Compared to the plethora of books available to children nowadays, there was a dearth of them when I was young.
I would leaf greedily through the few books in our house; some battered encyclopaedias that belonged to a grandfather I never met, an illustrated Bible and an attempt to keep me quiet called 10,000 Answers to Children’s Questions. All of them were a bit short on laughs.
My friends and I shared comics; our favourites were by Enid Blyton. I graduated to her Famous Five books from the library, in which I saw myself as George the tomboy who attended this mysterious place called a boarding school. Then I developed a passion for the fantasy world of H Rider Haggard, whom I read by candlelight in our air-raid shelter with ugly real life exploding outside.
This cheerless introduction to literature is why I relish the cornucopia of books that I have shared with my daughters and now my grandchildren. The joy of modern children’s books is that they are fun for the grown-ups as well. None more so than my favourite Not Now, Bernard. How many like me and my overworked mother have used that phrase “Not now dear” And how many children have turned into a monster when they are ignored and wanted, if not actually managed, to bite someone in rage. That is if you believe the monster in the story doesn’t actually eat Bernard but becomes him, is absorbed into him. It’s alright in the end, for the monster goes to bed with his milk and his teddy bear and will doubtless be Bernard again in the morning.
Whereas the children’s stories when I was young were about being good, this one demonstrates that parents can be naughty too. And crucially, when we don’t listen to people, monsters can take over. It is an Aesop’s fable for our time.
The main reason that my grandchildren insist on this book always being read, is that their grandmother cannot get through it without becoming speechless with laughter. The giggles start with the line ‘“Hello monster’ he said to the monster.” and reach shared hysterics at ‘“But I’m a monster’ said the monster”. I am indebted to a book that has given me the gift of shared laughter and serious conversation with the young.
Sheila Hancock’s historical novel, ‘Miss Carter’s War’ by is published by Bloomsbury (£12.99)Reuse content