Mole's tale rises from the dust

On Friday afternoons in Mrs Isaac's class, the only movement was the rabbits running around under the "huts", our overspill classroom on bricks.

We were quiet because she was reading to us, great long threads of story which wound us in. Now, don't get huffy. I know you don't have that sort of time these days.

The other day I mentioned to my friend that individual bedtime stories had been suspended for a while in our house for the collective reading of The Wind in the Willows to our 10, eight and six-year-olds.

She looked astonished. Her own 10-year-old would find that much too babyish, with all those fluffy animals and all that "poop, pooping", she said.

This is sad. Even sadder when you think that presumably rules out Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. And what about The Jungle Book?

By the time they're 10, children are on to stories of stepfathers, runaway teenagers and embittered mothers. Lots of dialogue, sentences Sun-short, no imagination, no suspension of disbelief. Compared to Milne, Kipling and Grahame, these books have the stylistic variety and challenge of Janet and John.

In fact, far from being bored, my 10-year-old gets the most out of our riverbank evenings. She's the one who can appreciate Mole's "delight in spring without its cleaning" and Rat's kindness in pretending to be taken with Mole's dusty underground home, just as she's the first to laugh at Owl's feigned intellectualism, or to realise Arkela's noble self-sacrifice in helping Mowgli.

Her younger brother and sister will grow into them too. There is plenty of time. The stories we dismiss as being for infants and plasticise into videos are far tougher and more rewarding than most of the stuff pushed at our Years 5 and 6.

If you're sitting comfortably, I shall begin, and hope I read it as well as Mrs Isaac did. "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning..."

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