Raising a Bookworm

We’re a bookish family and one of the parts of parenthood I’ve looked forward to most is sharing my love of stories with my daughter. I’ve been collecting books for her since birth and have given her the lowest shelf on our bookcase within her reach, but it’s only in the last few months that she’s shown a real interest in stories.

In Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust distributes free books at intervals from birth to five years old to encourage a love of reading and promote literacy. A few of my daughter’s earliest favourites were books she received from the health visitor, including a simple rhyming bed time story called One Sleepy Night and a peekaboo lift the flap book, there was also a rhyming book to help children learn to count in the most recent Bookbug bag by Julia Donaldson called One Mole Digging a Hole that my daughter really likes too.

Although I’ve read to my daughter since birth, once she became mobile she lost interest in books so I picked up a few more interactive sensory books for her from the “That’s Not My” range and a couple of Nosy Crow lift the flap books too to try to keep her interest.

As she’s gotten older, her language skills have developed and her attention span has increased we’ve been able to introduce more narrative stories. One of her earliest favourites that she demanded over and over again was Corduroy by Don Freeman, which tells the story of a bear in a department store who gets overlooked by customers because he’s missing a button on his dungarees and sets out on an adventure to find a button once the shop closes. It’s a really lovely story and one that has aged well since it was first published in 1968.

Another popular classic in our household is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which also happens to have been one of my husband’s favourite childhood stories) which describes the life cycle of a caterpillar hatching from an egg, eating a lot of food and eventually transforming into a butterfly. My daughter practically knows this one off by heart and enjoys pointing out all the foods that the caterpillar eats.

Between Halloween and Christmas last year, my daughter discovered the wonderful rhyming stories of Julia Donaldson and has been demanding “Broom!” (Room on the Broom) and Gruffalo’s Child regularly. For those unfamiliar with these stories, Room on the Broom is about a witch who keeps losing her belongings which are returned to her by various helpful animals she meets on her journey, who all ask to travel on her broom with her and eventually team up to rescue her when a dragon threatens to eat her. It’s a fun story about helping each other and team work. While The Gruffalo’s Child is the sequel to The Gruffalo, in which the Gruffalo’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the big, bad mouse that scared her father in the original story.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my daughter’s reading tastes change and develop as she grows, and have enjoyed this chance to look back at some of the books that we’ve read together over the last couple of years. Have a lovely week. X

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

As a child who loved to play outside and help my parents in the garden, The Secret Garden thoroughly captured my imagination and was one of my childhood favourites, I recently found myself reaching for my old, crinkled and faded copy again when I was in the mood for some comfort-reading.

The Secret Garden follows nine-year-old Mary Lennox who is orphaned during an outbreak of cholera in India and sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire. Mary is left to amuse herself exploring Misselthwaite Manor and the grounds where she finds a walled garden that has been locked and forgotten about for ten years.

I’ve always loved that Mary starts the story as a disagreeable, impudent and stubborn child, so different from other heroines in children’s stories, which makes her transformation into a lively, determined and cheerful child all the more remarkable, and mirrors the rejuvenation of the secret garden itself.

Along the way Mary befriends the kind but plain-spoken Martha, the grumpy yet sentimental gardener Ben Weatherstaff, animal-charming Dickon, and her cousin Colin who undergoes his own journey of healing and growth alongside Mary’s.

The Secret Garden is a lovely story of friendship, life and nature that captures the joy of nurturing a garden, and the curiosity and sense of wonder that comes so naturally to children. In the era of TV, social media and smartphones, the underlying message championing the value of nature and spending time outside for health and well-being seems as relevant now as it did when it was published in 1911. Have a lovely week. X

The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

I’ve been reading in fits and starts since my daughter was born, a few pages here or a chapter there during her feeds and naps, but this was such a short, gripping story that I read it in a couple of sittings.

Ten year old Harvey Swick is bored, when one dreary February day he’s visited by a strange creature called Rictus who invites him to visit the mysterious Mr Hood’s Holiday House.

One by one, Harvey meets Mr Hood’s servants, kindly Mrs Griffin and her cats, as well as the mysterious “brood” of siblings Rictus, Jive, Marr, and Carna, each of them performing a different role for their master and threatening in their own way, though Hood himself remains hidden.

Mr Hood’s house is a wondrous place where there are four seasons in one day everyday, spring mornings turn into summer afternoons with Halloween every evening and Christmas every night.

Yet things take a sinister turn when a Halloween trick goes too far, and Harvey and the other children realise that they’re prisoners in Hood’s world of illusions.

This is a thrilling and sinister children’s horror story that reminds us to live in the present and not to wish our lives away – a pertinent message during lockdown when it feels like life is on hold. Have a lovely week. X

The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis

The Whitby Witches

Jennet and Ben are orphaned siblings who have been shunted from one foster home to another since their parents died because of Ben’s ability to see ghosts, until they’re taken in by an eccentric, old lady, Alice Boston, who lives in the Yorkshire town of Whitby. Not long after the children arrive, the mysterious Rowena Cooper moves into a dilapidated old house nearby and strange, sinister events start to occur.

Whitby is a wonderful setting with descriptions of the ruined abbey overlooking the town and the infamous 199 steps featuring prominently in the story, and I really appreciated how well Robin Jarvis foreshadowed events and cleverly interspersed local history and folklore from the Barguest from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and St Hilda to the collapse of the central tower of the abbey in 1830 into the story.

The Whitby Witches2

The Whitby Witches is full of supernatural elements from witches and ghosts to demonic hounds and other fantastic creatures, and this was a lot more thrilling, atmospheric and scary than I expected a children’s book to be – it managed to give me goosebumps and it’s a perfect tale for a dark and stormy night. My only criticism is that the story never fully explained who Rowena Cooper (or her husband) was or where she came from.

The story works well as a standalone but The Whitby Witches is actually the first in a trilogy following Miss Boston, Jennet and Ben, though only the first book seems to have been re-issued so I’ll have to track down second hand copies of the sequels because I enjoyed this so much. Have a lovely week. X

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

It’s always slightly intimidating to review a well-known and well-loved story but Anne of Green Gables is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages, having somehow skipped over it as a child, and I recently borrowed a copy from the library.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables is the story of a young orphan who goes to live on a farm with the aging siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, after a mix-up at the orphanage. Written as a series of chronological vignettes, the story follows Anne settling into life at Green Gables, through her school days, all her adventures, hijinks and (many, many) mishaps, making friends and finding “kindred spirits” along the way.

Anne is imaginative, absent-minded, fiery-tempered, relentlessly optimistic and prone to fits of melodrama, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her when her background of loneliness and domestic drudgery is revealed, with only her daydreams to keep her company until she moved to Green Gables. One aspect of Anne’s character that resonated with me was her reverence for nature, and how she always noticed the beauty of the changing seasons that so many of us take for granted. I also have a soft-spot for sensible, dry-humoured, calm and collected Marilla, and I loved the exchanges between Anne and Marilla, who seem like such opposites most of the time but are fiercely devoted to each other.

Anne of Green Gables2

This is such a gentle, comfort-read and reminded me of other childhood favourites like Heidi, The Secret Garden and Little Women that transport the reader to simpler times and capture all the trials, tribulations and triumphs of childhood and growing up. Have a lovely week. X