Year of the Dad: A World of Adventure
Children have a superpower: it’s called imagination. Give them a blanket and an up-turned chair and they can turn it into a spaceship blasting off to the stars. Read them a story and they can explore the landscapes of a whole new world.
As a dad I love reading stories that have that power to teleport a child. From the deep, dark wood of the Gruffalo to the Wonderland waiting for Alice at the bottom of the rabbit hole; from woozle-hunting with Winnie the Pooh to planet-hopping with The Little Prince I love stories that take you on a journey, and ideally one with good companions, lots to explore, and a pinch of danger too.
There’s a real joy in discovering characters with your children and populating your shared imaginary world
Because sometimes it’s good to be scared, especially when you know you’re safe on Dad’s lap. In my book Fabulous Pie there’s a point halfway through where the Very Bad Bear’s evil plan for the other animals becomes clear and I love the horrified but gleeful look on children’s faces as the penny drops: 'He wants to eat them!'
I also love to read stories with a lot of room for silly voices. All my children know just how the fox talks in the Gruffalo. He sounds like Leslie Phillips. Of course for you he might sound like someone totally different, and there’s a real joy in discovering these characters with your children and populating your shared imaginary world. In this way, books become places where you play together.
And don’t forget to explore around the edges. The story in a picture book isn’t only in the words. Explore the illustrations too. Hannah Shaw’s beautiful pictures for The Disgusting Sandwich will show you that the park is full of many other adventures beside the badger’s race for the ever more revolting sandwich. Look at the pictures, talk about them, see what other tales they have to tell. Use the book to take you somewhere new together.
As the story takes hold on your child’s imagination, the real world melts away and they’re in a whole new landscape
One of the best children’s books ever written is Where the Wild Things Are (see main picture above). Max is sent to his room for misbehaving. As he sulks, his room transforms into a forest, and an ocean rolls by with a boat that takes him to an island full of monsters. Max rules the monsters for a while until he misses home, and returns to 'where someone loved him best of all'. It’s a perfect story because it shows us a new and thrilling world. Max gets to explore it, and control it, and in the end he gets to come back somewhere safe. In a way, that’s just like the act of reading together. There you are, the two of you, then as the story takes hold on your child’s imagination the real world melts away and they’re in a whole new landscape of mystery and monsters, danger and dread. But the parent is always there, the safe presence that the child knows they can come back to 'where someone loved them best of all'.
In the words of ee cummings, 'Listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.'
Find more blogs from the Year of the Dad here.