I'm sure you've seen the headlines - bedtime reading is dead. OK, so maybe not quite dead, but seriously ailing. Only one in three parents read to their children every night, claims a new survey by Harris Interactive in the USA and a UK study commissioned by Pearson last year claims that more than one in six parents never reads to their child before bed. Fewer of us are spending bedtime exploring new worlds and having adventures with our children than ever before and, if that's true, I find it a little depressing. You might be surprised that I'm only slightly downhearted by the findings and here's why: I don't believe in a book at bedtime.
I have two children; one is eighteen years old and the other is a toddler, nineteen months old. Both love books and stories; my daughter first learned to read from Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell. By the time my son arrived, I was a writer myself and had access to a lot of lovely pictures books, so it was only natural that he would become interested in books from an early age. But I very rarely read him a bedtime story.
Before you all stop talking to me and I get forced to hand in my writerly membership card, there's a good reason for this; we don't do books at bedtime because we do them all day. There's a big box of utterly fabulous picture books in our living room and my son has always been encouraged to understand that they are his. He takes them out of the box, he puts them back in. He mountaineers on them, often unsuccessfully. He sits on the floor and leafs through them, babbling away to himself. The pages are dog-eared and torn. We play Spot The Book, where I spread out all the books and he brings me whichever one I ask for, one after another. And, of course, we read them together; at breakfast, through the morning, in the afternoon and sometimes in the evening. Books and stories are part of our everyday lives, they're not a special treat reserved just for bedtime.
So that's why I'm not necessarily a fan of initiatives that call for more bedtime reading. Don't get me wrong, it's a good start and I'm well aware how busy parents are. But if you make books a part of your everyday life, you stand a much better chance of fostering a love of stories that will last a long time, with all the benefits that conveys. I've even come up with a slogan: A book is for life, not just for bedtime.
So what do you think? Who's with me?