Bedtime reading to children is a real drag.
It can be fun, occasionally. But mostly it’s a pain. A war of attrition: children refusing to fall asleep despite my speaking in the softest and most baritone voice I can muster. Like being read to by Ronnie Drew every night.
And when they do eventually fall asleep, you too lie exhausted and hopeless. Throat parched and half dead, trying to muster up the will to get up and do all the other stuff you needed to do before bed.
Most children’s books are written for children – obviously, you might think. But it ain’t children who have to read them again and again, night in and night out! You could read the local takeaway menu to a child and, as long as there’s some nice pictures, they wouldn’t care. My children have, as far as I can understand, no discerning taste in literature at all. They lack even the rudimental understanding of character, plot development and denouement. The hackneyed rot I have to subject myself to night after unrelenting night makes me curse these so-called ‘writers’ and lament for the wanton destruction of trees!
There are greats, however. The Gruffalo is not the heavyweight champion of the world for nothing. It remains a joy to read, even after five years, and can coax the most self-conscious performer into putting on voices for their kids’ entertainment.
The Mr Men and Little Miss books are gloriously anachronistic and often come down to whimsical morality tales about nothing. I particularly like them because they don’t contain the word, “awesome”. Also, there’s not many things more comfortably British than a Roger Hargreaves worm, flower, wallpaper or brogue.
Most of them are bloody awful. Shelves and shelves of books about dinosaurs, or trains, or dinosaur trains. Putting anthropomorphic dinosaurs into a kids book is like writing a news article made up of Twitter reactions – that stuff just writes itself.
And anachronism is not always good. Beatrix Potter books, despite being only a dozen pages long, are impossible to finish without wanting to wring a rabbit’s neck. Dire excruciating tales which feel like being locked in a Laura Ashley in Kent listening to Hermione Grainger. It’s like they were written by a child, or something!
The morality in these books tends to grate too. Stories and stories of searching for your inner star and letting it shine. Being anything you want if you just believe. These books must be partly responsible for the swarm of millennials who are unbearable to be around. I wish their parents had read them My Noisy and Little Miss Bossy, whose underlying message, as far as I can gather, is “shut the hell up!”.
They are what make traditional nursery stories still so satisfying – the grey morality of them all. Take the Three Little Pigs. Wolf eats stupid pig. Wolf eats smarter but still pretty stupid pig. Wolf tries to eat smart pig. Wolf is boiled alive. Smart pig (presumably) eats stupid wolf. Haha! Stupid people are stupid – don’t be stupid!
Also, new parents? Don’t buy books. You don’t need to. They are usually hard-backed, big and heavy. They have zero retaining value. No one wants a – shudder! – second-hand kids book complete with ripped pages and baby teeth marks. And pop-up books? Forget them! Who in their right mind would buy this for a child.
Support your local library. A healthy rotation of books is good for your sanity as well as your wallet. It’s not a perfect solution. I’ve been waiting for someone to return The Gruffalo’s Child almost as long as for 50 Shades of Grey. Also, it’s not uncommon for library books, especially toddler books to have a faint but unmistakeable whiff of vomit.
Photo credit: jdurham