Story Competition

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Arlene Phillips is most famous as the choreographer of Hot Gossip. More recently she has directed Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance" and choreographed the West End production of "Grease". She tells Louise Levene about reading with her older daughter, Alana, now 17, and Abigail, now six, born when she was 47.

My mother read to me when I was small, all the time, any time. We were great library goers. When I was small there wasn't television or anything, reading was of major importance. My father didn't read to me, going for long walks was his big thing. We'd get a bus in Manchester and we'd go off somewhere in the country and walk and walk and walk. Although my father never read to us he was an avid collector of old children's books so we now have a roomful of them.

I was a fairly early reader. Anne of Green Gables and Little Women were read and reread and reread. Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes proved for me that there was another world outside. I started ballet lessons when I was very small, I think I was about three. All I can remember is a very strict teacher shouting at the class because we weren't doing step-together- step-hop properly. I stopped going but by the age of about five I was desperate to go back and we couldn't afford to. When I did start ballet again I was about eight and I was absolutely obsessed. It became my whole life. I read all Noel Streatfeild's books, anything to do with dance and ballet. My mother read them to me first and then I'd go back and read them myself. This was something I repeated with my older daughter Alana who was reading fluently at six but it hasn't happened yet with Abigail, my six-year-old.

I love to read for children. It's something that brings you together, you can share that imaginary world. Obviously we read Roald Dahl which Alana was passionate about but I also read a lot of the things that I had loved. She did go to the library when she was small - it's a wonderful experience being able to go and choose anything you want and it shows the child a world that is beyond going out and buying everything.

With both of my children I'd read things that were way beyond their understanding even when they were babes in arms. They just loved the sound of my voice. With Alana I could read to her for hours and hours. There was nothing she'd like to do more than cuddle up in bed and put a pile of books on the bed and read through and through them. There was never a problem on long car journeys - Alana can read in a car and never get car sick.

It wasn't the same with Abby. She has a very small attention span. I read a series of The Wind in the Willows stories in four parts. It had beautiful drawings, it was easy to look at but I remember asking her questions and realising she just wasn't understanding the story. It's really really hard if you have to explain every step of the way. It wasn't that she was too young, she just wasn't interested in sitting down and listening.

It's only very recently - and I mean very very recently - that she's started being able to listen to a chapter a night. One always thinks that people will take to books and love books but it doesn't always happen. It is getting a lot better now thanks to her own confidence in gradually learning to read.

Abigail: I go to bed at seven. I don't have a night light. I'm not afraid of the dark. Mummy and daddy both read to me at bedtime. I had Roald Dahl's Matilda yesterday but we haven't finished yet - we read a chapter a night. Matilda is my favourite book. I like James and the Giant Peach a little bit but Matilda's my favourite. I haven't seen the film yet but I really really want to. It's about this girl who likes reading. She really likes to read books but her mummy and daddy don't let her read and she's got a very rude teacher. I've got a nice teacher. Matilda does get to read in Miss Honey's class. Her best friend is called Lavender. She's nice. My best friend's called Jamie

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