Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Importance of Bedtime Stories - Lucy Coats



Many of my friends laugh at me when I say that Radio 4 is too intellectual for me. And they laugh even more when I confess that I am a Radio 2 addict. I don't care. Even my picky teenagers admit they play some good music--and if I didn't listen to Radio 2 I wouldn't know about the really excellent children's book thing which is currently taking place on the Jeremy Vine show, (and I wouldn't be able to share it with you). There! You see? It is really a noble sacrifice I am making on behalf of the AABBA readers.

The bedtime story is in decline, according to Jean Gross, the Government's first 'speech chief' (whatever that is)--and it is affecting language and reading skills. "The next generation lack basic speaking skills because parents now spend less time talking to their children over family meals or reading them bedtime stories", she told The Times on her appointment as communications tzar last month. This is depressing, but probably true. Our lives as parents are busier and more pressured than ever. Some children will never be read to by their parents--ever. The ritual of a bedtime story--that precious time of sharing a world of imagination with your child--is more than likely to be replaced with watching tv or playing computer games or television or a cd--or nothing at all. It's easier for many pressured parents to let a machine take over the job--and what a loss that is for both child and parent. So, what is going on at Radio 2? How are they helping to address this problem? Listen carefully (so to speak) and I'll begin.....

All this week on the Jeremy Vine Show, listeners are being asked to choose their favourite bedtime story from a shortlist of eight, in turn chosen from a longlist of 36 last month. Each day Jeremy will read two extracts and then someone from the media will champion their chosen book--yesterday the author and journalist Guy Walters talked about Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Bea Campbell supported Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. The others on the shortlist are The Gruffalo, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Famous Five, Where the Wild Things Are and Winnie the Pooh. Jeremy gets a lot of listeners, and it will be fascinating to see which of these comes out on top--and how many votes are cast. Personally, I am throwing my hat into the ring for Each Peach Pear Plum--a book I have read probably hundreds of times without ever being bored. If asked to recommend a picture book for young children, it's the one I invariably pick. Well, I would, feeling as I do about the importance of nursery rhymes and poetry. Which one would you pick? If you feel as strongly as I do about the importance of banging the drum for bedtime stories, please do go and vote. And even if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Radio 4 listener, give Radio 2 a chance for the next few lunchtimes. Just this once. You never know--you might be converted.
Lucy's own blog is HERE and you can follow her on Twitter HERE. Her website is HERE and her Facebook Fan Page HERE







11 comments:

Gillian Philip said...

I'll go and vote straight away, Lucy! And I'm completely with you on Each Peach Pear Plum. Even though Where The Wild Things Are is my personal favourite, EPPP was the one that always got my kids shouting out the answer they knew was coming. 'I Spy TOM THUMB!' Loved it. And what a great idea for a poll.

Lucy Coats said...

I do love WTWTA too and can't wait to see the film--but you are entirely right about the shouting bit for EPPP. It's what made bedtime fun for years. That and Hairy McLary from Donaldson's Dairy. I can still repeat both rhymes verbatim--and Girl (then aged 14) was to be found in Waterstones about six months ago, sitting on the floor (while I browsed/rearranged my titles face out) and chanting EPPP to herself in a wonderful moment of rediscovery.

Katherine Roberts said...

I listen to Jeremy Vine at lunchtime! It's a varied and interesting show. I'm enjoying the bedtime stories because I don't have children, so those for younger readers are new to me.

My favourite has to be "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", because I can remember reading that one aged about 10... I cried when Aslan died. But it seems more of a read alone book than a bedtime story, so not sure I'd vote for it - I'd probably go for "Where the Wild Things Are".

Book Maven said...

I think it was Radio 2 at the doctor's this morning, Lucy. In fact I think it was your beloved Terry Wogan. It was on a radio and I was the only person in the tiny waiting room. I so wanted to turn it off!

Can't you run the poll here? Or start our own ABBA one? I can't listen to Radio 2 even for you.

Nicola Morgan said...

I loved reading Hairy McLary, too. My husband used to read really long things to our daughters, books that would take days and weeks - they loved it and he carried on for years after they could read perfectly well themselves. (In case you're wondering what I was doing - I'd been with them all day, and the bedtime story was his time! And I was cooking and quite possibly having a much-deserved glass of wine.)

fionadunbar said...

Radio 4 too intellectual? Surely not! Too SERIOUS – yes, for me, sometimes.

Thanks for sharing this, Lucy. I had a look at the shortlist; I think I'll go for Wild Things, though very tempted by Caterpillar and Pooh. Great that Vine is promoting storytelling – though very sad to see that it's needed. My grandad was an old-school storyteller; it was all in his head. If I could vote for it, it would be the one he told about the boy with the hunchback. We read to our kids long after they were reading by themselves, and I hope their memories of this will prompt them to do the same with their own kids. Great that we now have a storytelling Laureate as well.

Penny said...

Margaret Meek said something that really made total sense to me, though sadly & lazily I do not have the exact quote to hand. It was something along the lines of "when grown-ups read stories to children, especially books that the children cannot yet read themselves, they are introducing the children to the language that they will need to know about for their own future reading." So,in other words, children have a deep need to hear more than just the school reading book.
Valuable post, Lucy!

steeleweed said...

I was lucky as a child that my mother read to us almost every night - and if she couldn't, she asked my grandmother to do so. The pleasure she got from literature was contagious Sometimes it was a story, sometimes it was poetry. Eventually, she would read several chapters of novels - Dickens, Melville, etc. That's why I could read and had memorized many poems before entering school at age 5 and spent 4-6 hours reading most days - 1 or 2 books per day by my teen years.
Children today are not only denied the introduction to literature, the are denied the closeness that sharing it engenders. I feel sorry for them. I always read to my grandchildren when I got the chance and have lately gotten involved in a 'mentoring' program - much of which involves introducing kids to cultural things they might otherwise miss out on, including literature.

AnneR said...

Lion+ can be a bed-time reading book if you read to your children long after the picture book phase. It is a hugely enjoyable sharing time besides its other benefits. I last read to my oldest daughter the night before her first day at Oxford Uni - and we read Duncan and the Bird and Mrs Goose's Baby because it was nostalgic, but by then we'd covered Tolstoy, Waugh, Boccaccio... it doesn't need to stop. Like Mary, I don't think I can make myself listen to R2, but of those I'm torn between WWTWA and EPPP, like everyone else. I think the monsters get it.

Anna Wilson said...

Thank you for flagging this up, Lucy. It has made me swallow my dislike of JV in one hasty gulp. I will vote right away! Having recently realised that bedtime stories had fallen off the agenda at home because of a mountain of homework, I have introduced bathtime stories instead and we are reading Judith Kerr's When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, as my kids would not choose to read it themselves. They have both admitted that it is a fabulous story and are amazed that it is based on Real Life, but my son (8) told me last night that he would not have chosen it because "the cover is about one hundred years old". Thirty, actually, dear, but never mind . . . Next on the list is Minnow on the Say by Philippa Pearce. A fab "boy" book which you don't see around these days, which is a shame.

Lucy Coats said...

So glad this has sparked some very interesting comments. Thank you all. Mary--I absolve you from R2! You can vote at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/shows/jeremy-vine/bedtime-stories/..and Anne too. But the idea of an ABBA poll of the same sort is an interesting one which I will follow up with the other bloggers here. As for the Intellectual comment, Fiona--I did have my tongue in my cheek a little bit. But only a little bit.