Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The New Zealand writer Joy Cowley remarks in her recent memoir “Navigation” that the way to teach children to read and write was through story, and that the best way to do that was for them to read stories featuring them as the main characters.

Writers, if they have children and grandchildren, have a captive audience. My small people learned from an early age that a flexible rectangular parcel amongst their birthday presents or under the Christmas tree contained another story book. Usually that book was about them in all sorts of adventures. They bounced so high on trampolines that they landed on a cloud and found themselves talking to birds. They cycled to a nearby park and were accosted by a grumpy beetle and serenaded by singing tomatoes. They were woken by a blue moon and got out of bed to watch chairs dancing in the moonlit garden.

On their birthdays they opened cards which were home-made and contained poems or stories that were about them and their world. One Valentine's Day the postman brought them a large envelope with a card showing a huge red heart with the story of St Valentine written inside it.

The books and cards were modest, simple things, made with love. They were written or typed on coloured paper and the books were sewn together at the spines with wool or Christmas string. The illustrations were often of the kind that they might have done themselves. Stick figures for example, drawn with crayons or felt-tip pens, houses with two windows, a door, a wobbly path and curly smoke coming out of the chimney. Dogs that were all eyes, tail and teeth. Sometimes there were collages, put together with shiny coloured paper shapes cut from magazines.

Those books and cards, poems and stories were joyfully received, and sometimes taken to school to show the teacher. My small people are not so small now, and have probably forgotten those book and cards and stories. But they can read really, really well.

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