I have many fond memories from childhood, but one of the greatest is the time at night when dad and I would sit on the bed (or after the weak wooden frame gave out under us a few times, me in bed and him on a chair next to me) and he would read to me from some of his favourite books.
Being read to wasn’t just about learning to read, and our bedtime stories extended far beyond the time that I could read – right into my early teens. It exposed me to a far wider range of styles and books than I would have found otherwise.
Over time a lot of those stories became my favourites too. One of the beauties of having children is sharing your favourite books with them over time, introducing them to the worlds that have captivated you.
For my Author’s Notebook today I thought that I would share some of these bedtime tomes. I’ll also share (if I can remember) the rough age I was when reading these stories. Many of these are stories designed to read over time, days or weeks, so make sure you have a good bookmark handy. Also, perhaps jot down some notes about your character voices. Dad always had trouble remembering who was who when he was reading.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
A childhood classic and still one of my favourites as an adult. I love Roald Dahl’s writing because it has such a wonderful balance of beauty and darkness, plus vivid imagery that makes it easy to get wrapped up. Every time I read that I want to visit the Chocolate Room and taste the grass and the melted chocolate from the river.
Matilda Roald Dahl
Ok, after this I’m done with Roald Dahl, I promise. But, for the record, you should also check out Esio Trot. Matilda is probably the story I connected with most, being a nerdy bookworm right from the start. But the poetic justice of a little girl exacting revenge on those who mistreated her always delighted me, plus the pure magic of the tale.
Seven Little Australians Ethel Turner
Early primary school
A classic tale of childhood in Australia. While there are many elements that most people probably can’t relate to these days (seven children, a 19 year old wife and a house that has it’s own name for a start) it still has so many elements of Australian life – such as sunlight, playing outside and getting into mischief.
On top of being a charming, beautifully written story, it also has a sad ending – which, while it may seem like a bad thing, is actually a great way to start to introduce a child to the concept of grief and sadness. Obviously it’s up to each parent to decide when their children may be ready for that, but don’t be afraid of stories that make them (or you) cry.
The Hobbit JRR Tolkein
Early primary school
A brilliantly fun and illustrative story for children. This was my first real introduction to fantasy, a style that I have loved ever since. With hobbits, dwarves and dragons and a mysterious creature known only as Gollum, it is a great adventure story for any age.
The Mill on the Floss George Eliot
Early to mid-primary school
This is another Australian classic. The book takes a slower pace, so it’s not for the action lovers, but it is an example of how the written word can be used to illustrate places and characters so well. One big warning though, this one also has a sad ending – so sad that I’ve actually only read it once since dad read it to me. I haven’t read it again because I know that when I get to the end I’m going to cry buckets. Possibly better for older primary school aged children.
Dad and I also enjoyed Silas Marner by George Eliot, but again it is quite a slow read.
The Tomorrow Series John Marsden
Late primary school to early high school
Dad and I read Tomorrow When the War Began when I was 11, and over the next few years worked our way through the rest of the series. This is definitely one for adventure junkies, with guns and explosions. The thing I love about the Tomorrow series is that it takes a realistic approach, throwing a small band of rural teenagers into the middle of a war zone and covering their fight to survive. It takes a personal approach and features a diverse range of characters, which I’m a big fan of.
The Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkein
Late primary school
The follow up to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a much longer and darker tale. That said, we probably could have read it sooner than we did, except dad’s copy of the books had a particularly scary picture of Mount Doom on the cover which put me off for a long time.
While it is ultimately a fantasy/adventure story, it is slow in places, taking an almost gentle pace. But there are plenty of battles to keep things moving.
Actually one of my favourite sections is the visit to Tom Bombodil. While the story doesn’t really advance, and there is no action to speak of, the descriptions of Tom’s glorious garden are so vivid and rich that they bring a real sense of peace amongst the chaos.
So that’s my list of some of my favourite bedtime stories. What fond bedtime story memories do you have? Any favourite books that you read, or want to read, to your own children one day?