In our fragmented society, parental emphasis seems to be more on the acquisition of material possessions for their children; in contrast, the bedtime story can provide a solid foundation on which a child can receive regular parental one-on-one contact and a sense of comfort and security. In a family where parents work, children are looked after in a crèche or nursery, or taken in by a neighbour, older brother, or sister. Even for 15 minutes each evening, the time with a parent can help to develop a bond of love and care.
Paolo Crepet, in his book, Are We Listening To Our Children? argues that in the 21st century we need to take a fresh look at how our society approaches its young, and at last learn to really LISTEN to them. We “throw” money at our children, but don’t give them our time; we are not teaching our children to converse, interact or to be comfortable with solitude while immersed in a book. Paolo Crepet says we are failing to acknowledge our children’s feelings, and we are fostering what he calls “technological autism”.
The bedtime story is beneficial, even in dysfunctional families, because it can provide a forum for stimulating the imagination, developing creativity, providing mystery and laughter. In my work as a therapist we have a motto: "To heal is to make happy." After the turmoil and insecurities of the day, what better way for parent and child to come together, laugh and share thoughts and ideas which will be healing psychologically to both.
Many excellent children’s stories can teach. In Linda Strachan and David Wojtowycz What Colour Is Love? (ages 2-6), a little elephant poses this question. This is a wonderful, loving picture book with vibrant illustration that imaginatively introduces not only colour but also some beautiful ideas of love to the young.
Hugh Lupton’s Pirican Pic and Pirican Mor (ages 4-7), retells the Hebridean folk tale in a lively and infectious way providing an introduction to children of the principles of sharing and non-violence. Books can be history lessons in disguise. One of the pleasures of reading J.K. Rowling is discovering the playful references to history, legend and literature that she hides in her books. David Colbert’s The Magical World of Harry Potter he reveals the hidden meaning in the stories. What is alchemy or the philosopher’s stone? What is a salamander, a chimaera, or a kelpie? Why do wizards use wands?
The bedtime story can provide a sound, reliable and secure base from which characters in the story spring off into their land of adventures .The children’s literature by Alan Garner is exceptional for this. In Elidor (ages 7-13) the children who live in Manchester, England begin their adventure from the site of a derelict church on Fog Lane. Through a “time door” the children enter a world of fantasy, excitement and suspense but always knowing there is a doorway back to their familiar home base.
Similarly in The Owl Service (ages 7-13), the tension begins from the familiar with the scratching in the ceiling. From the moment Alison discovers the dinner service in the attic, with its curious pattern of floral owls, a chain of events is set in progress that is to affect everybody’s lives.
Children can be introduced to social and environmental issues as in Susan Jeffers and Chief Seattle’s Brother Eagle, Sister Sky (ages 6-9). Chief Seattle believed that all life on earth, and the earth itself, is sacred and that man’s heedless abuse of nature will lead to his own destruction. This powerful little book can open eyes of children and parents alike.
Mark Latham asks, “Why should we read books? The medium of books offers windows on the world for children and adults, to explore other realms, learn from other cultures, share others deep emotions”.
What is the perfect book or bedtime story? I once heard the perfect book described beautifully as “one that articulates exactly all the truth my heart knows, so that I could know it clearly, face to face, instead of only ‘through a glass darkly.’ Of course that particular book is the one each of us has to write ourselves, in letters engraved by the fire of experience; to write that book – the perfect book- is our life’s work.”
But books, whether perfect or not hold up a mirror to us to reflect what’s in our minds and in our hearts.
Is the written language the only literacy? Absolutely not! The media of music, art, drama and dance allow for the development of the creative imagination and arouse the emotions transporting us beyond the physical into the spiritual plane. What was my personal taste for books as a child? My preference was for war stories and tales of espionage. Consider Eric Williams’ The Wooden Horse where man over comes adversity with courage and good humour, or [Johanna Spyri’s] inspirational story of Heidi’s fight to walk again after contracting polio. Little do we realise how these innocent stories infiltrate the psyche and can be sources of strength for us in our adult life.
Perhaps the most important and often overlooked value of the bedtime story is what better way to be lulled to sleep than by a warm, familiar, reassuring voice of someone we love.