The real talent of a truly great writer is their ability to reflect the world back to you in a way which makes you view things differently. A good book can make you see things you’ve never noticed before, see the danger lurking behind the things you accept every day, or see the beauty and magic in the most mundane aspects of your life.
Many great children’s books do this, but by far my favourite is The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb.
Donaldson is undoubtedly one of the best at what she does; she is the Don of children’s literature. The characters she creates appeal to all children and the adventures they go on capture hearts in a way which few will ever forget.
But The Paper Dolls is in a league of its own. Like all great stories, it works on several levels. For children, they will enjoy the daring adventures the dolls go on – facing crocodiles, tigers and that meanest of all creatures, a little boy. For parents, they will see reflected back at them the true beauty and importance of their role in their child’s life. In this simple story of a mother playing with her daughter, Donaldson makes you realise the great magnitude of those simple little things you do (or sadly sometimes don’t find time to do) that make all the difference to a child.
Yesterday, my eldest finished his first year at school. As a reward for a great report I promised he could do whatever he wanted with the first day of the holidays.
“Can we stay at home all day?” (Turns out a whole year of school is tiring.)
Faced with a whole day indoors with two small children, I needed to plan and quickly scrawled down a list of activities. Inspired by the previous night’s story, I added ‘make paper dolls’.
What was intended as a quick time filler quickly became the focus of the day. As I put the finishing touches to ‘Scary Mary’ (I’m not much of an artist), my son giggled like crazy at ‘Jim with 5 eyes and 2 noses’. Once they were finished, I left the dolls to explore the house while I hung out the washing. They had, I was later informed, encountered a scary zoo-keeper, nearly been eaten by a dinosaur and had escaped by hiding in a glow-worm cave.
I can’t remember the last time I saw my son’s face so lit up with glee. All it had taken was a scrappy bit of paper, some crayons and a pair of scissors.
And, of course, a story.
I challenge any parent to read The Paper Dolls and not well up with emotion. It is what all great children’s stories should be: filled with adventure, beautifully written and illustrated, and with a subtle reminder to us parents about how important – and lucky – we are.
I bloody love the summer holidays – I would, I’m a teacher.
Months and months of never having the headspace for anything more than lesson plans, making and exam prep are finally relieved. After the inevitable first few days of illness (end-of-term-itis), there stretches ahead of me several weeks of carefree abandon and something finally resembling a normal life – at least until results day.
Now I’m a parent, I appreciate it even more. I appreciate there are some parents who dread the holidays – their normal routine is disrupted with the need for childcare, holiday clubs and, scariest of all, whole days of family time which need to be planned, organised and endured. For me though, it’s the best time of the year, the only time I can fully devote my attention to my son without rushing out of the house while he’s still in his PJs and rubbing his eyes, or trying to play jigsaws whilst also reading a stack of essays I promised my year 12s I’d hand back the next morning.
In the summer we can really get to know each other: building towers for hours on end, running through the fountains in the park on a hot summer day and reading Peppa Pig books ten times in a row (ok, I’m less keen on that last one).
There’s just one thing that threatens the bliss that is my summer holiday.
Bloody kids, they’re bloody everywhere.
A quick trip to the shops becomes a mission. Gangly teenagers lurk around every corner looking hopelessly angry or angrily hopeless at the prospect of having to entertain themselves for six whole weeks. Hyperactive children charge out from under racks of clothes, turning corners at a pace which would make Jenson Button envious. Where they don’t knock you down, you’re likely to knock them down, or else maim them by running over their toes with your buggy.
Buggies: there’s another thing I hate. I hate having one and I hate the way everyone else’s gets in your way. When did everyone in East London meet up and decide to have babies at the same time? Walking through Boots is like an obstacle course – The Krypton Factor meets One Born Every Minute.
In a previous life, I would have escaped to a museum, though you’d have to be careful which you picked. Head to the British Museum and far from a peaceful exploration of our nation’s history, you’re liable to be confronted by hoards of holiday club children. Underpaid, undertrained, overly stressed and largely hungover students and graduates attempt to herd round rowdy groups of kids who in theory are using their holidays to expand their minds, but in reality are just scouting for the nearest corners to lurk in while they post selfies on Snapchat or Instagram. ‘In museum. Everything old and boring. Lolz.’
There are of course a few more ‘boring’ museums from which you can escape the masses, but while they may have nominally fitted a changing unit in order to class themselves as ‘family friendly’, they’re really not. They’re trying to keep out the under-18s riffraff to please grumpy old gits like me, who don’t want their peace disturbed by noisy children. The problem is, I now come with one of those permanently attached. It’s fair to assume no one in the British Library wants their afternoon disturbed by my son singing Old McDonald at the top of his voice, no matter how impressed I might be with his impression of a cow.
Finally there’s the park – every cash strapped parent’s best friend. If, like me, you’re lucky enough to live near one of London’s big parks, there’s enough to keep you occupied for days on end: paddling pools, water fountains, swings, slides, climbing frames, boats and of course big open spaces to run around on and have picnics. It’s perfect for when people visit and, when the weather’s right, it’s near paradise.
Except for those bloody children.
Everywhere you turn, there they are. Toddlers having tantrums, brats on bikes and scooters, pre-teens giggling and taking up the equipment clearly marked ‘under-10s only’. If you’re really unlucky you’ll be hit by another holiday club group – packs of little monsters in hi-vis jackets, storming at you in a scene reminiscent of the stampede which killed Mufasa in The Lion King and causing just as many tears. Perhaps the hi-vis jackets aren’t really to help the workers keep an eye on the children – they’re a beacon warning innocent bystanders: ‘LOOK OUT, HERE THEY COME!’
I don’t mind children. Contrary to current appearances, I actually quite like them. While most parents lurk in the corners of the play area sipping on a coffee, I always seem to end up stuck in the middle orchestrating some kind of elaborate game which inevitably ends with me getting covered in either water or sand.
It is my curse in life to spend all my working time surrounded kids, only to get a break and be surrounded by more somewhere else – and this time I’m not allowed to tell them off when they’re naughty!
Someone disabuse these children and their parents of the mistaken notion that this is their summer holiday. It’s not. It’s mine.