Henry is his own little man. If he decides that today’s favourite book is Peanut, when yesterday he would claim “The Gruffalo” as his #1, then you go with it. Challenge him on this point and he will remain steadfast.
“Peanut! Peanut!” he tells me. Pouts a little, points a lot.
Then Peanut by David Lucas it is.
It’s a tall tale about a little monkey as big as a nut. A beautiful story about being afraid of everything, but braving your way through it to find a sense of adventure and delight in the world around you. That’s not a bad message for a tentative toddler to learn.
Big stories sometimes need big books to contain them. Problem is, little hands need to hold them. Especially if they are determined to read them to you. Now I love to be read to, so we agree (i.e. Henry tells me) on the location – his white reading chair, made comfortable by his “H” for Henry cushion, and a padded patriotic flag. Rule Britannia.
But that book is BIG and Henry’s hands are little, so it is a whole body effort to keep it in play long enough to read me a few pages.
But just reading isn’t good enough for some. The best little bookworms perform the stories they tell. And Henry is one of the best. He sings and whispers and shouts (when the story requires it), along with a voice for each character. He is a natural storyteller – witty, expressive, imaginative.
And even though he knows this story forwards and backwards, it still has the ability to make him laugh out loud. That’s the sign of a great book, for kids or adults. You know the book so well but it can still delight or scare you with each re-reading.
And there is that element of being scared. Just a little. Because this story is full of “MONSTERS!!!” roars Henry, making me laugh, making him look at me angrily for doubting the seriousness of the situation.
His imagination is lit up by this story, so much so that the monsters, the creepy crawlies, can creep and crawl off the page and into the real world.
So together, inspired by brave little Peanut, we decide to search for the monsters together. Two year old Henry turns out to be braver than big old 32 year old me.
“Kaaaaaaate!!” he shouts. “I see them.”
Up and out of the window, hiding in trees, balancing on clouds, riding the train that passes his house, Henry spies the monsters. Big and small, spiky or soft, gnashing teeth or dribbling jaws.
If you watch his face, you know they are real. They absolutely exist because he says so. And trust me, you don’t argue with Henry. He can convince you with a smile and a raised eyebrow, well practised in the fine art of conquer with cuteness.
But the problem with reading all about monsters and then finding them in real life, is that you have to hide from them when they stare back at you through the window.
The train passes, the clouds clear, and the scary monsters disappear. Just in time for Henry to defend his special chair from me and my empty threats to sit on it.
But the monsters aren’t far from his mind. He remembers another story, one he loved when he was younger. He finds it, loves it again, remembers, I’m sure, his mum reading it to him on that bed.
It’s The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle, that clever chap of hungry caterpillars fame. And all at once, Henry reminds me of something very special about reading when you are small – that you can be scared and delighted in equal measure, that your imagination can introduce you to and then triumph over the things that challenge you in the world outside the pages of a book.
I want to share this piece of wisdom with Henry.
He tells me to ssshhhh. He is reading. I am not to interrupt. Fair enough.
And just like that, we are done. Henry shows me we are finished by pretending to snore in his reading chair. Surrounded by stars, dreaming of monsters and becoming brave like little Peanut.
If you have a little bookworm in your life, I’d love them to take part in my project. You can do that by completing the entry form here. All imaginations welcome.