I’m a writer, darling. So, obviously, I began sharing the written word with my little one from the moment the urine dried on my wife’s pregnancy test. I’d lie around at home in my smoking jacket and read ‘the Hood bump’ page after page of literary classics – from Jane Eyre to Bleak House – while stroking my wife’s hair and asking if she’d like another homemade lemonade. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.
Now, back to your question and… hold on, I have a question. Do you want me to tell you: A) when I began orating the contents of a book at my completely oblivious child, or B) when I began sitting down and reading stories while my son giggled, made some noises and pointed at the words and characters?
In response to query ‘A’, we’ve been ramming ‘content’ into his lugholes pretty much from day one (partly because that’s what experts on the internet told us to do, and partly because he barely slept during his first couple of months and we needed to do something to pass the time). And in answer to query ‘B’, it’s only really been since he turned 13 months, which was just over a fortnight ago.
Ooh, isn’t that a bit late? Maybe in comparison with some little prose protégés, but here’s the thing. Every baby is different. And for most of his life our little individual has been more interested in scaling staircases than scanning sentences. This gave us three options. We could attempt to read Goldilocks and the Three Bears, while chasing him around the house. We could strap him down and force-feed him The Gruffalo. Or we could keep showing an interest in the books in his toy box in the hope that he would eventually work out that they must be good for something other than slipping on, ripping up or chewing.
After a brief chat, we decided that we don’t like running into walls and would prefer our child not to grow up as a book-hating sociopath, so should probably go for option three. This approach took a few months to make any impact, but it’s now paying off wonderfully, with our son pointing at his ‘Wilson the train’ book and shouting “here” (it’s the only word he can say) every time he gets out of his morning or evening bath. It’s really cute how much he enjoys it, even cuter hard he concentrates on it and, best of all, it’s only four or five pages long, so we’ve always got time for a second story. Which is… well, it depends who’s reading. If it’s mummy turn, it’ll probably be Colin West’s “Pardon? Said the Giraffe” and if it’s daddy’s session, it’ll either be Julia Donaldson’s Toddle Waddle or Father Hood’s Tidy Boys.
Never heard of Tidy Boys? That’s because my manuscripts have been rejected by just about every children’s book publisher in the land. But don’t let that put you off. This must-read, six book series, which will no doubt be huge in five years’ time, includes loads of tactile elements and peek-a-book style flaps, revolves around a kick-ass cleaning crew (Vinny Vacuum, Wesley Wipes, Danny Duster, Mick Mop, Chris Cloth and twin brothers Pan & Brush) who help people clear up domestic mishaps and even has its own theme tune.
“Tidy Boys, Tidy Boys, if they can’t clean it no-one can. Tidy Boys, Tidy Boys, just give them a call and they’ll come in their van.”
I know. I can’t comprehend why no-one is knocking down my door to sign me up either. I can, however, understand why a parent might be anxious about their child’s apparent disinterest in books. It’s because you want the best for them and, even at this early stage, are worried about them falling behind. But having been in this position myself, I can exclusively that getting stressed did not solve anything. So stop biting your nails, quit scouring Mumsnet debates and do what my wife and I did. Namely: sprinkle books around the house and wait for that magical moment when your child is ready to sit down and interact with one of them. When will that happen? Who knows? It might be next week, it might be next month or it might be next year. But it will happen. And when it does it will be well worth the wait.