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Books That Inspire

I'd originally scheduled this post to go out tomorrow, but with the sad news of Eric Carle's death it seemed appropriate to post it today instead.

It's no secret that reading is one of my favourite things to do and anecdotal evidence suggests that over the course of three lockdowns, the sale of book reflects that with activities outside the house curtailed, many people were turning to books as a way of escaping. I've also blogged before about how easy it is to get stuck in a rut with the kinds of books we read and we tend to read books on topics we are already (at least vaguely) interested in. My eldest son reads weighty tomes on World War One because he's writing a book set during the war. My husband reads academic books that support his role in teaching. My youngest likes books about talking animals and witches. Consequently, their respective bookshelves reflect their personal tastes. However, recent reads and events within our household got me thinking about what happens when the interests go in the opposite direction. What happens when the books themselves become the object of influence?

The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance states that, 'Books are interactive; they demand that kids think. Fiction and nonfiction books widen our consciousness. They give us new ways to think and new ideas. They expand our universe beyond time and place and inspire our own original thoughts.'

I am constantly in awe of the knowledge our 5yo retains from books he's read - for example, this week his reading book from school was all about trees. At the weekend, he was telling his dad all about how trees have crowns and if you stand at the bottom of a really tall tree, you can't see its crown. The same book also inspired him to ask to try elderflower cordial for the first time (it was a hit!). I'm sure he would have had the experience at some point in his life and it's hardly a life-changing one, but it was still nice that he'd asked to taste something new.

Books also inspire us to learn new language. As a writer, I'm always on the lookout for new vocabulary and ways to describe things - I have a notebook where I jot down words and phrases I like and these generally come from my own reading. Admittedly, I was less prepared for hearing the 5yo wandering around the house muttering, 'Crivens!' to himself - we've been reading Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men at bedtime for the last few weeks - but it made me chuckle and he was using it correctly!

A quick google search brings up list after list after list of 'inspirational books' like this one but I think the capacity of books to inspire goes far beyond this. Literally any book can be described as 'inspirational' to the right audience.

For example - as part of their work on mini-beasts, my 5yo's class at school having been looking at the books of Eric Carle, one of which was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. After reading it, the 5yo came home and asked if we could buy him a selection of Carle's books. I'm a sucker for an excuse to get him reading, so obviously said yes. That request was followed by one to buy a variety of fruit for him to eat because 'I want to pretend I'm the Hungry Caterpillar and eat lots of fruit.' The fruit bowl was filled and rapidly emptied. Then came the questions about the life cycle of a caterpillar and how they actually span the cocoon. So we bought a butterfly kit and now have 5 caterpillars munching their way through food so that he can observe the process.

When we sat down to read his new books together, he thanked me for buying them for him and we had the following conversation.

'Thank you for reading my books Mummy. Do you know why I wanted them?'

'Well, I assumed it was because you'd read them at school and enjoyed them and wanted to read them again?'

'That was part of it. But I also wanted you to read them with me so that you could enjoy them like I did. You get books from your friends and I thought you might like these as well.'

I almost cried. Not only was he asking to read (which is so important to me anyway) but he was beginning to see that sharing books with others also has huge value. He wasn't just thinking about his own enjoyment of them, he wanted me to share in the pleasure of reading a good book as well. More often than not now, when I read, he will sit next to me and try to read alongside me. Getting the 15yo to read for pleasure was an uphill battle of many years, so for the 5yo to be so keen to read is an utter joy. (That's not to say it's easy - reading practice still has me pulling my hair out most mornings, but at least he's willing!) He's even starting to pick up books on his own (that aren't for school) and trying to read as much as he can of them.

I can't wait until he gets a bit older and starts choosing his own books properly - who knows what magical worlds they will unlock for us both!

RIP Mr Carle and thank you for the wonderful legacy you leave behind you. To have any book published is a wonderful thing, but to write a book that continues to be read through the generations is true gift to leave the world.

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Wendy Bloom
Wendy Bloom
28 may 2021

What a lovely piece to read today. My husband and I discussed yesterday how often a children's author is headline news on the 6pm bulletin and then had happy memories of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar with both our children. Thank you.

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