Finding time to snuggle down with a good book is fast becoming a lost pleasure – for kids and adults alike, as technology competes for our time at every turn.
When once there were just five TV channels, there are now hundreds; clunky computer games have been replaced by cutting-edge, pixelated epics; and tweeting is no longer just for the birds. With so much vying for our children’s attention, it’s little wonder that books have been relegated to the status of relics from a by-gone age, and the ‘bedtime story’ allowed to drop off some family routines.
Yet encouraging kids to read is universally accepted as a good thing. Its importance has even been noted by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development which declared: “Reading for pleasure is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.”
Strong stuff, and one reason why it’s so important to try and find time to fit family reading into your day. Of course it should be fun too, not a chore but a time of the day to look forward too, to catch up on characters and find out where the next twist in the plot will take them.
Bedtime is the obvious slot, and a tried and tested way of calming down younger kids before sleep. You’ll soon move on from the giraffe that can’t dance, Topsy and Tim’s trip to the Dentist, and the story of how a caterpillar munched his way through an entire orchard of fruit, and before you know it you’ll be introducing chapter books and old personal favourites. Pippi Longstocking perhaps, or Swallows and Amazons – or why not dig out that dog-eared copy of Treasure Island you remember reading while laid up in bed with chicken pox?
I recently re-read 101 Dalmatians with my ten-year-old. Sure, some of the 1950s language was a bit odd, as was the concept of having a live-in cook, but it’s still a great tale and a chapter or two a night became a welcome ritual.
Of course what you read doesn’t really matter. Some kids devour non-fiction books, lapping up facts about dinosaurs and obscure world records, while some go for the classics, happily taking on the sometimes plummy language of The Railway Children, The Secret Garden or some Enid Blyton. Others head straight for the latest epics from modern day writers like Jacqueline Wilson or Charlie Higson. Test the water with a trip to the library or the local charity shop to find out what grabs them.
And then of course there’s Roald Dahl. Dahl would have been 97 this month and his books – often bizarre, dark and rigorously unsentimental – have been capturing the imagination since 1943. They are irreverent feasts of fun, true page turners where kids enjoy the upper hand over grown-ups, strange inventions belch out an array of mind-blowing sweets and giants feast on snoozcumbers.
And you can fire up your children’s imagination by introducing them to Dahl’s host of colourful characters, and Quentin Blake’s idiosyncratic illustrations, with a game of BrainBox Roald Dahl first. From the eating habits of Mr Twit to the magical powers of Matilda Wormwood, the trials and tribulations of Charlie Bucket to the bungling antics of Boggis, Bunce and Bean, that half hour before bedtime may never be the same again.