Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Reading Notes: Up the Faraway Tree again

When my two older daughters were quite young, we read a lot of picture books. And by "a lot", I mean "the sort of numbers that would set a librarian back on their heels" kind of numbers. Being read to was one of their favourite activities, which worked out super well because reading aloud was (and is) one of mine. It's great when a plan comes together!

By the time my eldest was 4, though, picture books were starting to pall a little. She wanted something a bit more sustained, in terms of story. We moved on to the classic extended picture books - The Velveteen Rabbit and co, as I dubbed them - but she wanted episodic storytelling. And for that, who is better than Enid Blyton?

Now, I have all the usual reservations about Blyton. Her stories are moralistic, prescriptive and frequently cruel. She's intolerant of difference, horribly sexist (it's always the boys in the lead) and very classist.

However, and this is important - my kids LOVED her fairyland canon (The Magic Faraway Tree, Wishing Chair and Tales of Fairyland books). They loved it deeply, sincerely and devotedly. Not ALL kids do, of course; the old-fashioned language and themes doesn't have universal appeal. But my two elder daughters were both, in their turn, utterly captivated by the Enchanted Wood and its denizens, and I must've read the three Faraway Tree books a dozen times over to each of them in the preschool and early school years. (Interestingly, while they also both took to the Famous Five books, only one of them converted this enjoyment into an appreciation of Blyton's other main ouevre, the school story series. My eldest never liked the school stories at all).

My youngest girl is now 6, and it has been a constant uneasy awareness of mine that because of how different our lives are now, I have spent less slow-molasses hours reading to and with her in her preschool and first school years than I did with the older two. (On my bad days, I use this as a stick to beat myself with, given that she is not as advanced a reader as the other two were at 6 - not that she's behind, she's just not a lot ahead either). One of the omissions, I realised with a shock recently, was that I had *never read* her an Enid Blyton story. Never!

At bedtime a few weeks back, therefore, I proposed to her that we try out a book called The Magic Faraway Tree.

"What's it about?" she asked cautiously.

"Fairies, magic, three children, a special tree," I said. "I think you'll like it..."

The 12 year old chimed in. "Oh, the Faraway Tree! C, you'll love it. It is really good!"

The 10 year old added, "Can we listen in, too?"

The 6 year old was sold, and we set off that very night on our journey up the faraway tree.

And she LOVES it. Truly, madly, deeply. As much, if not more, than her sisters did in their time. She laughs huge belly-laughs at the antics of the Saucepan Man; she is in love with gentle little Silky; she adores Moon-Face and Mr Watziname and Dame Washalot and all the others. For book dress-up day next week at school, she wants to go as Silky, so we are on the look-out for long golden hair facsimiles.

Every night, she curls up next to me in eager anticipation, waiting for the next installment. Every night she asks for "just one more chapter...!" Every night, she and I take joy together in this story and the feeling it brings.

I'm so very happy I've had a chance to go up the Faraway Tree one more time, hand in hand with a child of mine.

No comments:

Post a Comment