Today is Valentine’s Day, a day for love, and I want to celebrate that by looking at the kind of love that is expressed in the sharing of books, and of picture books in particular.
Readers of a blog such as this one are, I imagine, going to be people who are in the habit of sharing books, passing books on to people we feel will particularly enjoy them, and then comparing our experiences of those books. That’s a joy. But I think that the sharing that happens with picture books is best kind of book sharing of all. Why?
Because when one person reads a picture book to another, or to a group of people, those people are all experiencing the book at the same time, together. They share each other’s reactions to the book. How much more delicious to laugh together at a joke, and enjoy another’s enjoyment as well as our own. How reassuring to have the company of somebody else when the book experience is unsettling or puzzling. There’s a mental, and sometimes an actual, holding of hands as we progress through a story like that.
There can be great physical intimacy in sharing an illustrated book. You have to be close in order to study the pictures. Besides, picture books are often read at bedtime, side by side in bed, or with a child snuggled on an adult’s lap as the words of the story are read, warm-breathed, into ears, and pictures looked at. Even when reading a picture book to a whole class of children, those children tend to be sitting, close-packed, on a floor, perhaps idly twiddling a neighbour’s hair, and certainly giggling as one of them farts!More than that, the sharing of a story in this way is a shared adventure/romance/trauma/laugh. It is bonding to go through such experiences in company, especially in the company of people you love.
Picture books are a sharing format; sharing the showing of the story in the pictures with the telling of the story in words. The reading of it is shared too because it tends to work around an adult reading out loud the words of the book’s text whilst a child is equally busy ‘reading’ the pictures, and that child is very likely to have things to point out and show the adult once the adult has finished their own reading task. Most picture book reading involves a pleasing pause over each spread as the book’s double (or larger) audience study the pictures and compare notes about how characters are feeling or contemplate what might be about to happen.
Why am I banging on about sharing? Because today is International Book GivingDay. This is a wonderful initiative with worldwide scope for its simple, brilliant, idea -
We should give books to each other today.
Give books to friends. Or give them to strangers at the bus stop; to anybody who you think would appreciate them. There are fun freely downloadable book plates to print out and stick into the book you give, to mark this book giving occasion. I am giving copies of You Choose and Just Imagine to my local GPs surgery for children and parents to share as they await appointments.
Amazingly, the scope of this scheme is worldwide. There are links on the website to schemes in India and Africa, enabling us to give books to children who are unlikely to ever own a books any other way. Easy to share, and important too.
The illustration, above, of mother and daughter sharing a book is by Jan Ormerod, taken from her book ‘101 Things To Do With A Baby’, published by Little Hare. I used that picture both because it wonderfully captures that precious time-out from the hurly-burly of family life that a shared book affords, and because, very sadly, Jan died last month.
Jan’s first book for children, ‘Sunshine’, came out in 1981 when I had just begun working in a children’s bookshop. Wordless, beautiful, true to life and funny, it was a revolutionary book. ‘Moonshine’ followed, and Jan signed my copy for me. ‘101 Things To Do With A Baby’ became a family favourite with my three small daughters, and 'The Frog Prince' and 'Lizzie Nonsense' are books I use in teaching people wanting to write for children. I met Jan a few times over the decades, and was always star-struck. She was, and is, a hero of mine.
'101 Things To Do With A Baby' is published by Little Hare.