Although it was a lovely old hardback and only £1, I nearly didn’t buy it, as I thought it would be just another book to clutter up the house and remind me of how my daughter doesn’t read.
But it just might turn out to be the breakthrough book.
It’s certainly the first time I’ve ever known her ask for the same book at bedtime night after night – admittedly with me reading, but at least it has sustained her interest – and one morning she even brought it out to the car and read it all the way to school.
So what is it about a book first published in 1929 that has captured her imagination more than any of the ‘cool’ contemporary chapter books I have tried to tempt her with?
The answer is simple: beautiful prose.
No exclamation marks, no ‘zany’ type, just elegant, measured, economical English. For example:
‘Next morning at daybreak a crowd of guinea-pigs collected on Tuppeny’s doorstep. More and more arrived until Mrs. Tuppeny came out with a scrubbing brush and a pail of water. In reply to inquiries from a respectful distance, she said that Tuppeny had had a disturbed night. Further she would not say, except that he was unable to keep on his nightcap. No more could be ascertained, until, providentially, Mrs. Tuppeny discovered that she nothing for breakfast. She went out to buy a carrot.’
At first I thought words like ‘ascertained’ and ‘providentially’ would put a 21st century eight-year old off, but far from it. She loved the book from its first sentence and I’ve hardly had to explain anything: the gold standard of good writing.
Which has me thinking that we are doing our children no favours with ‘modern’ books which feature farting jokes and other *kraziness*. Children respond to good writing just as adults do.
This idea was supported when, during bedtime chats last night, she asked me if I knew a hymn which had something in it about ancient feet and a holy lamb. It stumped me for a moment, but then I started to sing ‘Jerusalem’ and she joined in enthusiastically.
She’d heard for the first time at school that morning and declared it is now officially her ‘favourite hymn of all time’. We went over the words repeatedly until she was satisfied she knew them.
She loved the idea of her sword not sleeping in her hand and having a chariot of fire of her very own, just as much as I do.
So an eight-year old who has never read a book on her own can be profoundly moved by the words of William Blake. I find that intensely encouraging.
Reading satisfaction: 7
Recommend to best girlfriend: 9
Recommend to mother: 9
Recommend to niece: 9
Recommend to gay best friend: 0
Recommend to man pal: 4
Recommend to Helen Razer: 0
Read on public transport: 2