Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘After all, we’ve not read every book yet’
Paul Kerensa enjoys a bedtime story
I still read bedtime stories to my children, perhaps later than most. I don’t mean that it’s late in the day – a midnight reading would be madness. I mean our children may be on the old side. At ten and 12, they’re a bit past the average age of eight when most families wind down this ritual. Yet we persist. After all, we’ve not read every book yet.
Apparently one in ten families stop by the age of four, while another one in ten continue into the early teens, so I guess we’re at that far end. That’s not really down to any ambitious brain-growth plan. A few other factors are at play. Firstly, we just forgot to stop. It never occurred to us that just because the children can read, we should leave them to it.
Secondly and selfishly, we reckon an ordered bedtime ritual helps safeguard our evenings. If our children go to bed on a diet of tooth-brushing, stories and prayers, hopefully we’ll all feel settled and happy – with the end of our days, at least, whatever the middle bit has thrown at us.
Thirdly (also selfishly), there are books that I’d like to read that I just won’t on my own, but might if I involve the children. These are books that I feel the children ought to have read. I can’t have a generation growing up without trying The Railway Children or The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe or The Secret Garden.
Classics, I tell you! And I’ve got a few yet on my list. Treasure Island, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Matt Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries (just checking if you’re paying attention) – the list goes on. I’d never read a Harry Potter book till recently. Thanks to our bedtime routine, I can at least now say I’ve read book one, and I can’t wait to see if this Voldemort chap turns out to be a goodie.
But while I’ve been busy curating my list of must-reads, something’s happened: my kids have grown. Thankfully not so much that they’re telling me to stop. But now they want stories for older children. So we’ve missed the boat on the Famous Five (a boat to a mysterious island, no doubt), and never learned the Secret Seven’s secret knock. Perhaps we’re already beyond The Wind in the Willows or Peter Pan. We reached Winnie-the-Pooh just in time. It’s a race against the clock – how many children’s books can we read before they’re no longer children?
Now we’re mixing in books prescribed at school. My son studied A Christmas Carol, so we read that last December – any excuse to do the voices. He’s been tasked with reading the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, so we’re reading that now – because how’s he supposed to know what all the words mean if I don’t?
The same’s true of the Bible. We’ve read Bible stories since year dot: giant board books at first, then some children’s Bibles, versions by Bob Hartman or Susie Poole. Now as they grow, both up and in faith, we can puzzle out together the meaning of the stories (and words: how many Christian adults really know what ‘succour’ means?).
Clock’s ticking. My ten-year-old has just discovered murder mysteries. She’s requested Poirot next. I can’t wait to do the voices for that one. But it might mean we’ll never get to The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Paul Kerensa is a comedian, writer and broadcaster. His live show ‘The Kneel-down Stand-up’ is available for church events. Paulkerensa.com
This is from an article published in the September 2023 edition of Reform