As Father’s Day approaches, we asked a few of the CHINDI authors what books their fathers read to them when they were younger (or possibly as recently as last week) and what books they read in turn to their children. Here are a few of their responses:
Jane Cable, Author, The Cheesemaker’s House and The Faerie Tree
My father was an English teacher, poet and literary critic so he was directly responsible for my love of books. Every weekend morning from when I was quite small I would crawl into bed next to him and he would read to me. He later admitted that reading aloud had the surprising benefit of being quite a good hangover cure.
His choice of literature was eclectic; from his own childhood favourites ‘Just William’ and ‘Jennings’ to modern classics of the time like the Moomins, we read them all. In my teenage years I rebelled and refused to study english at A-level or have anything much to do with poetry. When I was a student we argued fiercely over theories of literary criticism. But we came round full circle close to the end of his life when we found ourselves sharing copies of The Wisden Cricketer. I have a great deal to thank him for.
Jeremy Good, Author, The Butcher’s Son
For my two little bears and me, one of our favourite bedtime stories were The Little Bear Stories by Martin Waddell, beautifully illustrated by Barbara Firth. What is it about bears? There are lots in children’s literature it seems: Winnie the Pooh, Paddington, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, even the cuddly rascal Baloo in The Jungle Book, and many more.
For us three bears, these lovely stories about the innocence of childhood through the constant questions of the little cub and the indomitable wisdom and patient of his father, were irresistible. They lived a life of simply adventures in a cosy, ideal world, always safe, always together; and Big Bear always read the Bear Book right to …. The end.
Windsor Holden, Author, Elvis Lives on Planet Football
The first book I read to my elder son was A Social History of English Cricket by Derek Birley. OK, so it may lack the majesterial prose of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or the narrative strength of The Gruffalo, but I felt it essential to provide Max with a solid grounding in the origins of our summer game at an early age. Namely, fifteen hours.
I should probably ‘fess up at this point. I didn’t, at this particular juncture, have any children’s books to hand, being more concerned with ensuring the provision of babygros and muslin sheets and other assorted paraphernalia to the maternity rooms at St Richards then with my son’s formative literary development. So it came down to a choice between Birley and Take a Break.
Now if you’ve never read Take a Break, then don’t. Really, don’t. It’s packed full of articles which serve as exemplars for the definition of “inane”, and readers’ letters – often, unfortunately, accompanied by readers’ photographs – about how their dearly beloved dogs have passed away but look, here’s a montage of them that I made with the hair from their doggy corpses. With absolutely no ironic intention whatsoever.
Anyway, the hospital had provided several copies of Take a Break, presumably to take the edge off the agonies of childbirth, but I felt that Max could do without illustrations of 2D taxidermy – let alone articles entitled ‘The Devil On My Shoulder’ or ‘I Slept With My Brother’s Girlfriend’s Killer’ – as his introduction to the canon of English Literature. So Birley and English cricket it was.
Which may have had something to do with the fact that, several months later, Max’s first word was “duck”.
My own introduction to literature, as far as I can recall, kicked off with my father reading Wind in the Willows to me. However, I would often request that he would read stories to me, “out of [his] own mouth”, by which I meant: stop cribbing from Kenneth Grahame and make one up for me. And so began the tales of Bernard and Norman.
Bernard and Norman were monkeys. They lived in a jungle, as monkeys were wont to do. That is pretty much all I can remember about them, except that bananas were usually involved in the plot and at some point in the narrative they would invariably come to a clearing in the jungle. I do recall, however, that once the jungle had exhausted its dramatic potential, we shifted to a number of crossover stories in which they encountered Captain Pugwash and Tom the Cabin Boy, who would usually smile and say nothing.
Nor was my father one to limit bedtime stories to children’s literature. Certainly, by the time I was seven, I was regularly being fed snippets of P.G. Wodehouse – the Jeeves and Mr Mulliner stories; by the age of eight, Dickens – The Pickwick Papers – and heavily bowdlerised sections of Catch 22.
Sadly, there was never a Bernard and Norman/Catch 22 crossover. That would have been a hell of a tale.
Julian Kitkman Page, Author, The 7:52 To London Bridge
I can’t remember what particular bed-time stories I had as very young boy, but I do remember my father reading to me. He was a very hard-working businessman and worked in the City, so making time for my brothers and me in the evening if he was home before we fell asleep was very special. It didn’t matter what he was reading, just his being there was enough to make it magical. He would sit on the bed in his smart pin-stripe suit still wearing his tie and white shirt with detachable collar and put his arm around me. The ink on his fingers and the faint smell of steam engines clinging to him from his journey from work, would conjure up visions of a vast faraway City of gold where everyone dressed like Daddy, worked in impossibly large offices lined with expensive wood panelling, and ran the World.
When I was the Daddy things were a little more off the wall. I would often read my two daughters Ladybird book fairy stories, doing all the voices and actions in dramatic fashion, and my eldest daughter has kept the entire set to read to her own offspring one day. Mostly however, I would smell of drink rather than trains, and make up tales involving witches, big stamping giants wielding axes and similar horrors, but once again doing all the voices and actions. This included regularly chopping the bedhead with a giant garden axe to provide a sense of realism. Fortunately the girls loved it (apart from one not to be repeated episode with a nightmare doll) and preferred my stories to the by comparison tame Ladybird versions. I always promised one day I would write them down. Who knows, when the grandchildren are old and brave enough?
Michael Parker, Author, Rosselli’s Gold
My father never read to me except to explain the finer points of fixed odds on Shermans Pools, and to make sure I understood the instructions when taking a betting slip up the road to the bookie’s runner. My ‘role model’ in that sense was Mr. Brown: my junior school teacher. But not to forget her, my Aunt Flo (no relation) always bought me and my brothers a book for Christmas, and it was these, plus Mr. Brown’s influence that propelled me into the pages of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Scrooge, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and all kinds of children’s classics — not forgetting Enid Blyton! —.
What did I read to my four sons? Not much; Pat always took care of that. I just took them fishing!