I gave my little boy his first book when he was about two weeks old. OK, it had bold black and white illustrations and wasn’t big on plot but it caught his eye.
“Isn’t he a bit young for that?” a woman said to me as we waited in the doctor’s surgery one afternoon. “He can’t read yet.”
I smiled and said he liked the pictures. She looked unconvinced. I let it go. Not long after that, I started to read him books like Rumble In The Jungle and Dear Zoo. By the time he was five months old (see picture), he recognised individual books well enough to choose which ones he wanted us to read, understood how pages worked and they quickly became his favourite entertainment. Now he’s fifteen months old and books are still his very favourite thing. He loves Room On The Broom and (of course) my own Snug As A Bug. If I lay out twenty books in a jumble and give him a title, he is able to pick out that book and bring it to me, for all twenty books. He knows the words of most so well, he can turn the pages at the right moment as I read the story. When he sits on his own, turning the pages and babbling away to himself, it’s almost as though he really is reading them, although the story loses a bit in translation.
Our books are battered and torn. Every single one has sticky tape on at least one page where he has enthusiastically torn it. Some are more tape than paper, and some have missing chunks where I wasn’t quick enough with the repairs and the fragments vanished. But as much as it pains me to see their tattered state (and it does pain me; I like my spines unbent and pages pristine) the look of wonder and enjoyment I see on his face makes up for it – those books are loved. I hope it’s the ways things are for years and years to come. The message of the charity Bookstart is that it’s never too early to start reading with a child and, if more parents start at birth, maybe we can help stop the alleged slipping of standards in our educational system. But apart from that, it’s a great way to bond and there are so many fabulous picture books out there that you’re sure to find one you both love. I am a little biased but I think the gift of reading is one of the greatest you can give to a child.
If I had a time machine, I’d go back and show that woman the picture of my little boy above, engrossed in a book. After I’d gone forwards and got tonight’s Euromillions numbers, of course.