The joy of having young children – well, not the joy, there are one or two others – is the reading that goes alongside the more mundane, humdrum aspects of bed-time routines. So, after the tortuous subtleties of getting an exhausted little person to move from downstairs to up, the ‘I don’t want to get in the bath’ tantrum closely followed by the ‘I don’t want to get out of the bath’ tantrum, and the protracted, oh-so-delicate teeth-brushing negotiations, it’s time to read.
For me, one of the duties of parenthood – that sense of passing down what matters from one generation to the next – is the reading of old favourites. There’d be a sense of neglect if there was no We’re Going on a Bear Hunt or Thomas the Tank Engine for my younger one, and no Magic Faraway Tree or James and the Giant Peach for my eldest. In turn, CS Lewis will enter the frame and then, in the later teenage years, William Golding. These books, if I know anything, are what matters.
To go with the duties, one of the more surprising benefits of parenthood is the extent to which new books and new authors have been discovered and broadened my reading experience. This is what led me to start this blog; the rediscovery of books, after a number of barren years when the the thread had been dropped (I’d lost that sense of ‘what to read next’), coupled with the mind-numbing exhaustion of early parenthood.
One of the most rewarding of these discoveries was the picture book, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers. I know I’m late to the party on this one (it was published in 2013) but it’s a brilliant, inventive book. It works so well because, like all the best picture books, there is a magical unity between word and picture, as if what’s drawn and what’s written are somehow merged, distinct still but inseparable.
Each page represents a letter written to the owner of the crayons by the crayons themselves. They plead with him to be given a rest (red crayon), not to be called dark tan (beige crayon) or to clarify who is best qualified to colour in the sun (yellow crayon and orange crayon). The pictures, brilliantly done by Oliver Jeffers, bring character and personality to each crayon. It’s funny in a way that makes children giggle and adults knowingly chuckle. And it’s clever too – there’s a subtle message about friendship and respecting differences.
Without my children I probably wouldn’t have read The Day the Crayons Quit. Perhaps wisdom doesn’t just flow down the generations – it works its way back and forth, helped by marvellous books like this one.