Speaking of Nuts
A mouse took a stroll through a deep dark wood. I know it by heart as I am sure many parents do, so even after lights-out if my boy is still negotiating for just one more story I’m able to recite the Gruffalo to him from memory. I am a great lover of stories as is my boy. I enjoy reading them and he listening to them. Of late I have noticed that he will take a book and leaf through it from beginning to end to get a sense of whats happening from the pictures (he hasn't really started reading yet) Of this I am fiercely proud. I am not about to ramble on about the virtues of stories and reading to your children as I feel these are self evident. I have recently bought him an anthology of 100 stories a mixture of folk and fairy tales and its a repository all of the wisdom of the world and includes useful tips for modern living, like if you want to find your way home use a trail of pebbles not bread crumbs (or cookies). Though the three little pigs could do with being Grand Designed up a lot to be said about building a house out of straw or wood instead of bricks.
I have a few rules for the books that I read my boy.. I do read fact books, but not at bedtime, so we can marvel at all the different machines to be found on a building site, or the rings of Saturn or the workings of the human body during the day but a bedtime book needs a narrative. I don’t do the ones that are all pictures with a myriad of little ‘amusing’ comments all over the page and no story, there was one in the house, something about a Llama on a bus, it may have been recycled I couldn’t possibly say. Don’t get me wrong I do like detailed pictures that you can explore together and discover lots of things that are happening in the background of the story but there has to be a story, a reason for turning the page other than getting to the end of the book so as you can burn it , sorry did I say that out loud I meant put it in the charity shop bag.
I do not do overtly worthy books, let me explain I do books that have messages and morals and lessons but are illustrative of that message rather than just come out swinging their purpose like a didactic baseball bat aimed straight at your ready-to-be-moulded young mind. There’s a reason why the Hare and the Tortoise works better for me than a book called Cocksure gets a drubbing from Slow n‘steady. I have seen and read a book (lets call it) Head-butting Hurts. It’s a series of pictures which shows people who have recently been head-butted looking suitably upset and injured and the message under each of these chastening diagrams is, you guessed it, head-butting hurts! It was called something else but I don’t want to put a dint in anyone royalties after producing such a hard thought out piece of work. I was about to comment that it had all the subtlety of “get Brexit Done” but then again that worked, so maybe I should keep quiet. All I will say is, it didn’t really cure the head-butting problem it was bought to address, that sorted itself out. There are a lot of books about that are there to educate children and parents on twenty first century life. These I applaud but what I’d like to see is rather than a story about Mary’s Detective Dads, a story about Mary’s Missing Bicycle in which her dads help her find it, so that the dads become just as normal as a missing bike. But hey, maybe we need to evolve a bit to get to that stage.
Climbing down from my soap box for a moment we come to the most import rule, the voices. Let me give you a clue as to my policy on the voices. When I read the Gruffalo the big guy, the Gruffalo himself sounds like Ray Winston, slightly threatening in a ‘gamble responsibly' kind of way. Ideally the Gruffalo would have Donald Trump’s voice; "Astounding, most astounding"but I can’t do the Donald. The fox is sort of upper-class fop, Hugh Grant or for those of us of a certain vintage Nigel Havers, smooth but ready to turn tail at the slightest whiff of danger. The owl is a version of Dame Maggie Smith being Scottish (is Dame Mags Scottish? I don’t know, I’ll google it in a minute(I have she isn’t but you get the idea she was in Harry Potter)). The snake from its log pile is a generic Russian gangster, not because of the current geo-political situation but because every foreign accent I attempt ends up being Russian. If I do Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo, he starts off in Nancy but within a sentence ends up somewhere east of the Urals. The mouse, a-ha, here’s the real secret, the mouse sounds like yer man off the IT crowd, Chris O’Dowd. Why does he sound like the master of "have you tried turning it off and on again"? Well the truth is I don’t have to work very hard, well not at all being the God's truth off it, to do Mr. O’Dowd’s accent as he comes my local town in Ireland. The mouse sounds like me, the Bear in ‘I want my hat back’ sounds like me , the frog in ‘Oi Frog’, Paddington in all of the Paddington books (sometimes lapsing into Fr. Dougal when I want to let Mr Gruber know he’s being a bit ‘over educational’ “ah go on now Mr. Gruber”) and the duck at the end of ‘The Highway Rat’ they are all me. When you read books to your kids, the heros should sound like you. The badies, you decide. You want to be your little people’s hero for as long as you can so sow the seeds. I am looking forward to an Irishly accented Ron Weasley, a charmingly brogued Bilbo Baggins and the little Prince sounding as if he’s just stepped off a flight from Knock. The mouse found a nut and the nut was grand.