I was flicking through a trashy woman's magazine, waiting patiently for my GP to finish up with an old bloke and his worrying cough, when a man walked in with a boy who looked about 10 years of age.
What kind of a person does that?
Sure, it's not child abuse, not in the textbook sense, but in my book it comes pretty damn close. Books are not just a dreamy concept for chardonnay-swilling bleeding hearts or vested-interest authors like myself. Endless studies have proven that books of any kind help create smarter, happier, more socially competent human beings. A 20-year Nevada University study, for instance, found that no matter what a parent's background—rich, poor, illiterate or an Oxford graduate—those who have plenty of books in their house help boost their own child's education levels.*1
What do they do at bedtime?
How do they soothe a crying child?
How do they entertain, terrify, intrigue and delight?
Something to laugh atBooks don't need to be award-winning, they don't even need to be appropriate. According to another expert, this one in children's literature at the University of Illinois, comic books are just as sophisticated as other forms of literature in providing all the same benefits.*4 It's all about providing stories in which your child can live, learn and get lost.
So the next time your child opens a Batman comic, thumbs through a surf mag, or, heaven forbid, a 'baby book', don't discourage or criticise. Be thankful they're improving their brain, having fun, and becoming better members of society. Surely that's better than blasting someone's head off on PlayStation or twiddling the thumbs doing nothing?
Looking backI never did pull that father up that day, but I did go home and make a solemn oath to the tiny little being that was nestled in my womb that summer. I swore I would offer him a wide and wonderful range of stories to read, and never complain when he chose something else entirely—even if that 'something else' was not to my liking. Then I sought out my tattered copy of Tootle and read aloud to him in the womb while his older brother nestled in happily beside us. But this time I left Tootle lolling in the meadow with his new mates. (No-one says you can't improvise!)
That unborn child is now my vivacious 11-year-old, roughly the same age as the boy in the surgery that day, and his favourite thing—off a soccer field, that is—is books. I cannot satiate his desire. His library card is chockers, his iPad overloaded, the school librarian is struggling to keep up.
Am I a smug mother? You bet I am, but I can't really take any of the credit. I give that to the likes of Gertrude Crampton and Tootle. Sure, the story's not perfect—I mean, come on, people, let the poor train play!—but who knew a steam engine with training wheels could be so powerful?
And as I watch my son get lost in the latest book of his choice (which these days centres around wimpy kids and psycho bums, it has to be said), I often wonder about the little boy in the surgery that day.
I dearly hope he managed to find his own pathway back to books before he became a father himself, with a loathing for books and a very tiny mind.
Happy, guilt-free, reading everyone!