A quote I wanted to use for this piece illustrates its entire theme beautifully. My local and brilliant independent bookshop (of which more later) posted a line attributed to Albert Einstein:
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.
In order to check its authenticity I started hunting around the interweb, and found this much more evocative version..
A concerned mother once visited Albert Einstein to get his counsel on how to help her son become really good in maths. Exactly what was she to read for him to help him evolve into a prominent scientist?
“Folk tales,” said Einstein.
“Okay,” said the mother, “and after that?”
“More folk tales,” said Einstein.
“And after that?” the mother asked again.
“Still more folk tales,” answered Einstein.
Turning the sentiment into a story makes a world of difference. Introducing a concerned mother raises the stakes significantly, we become invested in what wisdom Einstein will bestow on her, and it makes his advice all the more surprising (and as such, more impactful).
I Reckon storytelling is a priceless skill that is essential to our humanity. From centuries of oral history to court jesters, from eyewitness news to inspirational orators, stories are crucial to our understanding of ourselves, our history and our origins. In recent weeks this has been brought home to me really clearly.
A couple of days ago I went into my younger daughter’s class (5-7 year-olds) to read to them. They usually have “storytime” every day, where they gather round to listen to someone reading aloud. As is typical in many UK primary schools, the vast majority of teaching staff and assistants are female, so they only very rarely (if ever) hear a male voice. So this week the school invited Dads to come in.
I’ve always loved Roald Dahl stories. The mix of surreal fantasy, inventive wordplay, genuine excitement, threat and darkness is brilliant. So I was delighted to be reading The Twits. I love reading fantastical stories like this, as I can unleash my repertoire of silly voices and accents. We have a wonderful audio version of The Twits read brilliantly by Simon Callow, and my own interpretation borrows heavily from him.
It was fantastic to go to town on this, shrieking and cackling in front of a class of children, most of whom I didn’t know, and watch them respond with laughter and gasps, giggles and shouts. I read practically the whole thing, and have secretly hoped ever since that they went home asking their own parents to “do funny voices like Eleanor’s Daddy…”
Last weekend I was given a tremendous Father’s Day treat by my lovely wife and children to go to an intimate performance by The Bookshop Band. Part of a summer ‘festival’ organised by the wonderful, fabulous and profoundly brilliant Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, this was a fantastic 90 minutes, during which I was privileged to watch three brilliant musicians tell stories, and bring stories to life. The band’s songs are all inspired by books, usually key moments or characters, and they are beautifully crafted, shot through with humour, moving, and inventively arranged with all sorts of instruments and striking vocal harmony.
This what I mean…
I love everything about the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop’s ethos about trying to connect people with books, their stories and their writers. It’s always a pleasure to browse their shop and talk about books with the great staff and other customers. If they haven’t got something in, they can usually get it within 48 hours. They are everything that is human and vital about books that Kindles and e-readers can never be.
I love reading stories to my children. I love hearing them make up stories and role-playing with their Lego, or when they create their own books and illustrations. I love that Hannah has been inspired by Harry Potter and Inkheart and Jacqueline Wilson and Mr Gum. Stories fire our imagination, they help expand our concept of what could be possible, they enrich us.