Books my Kids Love: Kirsten McDougall

Author Kirsten McDougall has recently released her second novel, Tess (VUP), and will be appearing at Wellington LitCrawl this weekend. She has written for us about reading to her children.

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Francis, Kirsten, Eleanor and Daniel (a few years ago!)

I love reading to my kids. There’s something really special about sharing stories together. I also use the time to catch up on the great books I never read as a child. We use the library and I also spend far too much of my pay on books.

I read to both my sons from when they were about three months old – mainly for sounds at first. Out of the all the classic baby books we read, my two favourites were Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and Bouncing by Shirley Hughes.

Peepo has the best rhymes, as the babies learn to talk they can say ‘Peepo!’ and turn the pages which have holes in them (get the board book version if you want to keep your pages intact!) It also has a wonderful narrative that plays out in the illustrations which isn’t mentioned in the text.

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We read all of Shirley Hughes’s Alfie and Annie Rose stories as the children got a bit older, but we started with Bouncing which my mother-in-law picked up a book sale. Bouncing has few words, but is basically about the joy of bouncing around when you’re a wee kid. I adore Shirley Hughes’s illustrations – messy kids and households, a mother who is trying to cook peas and talk on the phone while the kid bounces around at her feet.

I adore Shirley Hughes’s illustrations – messy kids and households, a mother who is trying to cook peas and talk on the phone while the kid bounces around at her feet.

Through watching my late mother-in-law, Margaret, read patiently to my two sons, I learned that from quite an early age the boys could listen to longer narratives. We all loved Sven Nordqvist’s Findus stories which were translated from the Swedish and published by Gecko Press. Findus is a trickster, all-knowing cat owned by Pettson, a lonely eccentric farmer. The stories are long for picture books, but they’re so funny and brilliantly illustrated they keep everyone entertained.

We also loved Anthony Browne’s books, especially the Willie and Hugh books, about the friendship between a timid geek chimp and a gorilla called Hugh Jape. Browne’s books are full of jokes – either in the text or in the pictures. We especially love it when Willie and Hugh go to the zoo and in the cage is a family – mum, dad and two kids sitting mindlessly in front of the TV.

I’m currently re-reading Stig of the Dump by Clive King to my nine-year-old. He’s been a very slow reader, so it’s felt really important to keep reading really fun and use it as a time to calm him down at the end of the day. Stig is a caveman who lives in a chalk pit at the end of Barney’s grandmother’s garden. Stig and Barney get up to all sorts of adventures. It’s another friendship story – I love the way Stig and Barney connect despite having no shared language.

We also both loved reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, Ursula le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and most of the Maurice Gee kid’s books (though both boys found Under the Mountain too scary).

My eldest son (12 years old) reads solidly. He mostly reads to himself now, and recently he’s loved all the Philip Reeve Mortal Engines series. I’ve been slowly reading chapters of EM Gobrich’s A Little History of the World to him. Gombrich wrote this as a history of the world for children back in 1935 at the tender age of 26 years old. It starts with early human history and moves around the world, through Egypt, Mesopotamia, Roman Empire, Greek Empire, China. Gombrich is lovely to read aloud, non-patronising and takes an infectious delight in the ancient world and its peoples.

Reading to my children is one of my favourite things about being a parent. I’m a writer and avid reader myself, so obviously it’s an activity I value. But beyond what it does for their literacy and general education about people and the world, I love the closeness I’ve had with my sons through books. When we read together we gain a shared language – we laugh and feel scared together, we love and hate characters together, we wonder together about what will happen next.

Kirsten McDougall
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Kirsten McDougall is the author of Tess (VUP, 2017) and The Invisible Rider (VUP, 2012). She lives in Wellington.

Kirsten will be appearing at LitCrawl this weekend in Wellington, at 2pm at the City Gallery in 'Nuns Angels Witches and Sluts', and during the main programme at 'Dress Me, Christine' during the second session.