After a long day at work, then scrambling to throw dinner on the table, help with homework, clean up and shuffle kids off to bed, story time can feel like just another chore to add to an already overcrowded list. But then, maybe if you grab a couple books anyway and cuddle up, the stress might fall away and the list that was haunting you might disappear for a few minutes. This story time thing could turn out to be a balm for you and your child.
Here, we speak with author Julia Donaldson, whose picture books have kept the bedtime ritual fun in our own home. From “Room on the Broom” to “The Gruffalo” (Prince George and Princess Charlotte’s favorite book), and her new book “The Giant Jumperee,” illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, Donaldson has some thoughts for parents about reading to kids, and why this is such an important ritual to maintain.
Amy Joyce: Why is story time with parents and loved ones so important? What have you discovered over the years of writing these books and reading to your own children?
Julia Donaldson: A story shared between an adult and child, that’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. had little mini-rows or whatever, it’s a time of reconciliation, to share stories. It can bring parents and child together. It actually helped me as a parent understand my child. You may discover they have this tremendous sense of humor, the way they chuckle … or one might be very tenderhearted. And I think, obviously, their vocabulary increases, their imagination is stimulated. It helps them make sense of your own world and what’s happening to you, but also helps you understand very different people or worlds.
AJ: How can parents make story time more fun and imaginative?
JD: Some parents really enjoy putting on voices and characters, getting their child to read and join in. In my family, we enjoyed stories when we were out and about. My children grew up in Scotland, where there are many streams and little bridges and hills. We’d have to stop and do “Billy Goat Gruff” every time. I’m a great believer in acting them out, but wouldn’t want to force it. Most of my stories, like my new one and “Room on the Broom,” are very visual and easy to act out.
AJ: How did you begin to write children’s books and why?
JD: It kind of just came my way, really. I was a film writer, doing some for children’s television. The way I got into that was singing in the streets, I was a busker. Then I started making up my own songs and there was a market for them. Then just out of the blue, one of my songs called “A Squash and a Squeeze” was made into a book. When I had that in my hands, I said that’s what I wanted to do.
AJ: Why are reading and literature so important?
JD: Without books and reading, people could stay very narrow-minded. If you just live in one community and you’re brainwashed into thinking a certain way, you’re not going to broaden your mind. And I think we need, especially in today’s world, when there’s so much indoctrination, I just think if everyone could go to libraries and read books, there would be a lot less.
AJ: What were your experiences as a mom with story time?
JD: Our oldest child … I know with nursery rhymes, he’d fall over and say “Bit like Humpty Dumpty, mummy.” They would all relate their experiences to books. We learned our youngest had a great sense of humor, because he laughed at Winnie the Pooh, split his sides, and his older brothers didn’t. … Now we have six grandchildren. I try not to read my own stories too much because I’d be offended if they [didn’t like them]. One did say “I actually prefer my ‘Star Wars’ [book].”
Note to our Washington-area readers: Julia Donaldson will be at Politics and Prose Bookstore on Saturday, April 29, to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day and read from her new book, “The Giant Jumperee.”