It’s Jack’s first birthday and reading has become ‘a high octane activity’. His father, Gary McKeone, explains.
A week before his first birthday, the postman arrives at six-thirty each morning with little packages addressed to Master Jack McKeone. We decide not to open anything until the big day but if this keeps up we’ll have to invite the postman to the party.
A few weeks earlier we headed off on holiday with some books for his holiday reading. Slim volumes take up the least space so into the case goes We Like It – Poems for the Very Young, a joint publication from the Royal Festival Hall and CfBT Lambeth Education Action Zone. Specially commissioned poems by Colette Bryce and Roddy Lumsden, Grace Nichols and Quentin Blake as well as poems by very young people themselves give us a chance to let Jack tune into rhythm and rhyme. The sounds work wonders and the lively illustrations, all blues and oranges, intrigue him.
Colour and sound are still the key stimuli so Eric Hill’s Spot’s Noisy Walk is just the business with its panoply of animals. Animals are all over Maisy’s Farm by Lucy Cousins too, a pop-up book and, of course, Maisy’s holiday pack comes complete with sunglasses which make him look like a junior mafia don. On holiday also are Splish! Splash! by Nicola Smee to encourage him to sit down in the bath. Some chance. Words are all very well but what about numeracy? Numbers – a first counting book might help.
In Granada, after his first trip to the Alhambra, we wander through the narrow streets near the cathedral and come upon an old bookshop where we find some children’s books in Spanish. Hasta la tarde by Jeanne Ashbé is irresistible. The Spanish words with their clear, crisp sounds catch his ear and he loves the pictures of babies. I start to dream of a bilingual child but realise I must have had too much sun.
The birthday arrives. Jack is not a neglected child. In the middle of the boxes and the chaos of wrapping paper, a cluster of books fights for space. There’s too much excitement for him to concentrate on reading matters but we’re looking forward to sending him off to dreamland with The Adventures of Bert by Allan Ahlberg and Raymond Briggs. The simple, uncluttered illustrations and the calamitous Bert make for great fun. In there too is The House that Jack Built by Elena Gomez. We read it to him that very night. He loves the rhyme and the repetition but instead of winding down, ready for sleep, the helter-skelter of the rhythm has him bouncing around his cot. Which is as it should be. So he doesn’t sleep for a while. No matter. At least books are fun. Reading can be a high-octane activity. It’s just right that his first year should end and his second year begin in the company of a book.
Gary McKeone is Literature Director, Arts Council of England.
We Like It – Poems for the Very Young, Royal Festival Hall and CfBT Lambeth Education Action Zone, no SBN assigned, free from The Poetry Library, The Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1.
Spot’s Noisy Walk, Eric Hill, Penguin, 0 7232 4513 4, £9.99
Maisy’s Farm, Lucy Cousins, Walker, 0 7445 7587 7, £12.99
Splish! Splash!, Nicola Smee, Campbell Books, 0 333 90270 X, £3.99
Numbers – a first counting book, Campbell Books, 0 333 71273 0, £3.99
The Adventures of Bert by Allan Ahlberg and Raymond Briggs, Viking, 0 670 89329 3, £9.99
The House that Jack Built, Elena Gomez, Scholastic, 0 439 99234 6, £9.99