On the sad loss of shared reading

21st July 2006 at 01:00
Sometimes things that are precious slip away without their loss being noticed until it is too late. Even before my first child Tom was born, I read aloud to him, loving the sounds of the rich wordplay from poetry and novels.

As tiny babies, I held my children close through quiet times, turning beautifully coloured pages and sharing the simple language of picture books. Later, we joined Max on his adventures in Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, a book that never failed to calm Hannah even from the most frustrating of temper tantrums.

Those times of closeness were precious jewels in the day - sitting together, warm and close, with a cat, trying to get closer still to look at the pictures. The rhythm of Boy and the Cloth of Dreams by Jenny Koralek or Kipling's "Seal Lullaby" would wash over them and carry their imaginations as the words formed pictures in their heads until they tumbled off, distracted by butterflies.

When the children were four and six we moved on to longer novels, such as the Harry Potter books when we first discovered them. Bedtime got earlier and earlier, and there was always the cry of "One more chapter", though Hannah confesses to feeling scared now. The White Queen from Narnia occasionally brought reading to an end with her terror.

Later, the children read back to me. Parts of Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicolson books were too funny to contain within the pages of the book and had to be shared, and Cornelia Funke's Inkheart became too frightening not to be uttered aloud. I would cook while Meg and Mo searched for Dustfinger and Georgia eyed up the boy at the bus-stop. A long car journey would be filled with one or other child reading to pass away the time and the miles.

As they grew older, I read less to them as they began to read for themselves, and the ritual of bedtime stories seems to have gone. That is the precious thing I have lost. Some mornings both children still climb into bed with me with their books to sit and read, but we are all locked in our different worlds as the cats try still to get between us and our pages.

Rarely do we share books and read together.

Jacqueline Wilson, the children's laureate, campaigns for a return to the culture of reading aloud. Through her efforts, I have been lucky enough to notice what I had lost before it was too late.

Jackie Morris is a children's author and illustrator based in Pembrokeshire

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