Middle English Word of the Moment

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading to a child

This started out as a response to Wynken de Worde's post on re-reading, and the way one's perception of a book can change from childhood onwards. But then it got too big to politely be a comment, so it is over here.

When we were young, we used to go and sit in our grandmother's sewing room with our ears pressed to the speakers of her old record player, because you had to do that to hear the stories properly. One of my favourites was "Little Black Sambo", with the idyllic and very very simple idea of living in the jungle and playing with monkeys. I idolised him, like I did Mowgli, and was rather surprised when one day my mother made a pained expression and told me that it was actually terribly racist.

Now, for the first time, I'm preparing myself as an adult for the arrival of a new baby in the house, and making sure I have enough collections of all sorts of stories to read. And every time I think of reading a child one book or the other - Italo Calvino's volume of uncensored Italian fairy tales, or the Narnia books - I find myself tangling in the predicament of how one reads to a child.

Because I can read them to myself now and skip over all the bits that are potentially worrying if taken literally or to heart. But to read them to a child, without stopping to explain them away? Is a minor correction that a child wouldn't really understand about anyway worth breaking the spell of the story and all the good that brings in itself? Do you just trust a child to find the magic in a story now, and refind it differently the next year, when they see the world a little differently?

Or does one just read as many different stories from as many different cultures and viewpoints as possible, let the child keep the magic of all of them, and try to live and teach them by example in such a way that they learn to choose for themself?

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