and all too pressured minds. To tap into their unique nature. To relish, rejuvenate and reconnect with their inner-self and the mighty minds who write books. For me that was Dahl and later it was Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bukowski, Dostoevsky and, and, and. I owe all of these writers my life, in one context or another.
I left books for a time after school but they were brought back to me by my university lecturer and closest friend who, in young adulthood, connected me with the big people books, where individuality and authentic purpose is not just celebrated, it is what you do.
I have made many life decisions influenced by things I have read in books. If my 6-year-old son continues to embrace books that will be my cause for celebration and no small relief. Because good books don’t set our boundaries, they tell us what’s possible and make matter-of-fact the impossible.
One day books could save your child – a troubled teen or confused young adult – when you simply can’t no matter what you do or how close you are. When what they are coming to terms with is internal and relates to their deep character and inner-self. Stories, like music, will reach inside their hearts and massage their spirit. Your kids will cry, laugh, hate, hope, conceive and even execute. Books will guide them through love, romance, pain, suffering, loss, life, death and destruction. But they will almost always give them hope.
The point is they will be part of something. They will be part of that story. Because stories are nothing without the people who read and look at them. They’re just a material thing. A product. Stories should never lay passive. They are always active and changing with the dynamism and truth of the reader. Each time a story is read, it is different. When the writer and the reader connect, stories are intimate in their very nature.
Stories aren’t just for kids either. They same rules apply for you too. If you don’t believe me, go fly up to Arnhem Land in northern Australia and check out some rock paintings and consider the importance storytelling has been given even since the beginning of human time 40-plus or 80-plus thousand years ago. If you aren’t moved by these ancient artists, I’ll stand corrected.
This was going to be one of those stories where I give you a list of all the practical reasons why you should read to your kids.
I did some research, but I could only come up with one reason for reading worthy of making my “list”.
Books will change your children’s lives. If you let them.
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