Lifelong encouragement, love and care – all excellent reasons to celebrate our mothers every single day of the year. Our mums give us their attention and affection, feed us and dress us, teach and support us. And I am endlessly grateful for everything (especially now I can see how tempting it must have been to put me out on the porch and leave me for dead when I asked my millionth ‘why?’). But lately, I’ve been thinking about the single, biggest gift my mother bestowed on her problematic progeny; the one thing which defines who I was, am and will be. My love of reading…
Recently, the BBC published a piece on the 11 greatest children’s books of all time (why not 10? Which was too good to leave out?) and for me, it was an enthralling trip down memory lane. I had devoured – and loved – every book on the list. These were the stories that had had formed my character, changed my life, made me who I am today. And it’s all thanks to my Mum…
Other children slept surrounded by stuffed toys; my mother tucked me in with my books: Charlotte’s Web under the pillow; Winnie the Pooh by my side and a precarious pile of Roald Dahls on the nightstand. As I grew older, it was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the entire Narnia series, anything by Tolkien (I was surprised that The Hobbit didn’t make the BBC’s list; there’s a strongly-worded postcard heading their way!). Maycombe and Middle Earth and Earthsea – these were the places I lived and loved, always encouraged by a mother who was happy to recommend, discuss and – most importantly – allow me the quiet time to read.
Birthday and Christmas presents were books, rewards were a trip to the bookstore, weekends were library visits courtesy of a parent who understood the importance – and encouraged my love – of reading. Of course, there were a few educators who got in on the act – one primary teacher in particular, who packed me off to the school library during quiet time – but for the most part it was my mum who fed my love of literature: buying me books, discussing plots and themes and opening up other worlds, times and places.
Years later, as a teacher dealing with despairing parents, my constant refrain was this: give your child the gift of reading. Allow them discover new words and worlds, ideas and opinions through literature. Lead by example (often this is where it all falls apart: if a parent doesn’t read, it’s hard to instill any passion for literature in a child) and allow them to see the value – and unparalleled beauty – of the written word.
Nowadays Harry Potter, Will and Lyra, and Artemis Fowl have taken the place of Scout and Jem, Bilbo and Frodo. But it doesn’t matter: any book, and any well-written characters, will benefit your child – both now and in later life. Along with improved literacy skills, a parent who instills a love of reading is providing their child with the best possible start in life: a start which includes the building of communication skills, vocabulary and logical thought; the development of focus and concentration; and a familiarisation with new experiences.
For me, that early encouragement has stood me in excellent stead throughout my life. My thirst for knowledge, rampant curiosity and the ability to express exactly what I feel and mean all stem from reading. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar through Peter and Jane to a brief – but almost terminal – infatuation with Enid Blyton, books have taught me almost everything I know. And – in that reading and writing go hand in hand – they’ve since provided me with a job I utterly adore.
So this Mother’s Day, I’d like to thank my mum for the most priceless gift any parent can give: a love of literature.
What is the most precious gift your mum has given you – or you’ve given your child? I’d love to hear from you!
Alix is a freelance writer and editor, with a passion for the printed word. For a snapshot of her work, click here.