Back when I was pregnant, whenever I expressed fears about entering the uncharted territory of motherhood, my husband always reminded me about the nice things to look forward to. The zoo trips, the cuddly toys and, crucially, the fairy stories to read. He didn’t, of course, talk about the nappy changing and sleepless nights, but that’s another story.

But the truth of the matter is that for several years now, I have guiltily lingered in the children’s department of book stores. I knew I looked kind of sad, without a baby of my own in hand to give it a purpose, but I loved it all anyway. The gorgeous picture books for the very young, the nonsensical verse for toddlers, and, for older children all the magical escapism, I remember so well from my younger years. How I wished I could really go up that Faraway Tree with Moonface and friends! How I wanted to be friends with Posy and co from Ballet Shoes! How I hoped my drawings could come to life, as in Marianna Dreams (a spooky cult classic featuring ominous Stonehenge-style stones – scarier than you’d think). And how I wanted to fly on a magic carpet, like the adventurers in Five Children and It by EC Nesbitt.

As I’ve grown older I’ve felt a strong urge to go back and rediscover these books, and also read the ones I missed out on. I’ve searched through piles of books in my father’s home to find my copy of Children of the Dust, a frightening post-nuclear vision of the future I read at school and that always stayed vividly in my mind. I’ve spent literally years trying to track down an affordable copy of The Tree That Sat Down, a book about talking forest creatures by the writer Beverly Nichols that everyone except me seems to have forgotten.

I’ve bid for old fairy story volumes on Ebay just because I wanted to look at the gorgeous colour plates, gone back and rediscovered slightly spooky Victorian verse (my obsession is Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, which is genuinely disturbing).  I’ve re-read The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, perhaps my favourite book when I was a little girl, and one, with its theme of a witches’ academy, that predates Harry Potter by about 20 years (I can’t help wondering if JK Rowling was influenced by it too?) 

I’ve devoured the adult books that take the children’s genre and give it a new spin too – Angela Carter’s brilliant The Bloody Chamber gives many of those frankly terrifying fairy tales from your deep dark past a fantastic, if gruesome, feminist twist.

When my son was born one of the first things I did was buy him a copy of Where the Wild Things Are because (let’s be honest) I wanted to look at those brilliantly crazy monster pictures. He certainly didn’t. He still had his eyes glued shut for about 14 hours a day, and wasn’t going to appreciate it for a good, ooh, 18 months or so.

 Right now I’m reading the classic Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, because somehow it passed me by when I was growing up.  And I can’t wait to introduce my little one to Winnie-the-Pooh – I still love the adventures of that silly bear and his piglet friend, and of course, EH Shepherd’s magical line drawings.

It’s not just the old stories I’m loving though. I’m intrigued by the new ones too, whether it’s Axel Scheffler’s brilliant cartoons or How I Live Now, a story aimed at teenage girls that I’ve yet to read but heard a lot about, and recently pounced on in a charity shop.

Of course, my son still being a toddler, I’m obviously getting a little ahead of myself. I’m still only at the picture book stage after all. But I’m enjoying lots of these too –  modern classics like We’re All Going On a Bear Hunt, and yes, the Gruffalo, along with just about every other parent out there.

I’m looking forward to reading some of these old stories with my son, and hopefully discovering new ones that he’ll remember when he’s older too. Because children’s stories definitely aren’t just for children, whatever the snobs say.

Illustration by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, pic by one2c900d

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