Sunday, 1 November 2009

All saints

All Hallows or All Saints depending on you preference. I had a friend at school when I was about nine years old who was inordinately proud of being born on All Saints Day. Robert Turnbull his name was. Where are you now, Robert, I wonder?

My son played and lost a game of football in the pouring rain this morning, bless him. Bad enough to play in driving wind and a cold shower without getting thumped 4-1. Ordinarily I would have been on the sidelines berating him, but my friend Ian Farnan (whose son also plays for the team) was good enough to take him there and back for me.

The day got better though because he managed to sell some of his old toys to a neighbour. Not only did he make some money but he had the satisfaction of knowing his cherished toys will be enjoyed by children he knows and is fond of.

Certain toys have such a sentimental aura about them. It was what the Toy Story films tapped into so brilliantly. Some toys doggedly refuse to have a life of their own, but others will seem to embody a whole period of a child's (and so by extension, their parents') life. They may not be sentient, but they do come alive in play.

It is the same with books of course. Picture books - favourite picture books - get read over and over again. If they are really good - and so few picture books are - then they become something else by that repetition. Something is created in the air - a mixture of you and the way you read and the voices you adopt for characters, the strange bedroom twilight, the hush, the expectant, listening child, the pictures, the words: they all become more than their parts. They are ingredients in a recipe. It won't work for everyone every time, but when it does work, it is perhaps the most magical book experience of all - for reader and listener.

I never bored of Janet and Alan Ahlberg's Each Peach Pear Plum for instance. It remains, in my opinion, one of the cleverest children's books ever.

Of any kind.

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