It may not come as a surprise to those who know me that some of the most enduring and most cherished memories of my childhood are about books and reading. Every night before bedtime, my mum or dad would read to me, a ritual that carried on even as I learned to read myself. Together we covered some of the Swedish classics for children; one involving the famous story of a naughty boy and a kind-hearted goose left my dad in tears and too choked up to read on; as well as lots of contemporary stories from Sweden and abroad. Many of my most beloved books I kept, hoping that one day I’d read them to my children who’d surely love them as much as I had.
My offspring were still babies when I started reading to them, and eleven years later, the ritual carries on. Only when we’re on holiday, do they grudgingly agree to share a book between them but usually I’m left reading one book to the youngest, and another to her older sister, and I don’t mind for it is precious time spent with my children. Eventually, the day will come when my daughters no longer want me to read to them, but for now, I’ll keep reading because you’re never too old to be read to.
What about all those books I saved for posterity? Well, I tried reading a few of them to my children, but alas, they don’t always appreciate the books that were so dear to me as a child and vice versa. Part of the reason for this, I’m guessing, is generational – stories that appealed to children in the 1970s, won’t always speak to children born in the new millennium. Another reason is cultural. Although I make an effort to introduce my children to Swedish culture and children’s literature, there’s no escaping the fact that my daughters are very British and some of the references in Swedish books are lost on them.
Fine, I can live with that. Besides, there’s plenty of great British literature that I enjoy reading with my children, not including Harry Potter and all the torturously dull novels by Enid Blyton. There’s Roald Dahl, whose stories no British school child can escape, and there’s the superb His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, a series that appeals just as much to adults as to pre-teens. And let’s not forget Michael Morpurgo, a national treasure of British children’s literature.
Only, my kids happen to be obsessed with Harry Potter and anything written by Enid Blyton. The older girl is a hard-core Potter fan, and if only the secondary school exams she’s currently studying for had questions not about maths and verbal reasoning but anything Harry Potter, she’d ace her exams. Her younger sister, meanwhile, is hooked on the endless amount of boarding school novels that Enid Blyton produced, and which are so riddled with stereotypes, prejudice and good girls/bad girls, that I almost have an out of body experience while reading.
As for Harry Potter, I’ve finally put my foot down, telling my daughter I refuse to read a single page from those books, the contents of which she knows by heart anyway. And having suffered through the entire series of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s romanticised account of her childhood on the prairie, I’ve learned a lesson: never start your kids on a book series, unless they’re willing to read them themselves.
True, I may come across as something of a book snob if you were to judge me based on the books lining the shelves in my study. But if you look closer, you might discover what my guilty reading pleasure is. I don’t like to admit it lest it dents my intellectual image, but I have an incurable weakness for graphic novels. You know, comics for grownups!