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Photo by jonlk

Sometimes, in quieter moments, I dream of the perfect Sunday morning. I’m lying in a kingsize bed with perfectly pressed white linen sheets and plump feather pillows, in a pristine bedroom that’s strangely free of socks on the floor and crumpled clothes heaped on the ‘chairdrobe’.

As I stir from a blissful, uninterrupted nine hours of sleep, a soundtrack of gentle jazz-lite – possibly John Coltrane, possibly Miles Davis, possibly Ella Fitzgerald – slowly wafts me into the land of the living. Outside in the street, rather than the usual irritating cars revving and children screaming, I faintly hear the lyrical song of the blackbird. I look at the clock: it’s half-past nine! The following items have miraculously appeared at the foot of the bed: a cafetiere of piping hot coffee, a jug of warm milk, a glass of orange juice, a warm croissant and the full complement of Sunday papers, from high- to lowbrow…

While non-parents sometimes get the impression that, once you go forth and procreate, you never ever get a decent’s night sleep again – not entirely true for everybody, thank the lord – it is true that proper, restorative lie-ins, for the majority of us, are rarer than hen’s teeth.

As we grow up into adults, most of us eventually fall into either ‘owl’ or ‘lark’ camps. But babies, toddlers and young children are all, by some cruel twist of nature, pretty much down to a T, programmed to be larks. Once the clock strikes 6am (or, sadly, earlier in many unfortunate cases) most of them spring into life, raring to go and fizzing with energy like Duracell bunnies on speed. They need to have nappies changed, to be given bottles, to be fed, and dressed, and entertained, and all before the sun is even up. They don’t care that you’re mildly hungover from your night in with the latest episode of Glee and a cheap bottle of Pino Grigio. They don’t care that all you really want out of life at 6.15am is another blissful 15 minutes of slumber. They will shout and scream at the top of their lungs, so even your deepest sleep and most vivid dreams are penetrated. They will climb into your bed, pull off the covers and thrust a hardboard copy of the Gruffalo into your grey sleep-starved face, and beg to be read to before you have even gained consciousness. Honestly if the armed forces ever need to come up with a failsafe torture device for known terrorists, I suggest they stick them in a room with a toddler first thing every morning for the next six months or so.

After a lifetime as an owl, I have sadly come to the conclusion that the only way to create the illusion that you are, in fact, having a lie-in, rather than waking up at the same time as fishermen, is to go to bed before the 10 o’clock news comes on, and possibly before the 9pm ‘serious drama’ slot. But in the meantime, I can carry on dreaming…

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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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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