I believe, wholeheartedly, that to read with your children is one of the best gifts you can give to them. Not only do you pass on a set of skills which enables them to escape, at will, into a world of imagination, but by reading together you can share that world. And nothing is more fun than that.
There are lots of ways of reading together. When children are small, the obvious thing is to read aloud to them, pausing to discuss the illustrations or what may happen next. Is that strange wailing really just the wind? How on earth will William get out of that scrape? There are ample opportunities to discuss the characters’ feelings and reactions. Does Father really mean he would rather they were drowned, if duffers? And if not, why would he write such a message?
Then there is a more loosely shared experience. Someone is wandering around the house, nose in a book that others of us have read. We stop to talk about it, and flick through the pages to our favourite bits. Sometimes Mother and Father remember the stories, too, or remember reading them to Pete and Meg and I. Our perspectives change as we grow, but the love is constant. I have been known to borrow these books from bedside tables, after the children are asleep.
Stories can be made up by any of us. We are all writers, the moment we take up a pen. We write sequels and prequels, in ink or coloured pencil. Sometimes our stories get no further than an elaborate front cover. Sometimes they are spoken once, on a long walk, and forgotten.
At other times we might listen together to the wireless, to something which is too adult for a little one to read, but which captures their imagination and holds it tightly, spawning reams of questions. Why are the teachers so horrid to Jane Eyre? And what is typhoid? It may be listening, but to me it is reading, too – encountering character, form and style, absorbing another universe.
If I am ever fortunate enough to be old and have grandchildren and, God willing, great grandchildren, these are the stories which will connect us. They are stories which have already spanned generations. Sharing these stories has given me the power to pinpoint, out of the whole of space and time, which world the children are in – just by overhearing a name, or catching a glimpse of a dust cover. I hope you and yours will come to love them too.