During a recent family trip to South Africa, there was one book from my holiday reading pile that I simply couldn’t put down. It had everything: suspense, mystery, humour, fantasy, plot twists, heroes, villains and, ultimately, a happy ending. It also contained talking animals, unicorns and fauns. Because this wasn’t the latest bestselling crime or psychological thriller – my usual genres of choice. It was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the children’s story by C.S. Lewis that I’d first read almost 40 years earlier.
Given that I have a nine-year-old son who adores books, you might imagine that my motivation for re-reading it was to do so aloud to him. Not so. At the time, the two of us were devouring the latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series together at bedtimes. But, at 49 years old, reading children’s books curled up on my own has become my guilty pleasure. As C.S Lewis himself once said: ‘A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’
Sales of kids’ books continue to soar (how many are purchased by adults for themselves, I wonder?), and the UK’s children’s publishing market is expected to be worth £802 million by the end of this year. Small wonder when, according to the National Literacy Trust, regularly reading to little ones has ‘astonishing benefits for children’ including comfort and reassurance, confidence and security, relaxation, happiness and fun. When I read aloud to my son every evening – as I have done since he was born – it’s all about doing so in silly or characterful voices to enhance whatever mystery or hi-jinks the story requires. It builds the loveliest connection between us, and lines from some of our favourite tales have made it into our family’s lexicon. We chat about the characters and rate the books out of ten as we go along.