Books are like stars shining down on little kids. They lit up Minka’s world, they glowed, they were magical and necessary. We’ve kept some of the most loved of those picture books as souvenirs of childhood, and they sit in the bottom row of her bookcase – Where is the Green Sheep, Baby Happy Baby Sad, Huge Harold, Eat Your Peas, The Cow and the Elephant.
Books were her favourite toy. We’d take her to the library, and she’d get out four or five books, sit on the carpet, open one up, and read out loud. Librarians would walk by and marvel at the apparent fact that a three-year-old was such an advanced reader. But she wasn’t. The book was a prop. The story – happy, inventive ravings – were all in her mind.
Books were her favourite toy.
She made her own books for a while. She’s left-handed and all her early writing was mirror writing, and backwards. We have a picture on our bedroom wall, signed by AKNIM. The K is facing the other way. I kind of wish she still wrote like that but it’d make things difficult at school.
Emily reads to her at bedtime. They lie together in Minka’s bed. I wander in now and then and pretend to be a wombat, but otherwise I’m a stranger to the country of Minka’s reading now that she’s ten. I asked her about her latest favourite books.
She pointed out her J.K. Rowling collection, and said, ‘Everyone loves Harry.’
Sunday magazine columnist Leah McFall gave her a copy of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. ‘I can relate to it – it’s about a 10-year-old – and it’s told from different perspectives, there’s a story by someone who gets bullied, and then you hear from the bully.’
I got her a review copy of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls from Penguin Books after seeing it every week at the Spinoff in the Unity Books best-seller chart. It’s got portraits in words and pictures of 100 women through history. Her favourites are Helen Keller, Simone Biles, and sailor Jessica Watson.
She got Wormwood Mire (A Stella Montgomery Intrigue) by Judith Rossell, for Christmas. It’s a really good mystery set a long time ago with great illustrations.
She went to her school’s dress as a character day this year as El Deafo, the title character of a graphic novel by Cece Bell, based on the author’s childhood and living with deafness. I’ve read this one. It’s genius. ‘I loved reading the point of view of someone disadvantaged’, Minka said.
When I get the chance, I read to her from books I own. She listened to my reading of The Rocking Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence for two nights but couldn’t take any more – it’s really horrifying. She started playing football this year so she’s given me permission to read the stories in Goalkeepers Are Crazy, a 1975 collection of football stories by Brian Glanville. They deal with failure and poverty and madness, but she seems to listen to them pretty intently. I wonder what she makes of the adult word that Glanville describes – one filled with disappointment and loss – and whether it’s appropriate bedtime reading. I tell her that I met Glanville, at his home in London, and show her his autograph inside the book. ‘Glanville’, she says, and laughs.
Steve Braunias lives in Te Atatu and works at the New Zealand Herald, and as editor of the Spinoff Review of Books. He is the author of nine books, including The Man Who Ate Lincoln Road, his LOL travelogue published by Luncheon Sausage Books in 2017. Steve was born in Mt Maunganui in 1960.
You can buy The Man Who Ate Lincoln Road from bookshops nationwide - but here's a link.