Freddy: My favourite books are the William books. I've got the whole set. They're really funny. I wish I was like William because he always somehow gets what he wants but not quite how he wants it. William the Hero is the best. It's the only book when William is in the war, and really exciting things happen to him.
But one of my favourite writers is Robert Westall - The Kingdom by the Sea - it's a war story. I don't think he had a very nice childhood, because all his stories are about the war. In this story a boy's house gets bombed down and he ends up living in a slum. I'm now reading The Devil on the Road, which is by Robert Westall too, and I can't work out what's going on. The language it's written in is hard.
My favourite book ever is The Best Place to Live is the Ceiling, by Barbara Wersba. Mummy got it for me because it's got big print but she didn't realise it's for teenagers. It's about a boy who goes to an airport, and he's just talking to a man who dies suddenly in front of him. And the boy uses the man's ticket to go to Switzerland. And he meets this street girl and they make love on the street with their clothes off, and then they get taken to a policeman. It's really exciting. Not because it's got sex in, though I'm interested in that.
I love The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, and The Owl Service, which is quite sad and frightening. I like being frightened in books, but it doesn't stop me going to sleep. I just say to myself it's only a book. You always guess what's going to happen, somehow you just do. They always get them into a mess so the story's longer, but you can always work out what's going to happen at the end. It's more exciting if you don't know.
At school we have half an hour's reading time after lunch, but we haven't got many good books. I've read all the good ones. I mostly get my books from Mum or Dad. I don't watch television because they think it's bad for us, but we do watch it every Sunday morning. When you don't watch it a lot you don't get addicted. My brother is though.
Nicholas: Because of my work it's Aviva who reads to the boys every night. But if I'm there I'll come and snuggle up with them to listen. Aviva - who was an actress before she became a barrister - finds it's one of the more creative bits of her life now. After their story, both boys read to themselves for 10 minutes - it calms them down and gets them ready for sleep.
Amazingly, Enid Blyton has been a terrific success - adventure stories like The Island of Adventure. When we're reading we change the bits about the boys doing the look-out while the girls are getting the picnic ready. We swap it round so that the girls are doing the active, dangerous things while the boys do the picnic. The trouble is that with six characters involved, you sometimes get tied up in knots.
We've also had great success with Richmal Crompton's William books. Our children don't have any problem with the historical perspective, and it's quite interesting to have to describe to them how incredible it was to be given half-a-crown. And in some funny way I think they get pleasure from feeling they're indulging their parents - you know, these funny old stories Mummy and Daddy used to read.
We also have a big book of middle-
European stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize winner. They're brilliant Jewish folk stories based on this character called Schlemiel - the stock fool of Jewish humour in whom enormous wisdom is discovered. It's a deliberate thing, giving the boys some Jewish education, because it's part of their heritage on their mother's side. But everyone should read him.
Most children's stories seem to trade on a rosy, between-the-wars sort of idealised English childhood, and it's nice to get away from that. We say we're not doing things like our parents did, then we go and read our children all the stories they gave us to read and imprint this green and pleasant land thing on them too. To think we read them Narnia with all that Jesus symbolism . . . They were exciting though.
Then there's been Leon Garfield, and Alan Garner's Elidor books, and Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy. She's a great writer, with great philosophy and wit, and she writes very complex stories. The more complex the story, the more joy they get out of it in the end.
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