In my first year working in public libraries I was asked by an elderly patron the inevitable. Have you got any Enid Blyton books? Naturally being a young and enthusiastic promoter of quality children’s literature I made alternative suggestions, because ‘nowadays there are so many ‘good’ picture books and chapter books for kids.’ All true, with the exception of the patron being elderly, she was probably only a few years older than I am now, but I was young and thought anyone over 50 was old, let alone 60!!! This grandmother had requested the books for her grandchildren; the same books she’d read as a child. While my thoughts were about expanding reading repertoires, she was attempting to create a shared reading experience.
As a storyteller I have learnt the importance of shared storytelling experiences; it’s not about the story it’s about the listener. This adage also translates to reading books together. It’s not about the literary quality of a story, it’s about the effect of the story on the reader/listener. There are many things that a shared reading or storytelling experience does for the participants: it brings them closer together, it connects them, it forges understanding, it opens hearts as well as eyes and ears.
As a young woman I was a self righteous advocate. I think that a few decades on I have tempered the self righteousness in my advocacy and am more open to the perspectives of others. This leads me to the choices I make for shared reading experiences with the children in my life. I have not scoured libraries for copies of The Magic Faraway Tree, even though Enid Blyton figured large in my childhood. (Aside from Milly Molly Mandy author, Joyce Lankester Brisley and in later years Mary Grant Bruce and her Little Bush Maid series and Elyne Mitchell of Silver Brumby fame) books were not endemic in my household. I have kept most of the books from my childhood, but the majority of children’s book in my personal library are those read with my children, usually discovered in a public library and loved so much they were bought for keeping.
Public Libraries have been the equivalent of a dating site for me; one where I don’t have to pay, I can have as many or as few as I want, where I am safe and in control and where I invariably leave satisfied. Further to this I can join a group and discuss my ‘date!’ The difference between a public library and a dating site is that children too can meet books and find passion, comfort and love in their local library.
With the announcement of the 2016 Notable Children’s Books I hope that many new shared reading experiences can be born.
Pictured are some of my ‘old flames.’