Children are natural storytellers; they can weave together entire narratives that leave you reeling from the sheer complexity of it. But to really light that fire of telling good stories, they need to learn how stories are crafted.
One of the greatest gifts you can give children is that of reading; the capacity to be carried away into other worlds. Books can broaden a child’s horizons, vocabulary, and world if introduced well.
Some children might not have a natural love of sitting down and reading for any length of time. They might prefer dance, music, football, or cooking – and those things should be encouraged. Forcing them to read books would be counter-intuitive, but it’s down to us to find stories that they enjoy; would they engage with a comic book rather than a book, an audio book over a novella? The right type of book is key. There’s something for everyone, and parents should help them find it.
From the moment my son moved in with me full-time, I was absolutely passionate about sharing my love of stories with him. I’m a writer, amd I’ve felt up to now that my books aren’t quite pitched for his age – but I’ve had a chance to reflect lately, and maybe I’m doing him a disservice, and shouldn’t be telling my eight-year-old son that he’s not ready yet for his dad’s stories.
Because Bryan loved facts, I allowed him to dictate the books we got from the library. Non-fiction was usually the order of the day, and I didn’t push it; he was reading, and that was positive. But he also had the capacity to like – love – fiction; his foster carers had introduced him to Anne Fine and Dick King-Smith, both of whom captivated him.I was aware that he had a flicker of a fiction flame; I just needed to find the right story for him.
I remember when I was studying literature at A-Level; I was fascinated by Hamlet, but found Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy to be an utterly depressing affair – but had to read, analyse, and write about in excrutiating detail; all because I was told to by the exam board. I have not tried another Thomas Hardy book since, and probably never will again.
I was resolute that my son wouldn’t experience that type of pressure, at least not at home. I wanted him to love reading on its own merits. Because I had already seen that Bryan had got favourite authors, I just needed to fan the flame. And then I introduced him to Harry Potter.
He was – aha – spell-bound by the series. As I write, we’re currently on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (the sixth book), and I can’t imagine what we’ll do when they finish the seventh and final book. It’ll be a bereavement of sorts; we’ve read these books since he first moved home, and they’ve formed part of our bond. But I’ll worry about that three-quarters of the way through the last book.
Seeing a child reading stories and telling me about them afterwards, because he’s entirely caught up in their world, is a thing of beauty. We read a book by Neil Gaiman at the weekend; Fortunately, the Milk. One of the most intriguing titles in children’s fiction ever written, I would suggest. Gaiman is something of a hero to me – although, of course, I’m just one reader amongst millions – and I vowed to myself, when I first discovered he had written a children’s story for kids, that I would one day read it with my son.
We did, and I was caught off guard; the entire 140-odd pages were consumed in a single day – a single morning, in fact. I couldn’t stop smiling, and we’re still talking about the book four days later. Wonderful!
My mum has bought some David Walliams collections of short stories, and he thoroughly enjoys them when they pick him up from school. I’ve now started him on the Brothers Grimm and other fairy stories, and anything magical seems to be captivating. I will help him develop his fertile imagination further; all children are naturally creative, and I want to help my son fan the flames of his own creativity. After all, we all love a good story.