I've always loved reading stories to both of my children and introduced them both to books at a very young age. Being a designer I have always been attracted to books that are beautifully designed and illustrated and got great enjoyment browsing through the children's books in every book shop. The many benefits of reading to you child are endless and we all know them but how often do we read the story from start to finish while being totally present? There were often those evenings when they were very young when I was so tired that I might have tried to skip a page without them knowing it. Or those evenings when I had a list of things to do that you just needed to get to the end quickly so that they would fall asleep. I don't think I'm alone when I say it's happened to us all at some stage! What I've discovered since practicing mindfulness is when you are completely present in the story as you read it you will not alone be spending quality time with your child - you will also be experiencing looking at things in childlike wonder and you might really enjoy the story as it unfolds - even if you've read it 20 times before!
My memories of childhood stories are ones that had a clear beginning - starting with "Once Upon a Time..." - and a distinct end "...and they all lived happily ever after" and middle part knitting the two together. But since I started reading to my daughter over 10 years ago, what I have discovered is that children's books have come such a long way since I was a child - not just in how the story itself is told but also in the illustration and how this is now such a major part of every child's book.
Both my children have always loved storytime every night and like my daughter, my son loves books with humour and to hear him laugh out loud on certain pages of his favourite books is something I treasure. Often even when my husband - or my daughter (as she likes to read to him too) is reading to him instead of me I often potter around folding clothes or tidying up and instead of thinking about all the things I need to do I just listen as the story is being told. It's such a lovely way to bring yourself back to the present moment as you listen into the conversation or really listen to the sound of laughter coming from the room.
The wonder in every word and every illustration...
My son is also very captivated by illustration and I have found that he really studies the pictures and will ask so many questions about each one which such a great way of being present with your child and a time when they can also open up about how they are feeling about something going on in their little heads.
My sons favourite are the range of books by Oliver Jeffers - an artist, illustrator and writer who is originally from Belfast but now lives in New York. Along with the amazing illustrations, my son loves the humour and the wit in every story and there is also a real sense of "anything can happen". Each story is told beautifully with "How to Catch a Star" a story about possibilities and also disappointments which also highlights the patience of the boy who tries to catch the star and the happiness he felt when he found what he thought was the star.
"Lost and Found" is also another beautifully told story that looks at feelings such as sadness and loneliness and the kindness in the boy who really wanted to help the penguin be happy. Determination and inventiveness are highlighted in the very funny story "Stuck" and another book imaginary Fred that helped strike up a conversation about loneliness and what it feels like to feel lonely (yes, my son is only 6 but he likes to ask alot of questions!). The illustrations and artwork in each book has also influenced my son in his artwork and given him great confidence in his own drawing ability as he has taken inspiration from each book.
To me, these books have also helped me to re-discover my childlike wonder as when you read them you have no idea where the story is going to take you - or how it will end and no matter how many times you read each one they have a way of holding your attention - no matter how tired you may feel at the end of your day.
Overall, what I love about these books in particular is that they help teach a 6 year old that that life isn't always plain sailing with a fairytale ending but it's also about the crazy unpredictable stuff that can happen along the way and how we feel when these things happen is always okay.