This World Book Day, the emphasis is on sharing stories. Not just encouraging children to read for themselves, but reading to them. You don’t just help children embark on journeys to new worlds, you join them on the trip, supporting them on their way.
I am the reader I am today because of my mum. Despite her desperation to get ten minutes to herself, she would read to me every night, sometimes yawning all the way through. My favourite was Jane Hissey’s Old Bear stories, and Mum’s dedication to those stories (despite occasionally actually falling asleep mid-tale to protests of ‘MuuuuUUUM!’) encouraged me in imaginative play, making up my own stories. And those stories stayed with me too, something my mother and I never forgot; on my mum’s and my last birthday together we got each other the same gift – the new Jane Hissey picture book.
With this in mind, I decided to ask my colleagues what memories they might have of being read to as children. I was overwhelmed by the responses – deeply personal, vivid in detail, and often from their very youngest years. Several people thanked me for giving them a chance to recall such happy memories, both of the books and of the people who read them.
A selection of these memories is below – enjoy, and please feel encouraged to #shareastory yourself, either with a child you know, or as part of the conversation online.
Hannah Love, Children’s Publicity Manager
I remember when I was six and every week our teacher would read us a couple of chapters of The Witches by Roald Dahl: she would make us close the blinds, dim the lights, move all the desks and chairs against the wall, arrange all cushions in a circle and open all the snacks ahead of reading time. She would sit in a chair at one end of the circle and read using a flashlight, making all the different voices, and always ending on a cliffhanger. Wednesday afternoons were always anticipated with a mixture of fizzing expectation and thrill. I can still hear her shrill laughter impersonating the Grand High Witch, a delightful chill running down my spine.
Iman Khabl, Sales Assistant
My dad recently turned eighty. He didn’t want anything for his birthday, so I wrote him a letter about all the great memories I had of him from my childhood. Probably seventy per cent were about him reading various books to me – I had a battered old cardboard box by my bed full of little hardcover Ladybird books and every night we would select one: Billy Goats Gruff, maybe, or The Gingerbread Boy. If I think hard enough I can still feel the texture of those books under my fingertips – their battered corners, the sellotape on the spines when they inevitably split from being read so often. Shortly after his birthday a letter came back to me, a return of shared memories. The book I remember most, said my dad, was Tottie or ‘The Marchpane Book’ as he thought of it. I found a secondhand copy online and bought it for my niece for her birthday the following month. Seeing my dad read it aloud to her, probably thirty-five years after he and I had read it together, was a rare and wonderful joy.
Amelie Burchell, Sales Manager
We always had story time on the sofa before my brother and I were put to bed. I remember each of us sitting on either side of my mum, snuggling up to her. She read us all the classics – Das Sams (Paul Maar), Raeber Hotzenplotz, Das kleine Gespenst, Die kleine Hexe (all Otfried Preussler), and almost everything by Astrid Lindgren. Sometimes when the story was too captivating my mum would stop and quietly read the next few sentences to herself and – depending on the plot – then start laughing or gasping. My brother and I would complain and beg her to read it all out loud instead, so we would know what was happening. I absolutely loved that time of day and couldn’t wait to learn to read myself.
Sarah Stoll, Senior Production Controller
Whilst I have some brilliant memories of books my family read, what really sticks in my mind are the audio books (on tape) we used to listen to on long car journeys. Our favourite was The Last Vampire by Willis Hall – it inspired us to make up a lot of stories centred around the characters and places in the book, but based in our own family holidays.
Rachel Darling, Trade Marketing Executive
My parents had student lodgers, most of whom were at the teacher training college in the town. When I was about seven or eight one of these, who must have been perhaps twenty years old, was very keen on reading to me and my twin brother as we lay in bed before going to sleep. The reading that sticks in my mind was from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. Her readings were more a performance, hypnotic and mesmerising, so that we fell asleep with other worlds and the strange voice of the book in our heads. It’s never left me as an experience of being enveloped and transported by an author’s voice.
Stephen Page, CEO
When I was about six or seven, I was a pupil at the French Lycée In London. At playtime we were supposed to run around and work off excess energy, but for a few weeks a group of us would gather around one of the surveillants (student teachers on playground duty) as he read from The Magician’s Nephew. Standing around him in the dreary grey playground, I still remember this as a thrilling, magical time, and it must have been the first children’s ‘novel’ that I really registered. We were miraculously transported into another world (and completely unaware of any religious allegory!)
Annie Eaton, Editorial Director, Children’s
I always loved Roald Dahl, and it was a love that was shared with my Nan. Every time I went over to her house, she would read me a new poem from his Revolting Rhymes – with the voices and all. It was our thing and I still love those poems to this day.
Hannah Styles, Rights Assistant
When I was a child my mum always used to read to me and my sister. She was great at reading and doing all the voices, but what made it extra special was that my sister and I would pick out a character to read ourselves. I particularly remember reading The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown this way because there were lots of great characters to choose from and I think we even got to read more than one each!
Natasha Brown, Project Editor, Children’s
My dad got quickly bored of reading the books that my sister and I had picked out when we were kids, so he would mostly read us whatever he wanted to be reading himself. I have such a strong memory of listening to him read John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids and being so fascinated with the idea of Bill Masen waking up from an eye operation to discover the whole world around him had gone blind.
Katie Hall, Marketing Director
I remember my dad reading The Hobbit to us. I obviously didn’t listen very well because I wasn’t scared at all hearing about Gollum – but then I was terrified when I watched the film! Also, carpet time at primary school was my favourite, when we just had to sit and listen to stories, and I LOVED Jackanory, especially John Grant reading Littlenose with his gorgeous Scottish accent.
Judith Gates, Production Controller
My elder cousin would babysit us (I have three siblings) and she would read to us all on the top bunk of our bunk beds. She would always read us two books despite being told by my parents that she should only read us one. We felt a bit naughty because we had two books read to us, but it was our little secret. We also had a scratch and sniff book; the smells were vegetables, old cabbage and onions, and it really did smell quite bad. I tried to buy this book recently for my children as I have lasting memories of it, but the cost was in the region of £120 to ship it from the USA, so I thought better of it!
Ray Goodey, Head of Royalties
My parents (and older sisters) read to me a lot when I was a child. One of my best memories of this was when I was about nine or ten, my Dad bought me a copy of his favourite book: The Hobbit. He worked a lot when I was young, and wasn’t around the house as often as he wanted to be, but I clearly remember him making a lot of time to read that book to me. It meant so much to me to have that alone time with him – and even more to have a kind of special shared story that we could talk about that belonged to just the two of us and didn’t involve my mom or my sisters.
Libby Marshall, Editorial Assistant
My dad used to read Sherlock Holmes stories to me when he came in late from work, which made my mum really cross as I’d get too scared to go to sleep. I obviously loved it though! My mum read Paul Biegel and Alan Garner to me. They are still my favourite childhood books, the memory made so much stronger than if I’d read them myself.
Kate Ward, Editorial Design Manager
My mum and dad read to me for years – we always shared books. My mum’s favourite was Anne of Green Gables, so I particularly remember that one. However, when I was about ten a teacher began reading us Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen in weekly instalments. It was scary! It was full of strange words and creatures! And it was brilliant! I would say that probably set me on my lifelong love of fantasy fiction.
Stella Paskins, Editor