May is National Share a Story Month. This event asks us to focus on sharing stories that have meant something to us. The joy of books isn’t only found in reading them, but also in having them read to us. To celebrate, we asked the Accuracy Matters team (plus some experts!) what their favourite stories are and why they would share them.
One story that has really stayed with me from childhood is The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. It’s about a Polish family who are separated in early 1940 when Nazi Stormtroopers invade Warsaw, and centres around the arduous journey of the three children who are trying to reunite with their parents. I remember the emotion of the story and also the grit and determination of the children in the face of unimaginable horrors and hardships.
When I was very young, my aunty let me read her little mini cardboard library of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. A little box was printed to look like a bookshelf with small doors. Inside was a colourful collection of 10 tiny books, featuring Andersen’s classics from the mid-1800s.
One of my absolute favourites was The Emperor’s New Clothes. This cautionary tale is about a vain emperor who is duped by expensive tailors into believing that his new suit is the height of fashion, visible only to the upper crusts of his court; in fact, the suit is invisible simply because it does not exist! The story introduces themes about the danger of vanity, the pomposity of the class system, the cleverness of con artists, and the certainty that you don’t have to come from royalty or a privileged background to be honest and smart. While most of the townsfolk are too embarrassed or scared to admit the truth, it is of course a young boy who sees through the ruse and shouts out “The Emperor has no clothes!” The image of the naked Emperor on procession is also wickedly funny.
The fact that Andersen borrowed from a variety of source materials – a Spanish story from the 14th century, based on an Indian tale from the 13th century – is a good reminder that, no matter what part of the planet we are from, we have strong shared instincts when it comes to storytelling and humour!
Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome, had the 10-year-old me at the opening sentence: “Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays.” Roger was pretending to be a sailboat tacking against the wind, something I subsequently copied often.
The story is set in the Lake District in 1929 and tells of four siblings who sail to a small island in a dinghy called the Swallow and set up camp. While exploring the lake they encounter two sisters in their dinghy the Amazon and do battle. They then join forces against Captain Flint (an unfriendly uncle) and, of course, solve a crime. The book is beautifully written and sprinkled with simple yet evocative illustrations.
My toddler has discovered Dr Seuss. There’s The Cat in the Hat, of course, Green Eggs and Ham and – my personal favourite – Oh, the Places You’ll Go! The latter’s battered exterior and crumpled corners demonstrate its ongoing popularity in our house, not least because it’s the same copy my parents bought me when I went off to university.
In 40 pages of bouncy rhymes and perfectly surreal pictures, the book grapples with the highs and lows of life, navigating success and failure, and recognising that “bang-ups and hang-ups” can happen to all of us. Most of all, it’s a joy to read out loud, especially when there’s now a little voice by my side, earnestly chiming in at the end of each line. A brilliant introduction to words – and the fun we can have with them.
Rhiannon and her daughters:
I asked my daughters which stories they loved me reading to them when they were smaller. One said she loved Julia Donaldson’s The Highway Rat. This is mostly down to the catchy rhythm and rhymes, the wonderful illustrations and the fact that we used to live on a road called The Highway. (She also chose to dress up as the Highway Rat for one World Book Day and looked pretty great if I do say so myself.)
My other daughter said that she loved The Pig in the Pond by Martin Waddell. Nelligan’s pig knows that she’s not supposed to swim but on a really hot day, she just can’t resist. Gradually, all of the animals on the farm decide to get involved – and even Nelligan himself wants in on the action by the very end. All of the animal noises mean that this story isn’t particularly conducive to calming children down at bedtime but it’s a really good giggle and always left us smiling.
And finally, it’s important to remember that there’s no wrong answer as to why you enjoy a book, the main thing is that YOU find pleasure in it. Joe, Rachel’s seven-year-old nephew, says his favourite book is Oi Puppies! by Kes Gray and Jim Field: “because it is funny, the puppies are annoying and one wees”. Joe has been recording himself reading from the ‘Oi’ book series and not only can you see how much he enjoys reading the books and sharing them with his friends, we all love watching him do it – and isn’t that the whole point of a good book?