I am a mother of two gorgeous girls. Valentina is five, and Chiara, who is sitting on my lap and attached to my boob as I type this, is three months old. They are beyond wonderful, and the light of my life. (I’m not bragging; I’m just showing that I’m qualified to write this piece.)
Every day, I think how lucky I am to have them and thank whoever is listening in the sky for the blessing of my children. Even if they shout/scream/cry/demand chocolate/ice cream/one more episode of Paw Patrol, I wouldn’t change them for the world—or swap them for a Ferrari, as my husband once suggested. I just drink a (second or third) glass of Italian wine (or gin), and suddenly everything seems more chilled out.
One of the greatest pleasures we have together is reading bedtime stories. (And not just because this means they will finally go to sleep and leave me in peace to watch Billions.) My five-year-old insists on choosing which story, though secretly I have my favorites. She has a vast collection of picture books in her library, most of which were bought by me (the best ones), and some of which were given to her by friends and family (often of dubious quality).
Valentina and I snuggle up in my king-size bed with Chiara blabbering in between us and read to our hearts’ content. I don’t do voices or anything—that requires too much mental and physical exertion for that time of night. I just read and look at the pictures. The pictures are often the best bits. Many of these books have no real narrative arc or character development, and they often lack the most rudimentary credibility. I mean, James and the Giant Peach? Hello? Like that would ever happen. What are we teaching our kids? That fruit can fly?
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To be fair, I don’t find many kids books to be particularly gripping; I wouldn’t describe them as “page-turners.” But Valentina seems to like them, and that’s the main thing. She genuinely cares about the plight of Little Miss Somersault and whether or not she’ll be able to get down from the roof of Mr. Uppity’s house. In all honesty, I have very little sympathy for that character. What the f**k was she doing on the roof, to begin with? I would much prefer to read her thrillers. Anything by Stieg Larsson, for example. I very much enjoyed Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But she found Roald Dahl’s The Witches too frightening and had nightmares, so it will be a long time before she can cope with stories of rape and revenge tattoos and murder and faking one’s own abduction.
It’s lucky that I get to read with the children, what with the day-job (I’m a novelist) and the childcare and the housework and the cats and the essential husband maintenance. If it weren’t for Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, I’d never get to read at all. I am the only person on the planet who still hasn’t read The Girl on the Train, but I have read The Tiger Who Came to Tea 347 times. (Spoiler alert: a tiger comes to tea.)
My favorite kids’ books are the ones that rhyme. Each Peach Pear Plum, for example. That one’s good because it also has a game in it: I spy. But—and this is a BIG but (think Kim Kardashian in a g-string)—the books have to rhyme properly. And I mean fully rhyme, not a half-rhyme or a visual rhyme (where it looks like the words will rhyme when they’re written down on the page, but when you say them they don’t actually rhyme), or they will rhyme, but only if you say them in a weird northern accent (i.e. “ant” and “plant”). That’s very important to me.
Because I am a writer and Valentina has cottoned-on to this fact, I am now being nagged on a daily basis to write a children’s book. Apparently, this children’s book must have a protagonist called Valentina and be about a princess who is a car (not a bad premise, actually…). Once I’ve finished the marathon that is writing a trilogy of novels, I might just do that. But only if it doesn’t have to rhyme. That sh*t is really hard.
Featured Image: Matt McCarty; Author Photo: Charlie Hopkinson