Now eight months, Jack McKeone becomes a Bookstart baby. His father, Gary McKeone , explains.
It’s the eight-month health check. A key moment for Jack and for us. Is he developing normally? Is he doing everything that a baby of his age should be doing? Are we doing everything that new parents should be doing? Will he let it out of the bag that I’ve been known to put a nappy on inside out? He doesn’t. He passes.
The nurse is delighted with him and hands us a Booktrust Bookstart bag. If there is a more inspired or inspiring initiative in the arts I have yet to come across it. It is not just the two books by Janet and Allan Ahlberg ( Blue Pram and See the Rabbit ); nor is it the guide to babies’ books for us. It is the fact that books, reading, libraries, literature, are seen as an intrinsic part of a baby’s development. Not a luxury; not an optional extra; central. Reading is not just about pleasure, it is about progress. It is an activity, a skill that can improve Jack’s grasp on the world he is mapping his way through.
Books with flaps and board books still work wonders. Eric Hill’s Where’s Spot? tempts him to use his fingers and to get a sense of questions and answers. Lucy Cousins’ Katy Cat and Beaky Boo , on the other hand, with over forty fabulous flaps now has less than twenty fabulous flaps and Jack’s diet has been supplemented by a nifty range of coloured paper. Maisy Likes Driving , also by Lucy Cousins, is a close friend. He’s especially taken by the picture of Maisy flying her plane. Perhaps it’s the colour blue or the small bird in Maisy’s jet stream; he is surprisingly alert to birdsong. Or perhaps he remembers his journey to Derry when Jez Alborough’s Where’s My Teddy? steadied his first flight nerves.
In fact, there are quite a few bears in his library. The P.B. Bear books, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, and The Very Small by Joyce Dunbar and Debi Gliori. He loves bears. How are we ever going to tell him that the real thing would take one look at him and have him as a starter?
Books are now a natural part of his day. They’re in his room. They’re in his toy-box. He’ll reach for a book as quickly as for anything else. He has joined his local library where he sees other children enjoying books and sees books everywhere. It’s still touch, feel, chew but we’re getting there. Especially at bedtime. Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell and Helen Oxenbury is terrific; a lazy farmer ousted by his hardworking animals and never a mention of foot and mouth. He’s taken too by Helen Cooper’s The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed . Are the stories starting to register? Is the idea of narrative beginning to fall into place? Of course not but the fuse has been lit and if it can stay lit then the landscape of his childhood should be bright with books.
Gary McKeone is Literature Director, Arts Council of England.
Blue Pram , Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Viking, 0 670 87951 7, £3.99
See the Rabbit , Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Viking, 0 670 87952 5, £3.99
Where’s Spot? , Eric Hill, Puffin, 0 14 050420 6, £4.99
Katy Cat and Beaky Boo , Lucy Cousins, Walker, 0 7445 8258 X, £5.99
Maisy Likes Driving , Lucy Cousins, Walker, 0 7445 8134 6, £2.99
Where’s My Teddy? , Jez Alborough, Walker, 0 7445 3058 X, £4.99
P.B. Bear Fly Away Kite , Lee Davis, Dorling Kindersley, 0 7513 7060 6, £4.99
P.B. Bear The Marching Band , Lee Davis, Dorling Kindersley, 0 7513 7151 3, £4.99
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt , Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, Walker, 0 7445 2323 0, £4.99
The Very Small , Joyce Dunbar and Debi Gliori, Doubleday, 0 385 60000 3, £10.99
Farmer Duck , Martin Waddell and Helen Oxenbury, Walker, 0 7445 3660 X, £4.99
The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go to Bed , Helen Cooper, Doubleday, 0 552 52838 2, £4.99