'Mum, how old were you when you read Harry Potter?'
This sweetly naive question from my ten-year-old makes me stop for a minute. My kids think that I read all the same books as them when I was their age. They can’t imagine a world without Harry Potter. They swim through a rich sea of children’s literature, full of life and variety and colour. Between school, home and library, they have so much more choice than I did as a ten-year-old reader, and I love that they do!
Even so, they still read some of my old favourite books. I can’t help being delighted that they pick up my battered beloved copies and get lost in them like I used to. Recently I’ve caught one daughter or other reading The Ordinary Princess by MM Kaye; The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge; The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Little Women by Louisa M Alcott. And it takes me right back there. I loved those books so deeply once. I loved their characters and their particular magic, and their language formed mine, I’m sure of it.
So while it’s great that they humour me and we can talk about these familiar favourites, my daughters soon move on, distracted by dozens of other delights.
And sometimes we just disagree. Our tastes can diverge drastically. No matter how obviously I lure my children towards a certain author, leaving books temptingly in their way, they are stubbornly independent. And so they should be too.
Just because I want to go back in time and read Philip Pullman when I was ten, doesn’t mean they have to like his books.
And just because my eldest has re-read all the Harry Potter books multiple times, doesn’t mean I have to.
She despairs of my grasp of the plot when we watch the films together, ‘I thought you said you’d read this one, Mum!’
‘Once, when I was twenty-seven! Sorry!’
Having a parent who likes reading children’s books must be a right pain. They have to carve out their own space and rebel against me somehow. I think they’ve identified the series I will never wish to borrow. And even though I tried to hide it, they know which ones I don’t really want to read aloud to them either.
When we agree it’s lovely. They introduce me to some fabulous books and I bring a few home too. Recently we’ve agreed on David Almond, Adrienne Kress, Cressida Cowell, Sally Gardner, Sita Brahmachari, Eva Ibbotson, Cornelia Funke and RJ Palacio, among others.
This brings certain pitfalls.
The other week I treated myself to some hotly desired YA fiction to enjoy during the half term holiday. It was sitting in a pristine pile on my bedside table. When I finally had a free evening, I turned to the pile – and it had vanished.
Still, a little light pilfering seems a small price to pay for keeping them hooked on books – I just pray it continues.