Summer Holiday Book Recommendations

Summer holidays are the perfect time for children to choose the books they want to read and for families to read aloud together. It’s also a time for older children to re-read the books they loved when they were younger and to read to their younger siblings. Familiar books and books written for younger readers are soothing and restorative for an older child. They can also turn children back into avid readers.

The Faraway Tree by Jacqueline Wilson. All ages (even teenagers!)

I was hesitant to read Jacquiline Wilson’s re-imagining and modernizing of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree because of how much I’d loved the original series as a child. However, it’s really good.  There’s no question the stories have been elevated, they’re less formulaic (although that also had its advantages) and the parents, most especially the father, are substantial characters rather than invisible foils for the children’s adventuring. Wilson also develops the children’s distinct personalities, which makes the magic seem even more real because the reader feels connected to the characters.  This is also achieved by modernizing the setting and giving Silky a life-sized upgrade.

As with all the best children’s writers, Wilson has high expectations for her readers. She seamlessly includes words like ‘stoically’, ‘loftily’, and ‘indignantly’ in her writing, and by so doing, she sets up the earliest reader and listener with an ear for more sophisticated vocabulary.

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief, by A. F Steadman. Ages 8+

This recent release delivered the highest ever seven-figure multi-book deal for a debut novelist and it’s evident why.  It’s a really substantial, tense, and exciting read with an immensely likeable protagonist. It shares a number of similarities with other mega-book series and this will appeal to fans of those series.  The high-stakes magic and trope of The Chosen One remind us of Harry Potter; the deep and dependent relationship between the protagonist and mythical creatures has parallels with How to Train your Dragon, and the magical elemental battles between the children and their bonded unicorns are resonant of Pokemon.  However, Steadman has managed to create a unique and vivid new world, aided by the pace and quality of her writing.

Perhaps the end wrapped up too quickly and neatly considering the magnitude of the denouement and the fact that Skandar is a deep thinker, but the second book may well develop this further.  It’s glorious to know there is a second book and one after that to keep children excited about reading.  Highly recommend.

The Hunt for Nightingale, Sarah Ann Juckes. Ages 10+ (adults too!)

This is a gentle and beautiful evocation of grief for a slightly more mature reader or a family read-aloud for 7+.  It’s written from the point of view of Jasper, nine, who goes in search of the nightingale and his sister who are both missing. Jasper and Rosie are bird lovers, and each of the thirty-eight chapters starts with a fact about birds, that is loosely tied to the chapter. For example, Bird Fact #19 ‘Ptarmigans moult their brown feathers for white in winter to stay camouflaged in the changing weather’ heads a chapter where Jasper has changed his clothes in the Lost and Found so he can’t be recognised.

These, and other facts which thread throughout the story, have the effect of turning the readers’ awareness toward birds and, in this way, subtly connecting us to Jasper’s heart.  Juckes uses dramatic irony to invest the reader further in caring passionately about the outcome of the story and the well-being of the characters. Masterfully done.




Active Reading: How to Give your Child the Edge

Natural-Born Sleuths

Children are naturally curious, continually asking the why of things. This natural curiosity is how they build their understanding of the world.  When we first introduce children to books, they apply this natural curiosity, looking for clues in the language and the pictures to understand the story.

However, once children are reading age-appropriate books independently they understand the story easily. They become lost in the new worlds they’re discovering and they read more quickly and less actively.  They just want to find out what happens!

Why Active Reading?

We must quash anything that interferes with our children’s enjoyment of reading.  However, we can re-introduce active reading to them at this point without ruining their enjoyment.  In fact, children who use their natural curiosity to think critically as they’re reading, have a richer reading experience, do better at school, and protect their future love of reading.

Even before senior school, books become texts to be tested by correct answers and measured endlessly and only by PEEL.  At this point, so many young people go off reading because they flounder and loath this new way of reading and considering books.  Investigative readers, however, are used to the process of questioning as they read and have already developed their PEEL instincts, setting them up to do better at school and to continue to enjoy reading out of school.

Encouraging a Less Active Reader

To instil an active-reading mindset with your independent reader read the same book he’s reading so that you can have genuinely engaging discussions about it. Deliberately choose a moment when you’re doing something unrelated like preparing dinner, to chat about characters and predict what will happen. Model using examples from the book. Feign confusion or come up with questions for which you need his help. When we readily act a little more ignorant than we are with our children they see an equal playing field where the answers are up for grabs without judgment.

Challenging a Motivated Sleuth

Some children will be amenable and even relish the challenge of taking on the persona of a detective.  They might love the ritual of sharpening a pencil and making a list of clues while they’re reading. You can direct their focus where you think it would be most fun and beneficial around plot, character, and language. An example: have them figure out what the writer does to make the characters different from one another by the way they speak.  Do some characters have idiosyncratic expressions? Do some repeat themselves, stutter, talk fast or emphatically? They may enjoy underlining new words and looking them up, creating their own personal dictionary of new words. Having their own Oxford English Dictionary as a companion to reading might really appeal to them.

Use whichever style suits your child at the time, either the stealthy approach where you chat in a relaxed fashion about a book, occasionally feigning ignorance or the deliberate, detective approach supported by a little equipment and fanfare.  Either way, you are setting your child up for a more pleasurable reading experience and an easier time at school.



”Mummy, Are You Listening?” The Five-Minute Focus That Builds Connection, Mutual Respect, and Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Sometimes when very young children start telling a real or imagined story, we might find ourselves switching off, giving listening noises and nods, while simultaneously scrolling and working on something else.  Perhaps we can’t really understand what they’re saying, it seems boring, or we just don’t have the time.  However, by changing our attitude to listening we can give and get so much out of our children’s chattering.

This changed attitude is just a decision to hear, and an expectation to really enjoy, what they’re saying. And it doesn’t have to be for half an hour. About five minutes of focus is all it takes. Five small but whole, focused minutes in which we are looking directly at our child, thinking about what they’re saying, and genuinely commenting on their narrative. At the end of five minutes, we will either be enjoying it so much we will want to keep going or tell them that now we need to stop listening and continue at a time which we can specify.

This small commitment of dedicated listening is enormously important for our children and for ourselves. It sets up a mutually respectful understanding early on showing our children that, while we have things we need to get on with, they interest us and are worthy of our full attention.  It also assuages the guilt of a busy parent because a small amount of complete focus on our children is more important for their sense of self than an entire day of us being present but not truly available.

Deeply listening to our children’s stories also shows us who they are and how they are experiencing the world. When we ask for detail, which they may not recall and need to imagine, they reveal to us how they want the world to be. Many gems lie in an imaginative tall tale.

By modeling listening to our children, we teach them to be interested in other people and in us as people. And children are fascinated by our own stories of how we met their other parent and of the adventures we’ve had. They love to ask questions about unruly relatives and family lore. It helps them anchor their life and build a picture of who they are.

It can seem that so much is required when, truly, it can be very little.

The Vocab Advantage: How You are Key to Ensuring Your Child has an Elevated Vocabulary and Why it’s so Important.

I distinctly remember the time my son, Jasper, used the word ‘impeccable’. He was three and the word rolled off his tongue with ease.  I’d use this word when preparing my boys to visit someone’s house. I used it somewhat tongue-in-cheek as I don’t think children should behave impeccably, but it was a word my own mother used a lot, and it was a way for me to conjure her from across the ocean.  I remember being so surprised at hearing the natural way Jasper used this rather large word. I knew that he understood it, but I hadn’t necessarily expected him to use it himself.

Because it’s essential for us to understand and be understood by our children we can end up using language which we perceive to be straightforward.  However, what I realized in that moment, and subsequently went on to prove in my own home and in our book clubs, is that words hold equal value for children.  They are just as able to understand the meaning of impeccable as the word perfect.  They naturally understand that relentless rain can either be never-ending or inexorable. They just need to hear these options.

Exposure to more complex language early on allows children to absorb more from the conversations around them and build a richer world picture. Additionally, accessing the nuance of language allows a child to name their own experiences and feelings more articulately, which ensures they are better understood and have less conflict with adults and peers.

A child who has already been exposed to a wide and elevated vocabulary at home has an easier time when it comes to reading. They expect to encounter words they don’t understand, and they have the confidence to know they will be able to learn them. They already have an ear for linguistic patterns which they’re able to transpose onto the written word.   Their written work seems more observant because they have greater word choice. Both reading and writing become fun rather than burdensome.

Parents whose first language isn’t English might feel unable to help their children elevate their vocabulary, and children who speak a second language at home can find reading and English comprehensions more challenging at first. However, children speaking Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and French, the Romance languages which evolved from Latin, have an advantage when it comes to accessing elevated vocabulary. Let’s take the earlier example of inexorable. The Latin origin of inexorable is In (not) and exorabilis (pliant, moved by entreaty). This word is identifiably spelled and pronounced in all the Romance languages.  And while inexorable might be elevated in English it is more commonly used in these languages.  This is the case with many Latin-derived English words.  Parents from these European countries, who may feel hesitant to read aloud with their children, can feel confident that they can still be a source of rich vocabulary in their conversations.

Teenagers often start to swerve reading (as well as us!), when schoolwork intensifies and they have greater independence. The complexity of GCSE texts can kill their enjoyment of reading. Ironically, an elevated vocabulary is essential for interpreting those very texts, and we can help our teenagers by using elevated language around them naturally, rather than in questions or statements made pointedly at them. Hearing words in many different contexts and without fanfare makes them more likely to be adopted. One of the techniques we use in our book clubs when introducing elevated words is to cluster words in order of perceived difficulty.  As we’re reading a new word we will seamlessly follow the word with two known synonyms so that children can figure out the meaning for themselves.  In conversation with children of all ages, we can do this by making our original statement containing the elevated word and then re-phrasing the same statement with an alternative known word.

Although speaking in this way to our children may seem overly purposeful it very quickly becomes natural and fun, and, frankly, it’s no bad thing for us to improve our own vocabulary in the process!



Book Club Bunch Pilots Book Clubs for Adults

As the years have gone by and Book Club Bunch has scaled so that I’m no longer needed in the book clubs, or am, in fact, even the best person to be running our book clubs, I find that I really miss being in the thick of it. I miss hearing the kids’ responses and seeing their faces when they light upon a particularly brilliant thought, and I miss having someone read to me.

I can get through any day when I think about the book waiting for me at the end of it. I pick reading over TV, reading over films, even reading over people sometimes. But being read to by somebody else is something else entirely. I don’t mean audiobooks, although I love them too. I mean the experience of having a real, live person read directly to me. A person sitting before me delivering a reading that can only happen in that exact way in that very moment. It’s loving, restoring, emotionally caressing, and utterly transporting, and I miss that.

When our actors reach the end of a chapter to break for discussions there’s a pause, a stillness in the room. As the children are yanked back to reality there’s audible dismay. ‘Don’t stop!’ they lament. I used to share the children’s reluctance to unstick from the reading as did the teachers and parents who were sitting in. ‘Could we do something like this for adults?’ we were asked.

I was introduced to adult book clubs when I was living in the US many years ago. We would assemble in each other’s homes with wine and snacks and talk about the book none of us had read and then, realizing none of us had read it, quickly turn to gossip and chat. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy reading, we simply didn’t make enough time to cover the pages before the next club meeting. We always felt regret. Next time we would absolutely read the chapters.  Next time we absolutely didn’t.

On Thursday, November 4th, at 8.30 pm we are joining forces with LEVEL to pilot an online book club for adults. We will read to you and we will moderate discussions.  You will not be expected to read anything, you may drink your wine, and you will surely cry, ‘Don’t stop!’

Booking at:





The Joyful Outcome of being a Pig-Headed Parent

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about feeling guilty and hypocritical that my teenager had stopped reading. I’ve read quite a lot about parenting teenagers and so much advice is for parents to give their teens the chance to make decisions and mistakes on their own without us muscling in. But I just couldn’t let too much of a non-reading habit form as I know from my track record with mobile phones and video games that it’s a high-speed slippery slope to permanence.

I laid out my plan of action: to keep banging on about reading but in a collaborative rather than preachy way, to search out books that had a high chance of appealing to him, and to discretely set limits on reading time to frustrate him into reading.

I decided that I would also read the books he was reading, first because I wanted to read them, and second because it meant that the book was always in motion and being sought hence more likely to be desired. It worked well for the first book, The Summer we Turned Green, a topical, funny read about a serious subject, global warming. It led to a discussion of personal responsibility and the decision to alternate my nightly baths with showers because baths are such a drain of water. We talked about why the dad character got sucked into the rebellion and the nature of adulthood. It was a proper discussion that didn’t feel like a chore for him and a demand from me.

The second book was The Women of Troy by Pat Barker. Being a mythology nut, this was a sticky bun to get him reading again, and I overheard him muttering, ‘’I’m actually enjoying this book,’’ on his way out of the room. Steady progress, I thought, the plan is working.

But it was this week that I really saw my pig-headedness pay off. Only three days into the new school year and he’s volunteered to be the pupil librarian and take part in a separate challenge of reading one hundred books this year. At two books a week being the librarian is a savvy move. And when I mentioned that I’d bought us Catherine of Aragon, by Giles Tremlet (which was the next stealth read I was lining up) he was excited and launched into his love of history.

I confess I’m surprised at the speed of this change of heart. Could it be that mother’s words still carry weight after all even subconsciously? It makes me want to look around our lives to see what else I can be determined about! Poor child. I mean, teenager.

Confessions of a Hypocrite, Failure, and Dreadful Mother

I don’t think my son’s read a book in three months. He aced his English exam into the senior school, intensely mocked what he deemed to be the overwrought textural analysis of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (when clearly enjoying the freedom to go deep and applying it to every conceivable thing from film to general observation), and then rested on his video-game-supported laurels.

‘I hate reading.’ He declared.

‘Well, that makes me either a hypocrite, failure, or dreadful mother.’ I fished.

‘Could be.’ He agreed.

I am the woman who touts reading as essential to life and my book clubs as the gateway to reading.  How am I failing with my own son? He, who has every advantage to be up close to my vision, who has been the realisation of my vision up until now. He became a reader, an avid reader. So, what’s going on?

We have control of our children when they’re young.  Not necessarily easy control – there may be confrontations, bribes, and ultimatums to get there – but we hold the power with treats, TV, play dates and beautifully constructed reading holes. (O my, I sound like a beast).  But as our children enter their teenage years they start to feel their freedom and push against our boundaries.  They now have their friends, their interests, their apparent gifts, and they may feel they’ve figured out how to navigate their path.  This is a good thing in so many ways, and we want them to become independent and assertive.  In making their own decisions they will learn and modify their behaviour – revise for exams, stand up for friends – and presumably not fall over the minute they leave home.  However, with choices that seem to have less drastic outcomes, like the decision to read or not, should we just give up beating the drum?

Well, I cannot.  I would feel like a hypocrite, failure, and dreadful mother.  Knowing the empirical evidence that readers have better mental well-being, emotional intelligence, and intellectual development and having set up Book Club Bunch around these truths, how could I not keep espousing reading!  Additionally, in this transparent new world where careers and indeed lives can be lost because of a single tweet, young people desperately need to have thought through who they are, what they stand for, and to have an interest and developed empathy for other people.  Sitting inside the lived experience of fictional characters brings us there.

A caveat. I think that some of the books foisted on our young people on school reading lists and class texts and through our own parental ambitions are really putting them off reading.  I’ve seen Good Night Mr Tom on a reading list for a seven-year-old and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea on a reading list for a ten-year-old. Just, no! So, remembering that reading should be age appropriate and interest-led, here’s my plan:

  • I will not shy away from talking about why reading is important.  Raised eyebrows and dismissive hand gestures will not phase me.  I know the power of repetition. I often buy something after I’ve been emailed ten times and I’m on the point of unsubscribing.  I get so annoyed I finally click and then think, ‘O, yes, why not, I’ll have one of those.’
  • I will be reasonable when suggesting half an hour of reading can fit very nicely into a 9-5 of video gaming/tennis/hanging with friends.  I’ll talk to him like the adult he thinks he is, as if we are talking about something we agree on that has to do with someone else.  We both know it’s good for him.  That other him.
  • I’ve done my research into books I think he’ll like based on his previous passions: Greek mythology, comedy and autobiography.
      • The first book I’m recommending is A Thousand Ships by Natalie Hanes. He’s read every novel that’s been published in this genre up until this year.  A Thousand Ships is the feminist re-telling of the Trojan War and being a reluctant feminist, this will hopefully also mellow his perspective.
      • My second book recommendation is The Summer we Turned Green by William Sutcliffe.  Sutcliffe wrote the hilarious The Gifted, The Talented and Me and this book is equally hilarious. (And global warming, people!) Humour, especially humour levelled against mums, really helps during a reluctant reading phase.  I’m also considering this book for a book club, and I want his view.
      • The third book I’m recommending is Michelle Obama’s Becoming.  I was late to the party with this one myself, but I found it compelling and necessary.  When my young man was eleven, he selected and read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, 558 pages.  Becoming will interest but not tax him, surely.

So, I’m going to persist, but in a reasonable, non-needling tone – hard though that seems to be – and I’m going to let him know how well I think he’s managing his time, fitting in that half an hour of reading a day. O, and I’m going to suggest he limit himself to half an hour.  There’s nothing like a limit to guarantee rebellion. There will be treats and comfortable reading holes, there may even be concessions on chores. But as long as there’s breath in my body there will be reading.



Why We’re All To Blame For Male Behaviour

As the mother of a boy, and being fully aware of the high suicide rates of men, I care fiercely about the emotional wellbeing and fair representation of young men. Yet as a woman, with lived experience of being overly sexualized, catcalled, and followed, I identify with the absolute right of women to be respected and safe. Being the mother of a boy is a responsibility. A responsibility to inculcate in him a curiosity and respect for himself, for women, for other men, and for people of all stations and backgrounds. Respect for other people comes from having self-respect, and if we look at how we treat little boys we might better understand how we are setting men up in childhood for a future in which they are bound to hurt women, hurt each other, and hurt themselves. In order to eradicate toxic masculine behaviour and the dominance of unhealthy patriarchal norms, we need to examine our expectations of men and take it right back to how we bring up our boys.

On the football pitches, even in friendlies, I routinely observe parents and coaches screaming at very young players. They’re not running fast enough, they’re not trying hard enough, how could they miss that open goal? Come on! The common reaction from a parent when a boy is evidently hurt, with a stud in the leg, a whack to the head, a punching elbow in the ribs, is that they ‘shake it off’ ‘man up’, and ‘stop crying’. I recall asking a mother who turned her back on her crying son why she didn’t hug him. ‘Oh’ She said, ‘He’s always doing this. I won’t have it.’ Fast forward four years and this boy isn’t crying anymore, he’s bullying other boys. The father of another bully continually harangues and belittles him from the sidelines. I see the shame in the face of the father and a different shame in the face of his son. This son who turns brutal against other boys he perceives to be weaker than him. It is a domino effect of shaming that is started by the father.

Parents and teachers so often use a language of despair when talking about boys. They don’t sit still, they don’t listen, they don’t concentrate, they don’t read. But it’s the very physicality of boys that is the reason for this. It’s not a boy attitude, it’s a boy body! If we look at the biology of boys we’ll see that they are not set up for early success at school. Boys have 30% more muscle mass than girls and their legs and bottoms twitch. They need to stand and move but the classroom and the schedule don’t factor this in. We say that boys don’t listen but there is a period in a boy’s life, around age seven, when his ear canals stretch and thin and he actually can’t hear as well. It’s biological. Boys find it harder to focus on a set target, they do better with a teacher moving around. However, most lessons are led from the front. Boys also have more of an aural learning style and struggle to process information as well from reading. Frustrated with the difficulty of reading they tend not to read and so they fall behind girls.

The messages we’re collectively giving boys, overtly and discretely, is that there is a problem with the way they are made. They don’t fit the masculine mold on the field, and they don’t fit the feminine mold in the classroom. Is it any wonder boys become frustrated and internalize? Parents talk about a moment their little boy changed from sweet and loving to naughty and acting out. But if they look a little deeper, they might notice that change occurred when they started school or team sports. We have already taught boys that we’re not listening so why would they even try to talk to us?

Why do we treat our little boys like this? Why do we actively teach them not to register pain, not to seek help, not to share the truth of how they’re feeling? Boys are hugged less than girls, kissed less than girls, touched less than girls, and even given fewer books than girls. If boys don’t receive validation for who they are and how they feel, and they don’t receive respect and tenderness from their parents or other adults, they will seek validation from their peers. Other unvalidated boys. If we praise macho behaviour in young boys, bravery with contact sports, and the supposed gallant suppressing of their emotions, boys will continue to seek validation by being more of those things. Brave, emotionally suppressed, laddish. Add in testosterone and physical, sexual urges and the picture becomes bleaker for the whole of society.

When we talk about changing male behaviour, which we must, we are also talking about changing our own behaviour towards boys. This is where the problem starts. In the home, at school, and on the pitch. We need to free little boys from the constraints we are putting on them, constraints that are hurting them and hurting us. We need to show them how to respect their bodies and other people’s bodies by caring for those little bodies when they’re hurt. We need to model empathy by listening to their tears and consoling them so that they can carry this into their attitude towards, and treatment of, other people. We need to connect them into an inherent moral code that they can trust above outside pressures, a code that will keep them safe and keep other people safe.

In these days since Sarah Everard’s murder and the publicity of the website, Everyone’s Invited, I see an ideological hunkering down on both sides. Young men feel hard done by, falsely accused, scared to be free around girls. They talk of unfair expectations, confusing messages, blame culture. Young women are distrusting, angry, afraid. They worry about their safety, the tension between being desired and being disrespected, the extinguishing power that young men wield.

Where do we go from here? As adults, we’re not modeling solutions for our young people, we are publicly bitching and blaming. When we talk at a group of young men about how they should behave they’re going to switch off. We’re the same adults who brought them up in this culture, we’re low on credibility. But I do see a solution. I see the solution being with young people talking to each other. I see small groups of young men and women in schools and homes, sitting down to listen to each other, hearing both sides of what may seem to be only one-sided. And for our future generations of young men, as yet unborn, I hope for a world in which they’re free to be the loving, kind people that as little boys they show us they are.


Listen Up!

I’m often asked if I think that audio books are as good as reading and in many instances I think they are. An audiobook is a gift of a story, it requires nothing of you. It doesn’t even require you to stop what you’re doing: Driving, cooking, colouring, cleaning, even working! It lulls you with its measured pace. The uniquely soothing quality to the reader’s voice at once rivets and calms. The epitome of mindfulness.

‘But what about school set texts, surely kids should be reading those?’

Well, it depends. Ideally yes, but if a young person is stunned by a mountain of reading, or if they find reading arduous, which means they just can’t get into their class reader or exam text, then an audiobook is a really good idea. They can’t get anywhere at all if they don’t know what’s happened in the book! However, once they’ve got the story, they are quite capable of showing their smarts; their understanding and unpacking of literary devices; cross referencing texts and contextual backdrop; digging into their opinion. Children who struggle to read, and children who learn differently, won’t reach their potential if they never get to the part where they show their mind at work. And in the development of a young person’s mind should we be overly concerned with their process of study? Shouldn’t we be more interested in their ability to think, form, reason and present ideas?

Audiobooks may even have some advantages over reading. When a book is read aloud, most especially by an experienced reader, the meaning of complicated sections or unusual words is suggested by volume, tone, pace and by emphasizing words or surrounding sentences which support the meaning. Additionally, good audiobook readers read at the right pace for understanding and figuring out meaning. How many students reading a text are likely to pause and look up a word?

Hearing dialogue read aloud makes it clear how characters can be distinguished by how they speak. It might be an accent, expressions they use repeatedly, linguistic idiosyncrasies, or if the character is verbose or laconic. This gives the listener an idea of how they might use dialogue in their own writing to present their characters. Showing, not telling.

Listening also amplifies how tension and mood are created through the writing. That long, winding sentence that slows and meanders exemplifying a languorous mood or the gradual revealing of a landscape or scene. Short, sharp sentences. That raise our heartrate. That make us tense. We feel those literary devices at work in our own physical response.

Another huge benefit of an audiobook is that we can listen with other people which makes us more likely to discuss the book. We can question, answer, clarify and debate. This is helpful for parents trying to gauge their child’s understanding and wanting to get involved in discussion without seeming didactic or intrusive. We are equals as listeners, bonded, allowed to comment.

And because listening doesn’t require anything of us audiobooks can be perceived as a treat, something to look forward to after unpleasant tasks are completed. Stories become a prize, associated with relaxation and entertainment. And for a child who is simply too tired to read and for a parent who’s on their knees an audiobook can be a welcome bedtime story.

Bedtime Reading in a Dystopian World

After the fifth night of not sleeping, I considered my choice of bedtime reading might be to blame.  Shuggie Bain, winner of the Booker Prize is exquisitely written, it might be one of the best written books I’ve ever read.  But reader beware, a talented writer with a vicious subject is a brutal read. The vicious depictions of alcoholism, domestic violence and blighted innocence cut into a brain at rest.

And then I thought about the dystopian young adult book my twelve year old was reading.  What effect was the strange and altered world having on his real dystopian experience of lockdown and isolation? What invisible trauma was this double dose of the bizarre and disturbing having on his growing mind? When I suggested he might want to dial down his reading – he’d just finished iboy – the story of a boy with an i phone in his brain – he seemed surprisingly eager.

‘Got any Secret Seven?’ He asked.

‘Really? Great!’ I didn’t find any of the Enid Blyton but I did find Rotten Romans and this was received with enthusiasm. A few days later he came down with a virus, supposedly not THE virus, and he spent a week in bed re-listening to all his Harry Potter audio books.

When 100,000 have died on our small island, at the last count, our subconscious brains are computing our risk, even as we sleep, and despite our intelligent reasoning of age, health, exposure, our subconscious needs to be soothed.  We need to feed it familiar, safe messages from a time before, when we didn’t fear the breath of other people; when the majority of the threats we faced, we could see. So consider your bedtime reading for the whole family and take it down a notch or two.