Hilarious writer-about-parenting, Emily Writes tells us about the books her kids love, and what story time looks like at their place.
Emily Writes (Photo by Christopher Tse)
What does ‘story time’ look like at your house?
Usually I’ll be making myself a coffee or trying to stay awake while I prepare lunches and one of my little vegemites will hold up a book and demand I stop RIGHT THIS NOW MINUTE! to read to them. So story time happens everywhere and anywhere.
When I had my first baby he only wanted to chew books and I was really worried he wouldn’t be into reading. So many of my pre-kid fantasies about parenting were me sitting on a beautiful chair reading the classics to my perfect children.
The reality is that, for me at least, my kids have taken to story-time in different ways. My second child loves books and has strong opinions on what he likes and doesn’t like. My oldest is only now at four able to sit and listen to stories. I also know that it’s OK if they jump up in the middle of a book and rush off. So storytime is less about sitting quietly and more about tearing around the house with them, pretending I’m the Gruffalo or singing ‘Die Diddley Die’ at the top of my lungs and scaring the neighbours.
It’s much more active than I ever imagined it would be. Usually it involves luncheon, because everything seems to involve luncheon these days. But it is utterly perfect! Just a new kind of better perfect.
What are some of the books your kids have been obsessed with?
They both love The Gruffalo. My son has a Gruffalo costume and bites his brother.
They love Mrs Mo’s Monster by Paul Beavis. ‘CRUNCH MUNCH AND CHEW!’ is often screamed up and down our house.
They love The Wreck of the Diddley and can sing it by heart. We go down to Island Bay beach a lot to listen for ‘the singing of the sailor men who drowned' - it’s perfectly macabre for children.
They both love the Maui books – my children are Māori so we have lots of books in Te Reo Māori of Māori myths and legends. We have the Peter Gossage books with Merimeri Penfold’s translations. It is fascinating to me that a book written in the year I was born is still so popular.
We love Toby Morris’ books – Capsicum Capsi Go and The Day the Costumes Stuck. My littlest boy is obsessed with The Belly Button Book by Sanda Boynton and shouts ‘BEE BO’ at me at 5am to read it. We all like Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae. Sometimes I get a bit emotional reading it. That giraffe is just so damn lovely, you know? He just wants to dance and all of the other animals are such assholes.
What are the kids' books you like best?
I love books that have a message for my kids. Marcus Ewert’s book 10,000 Dresses is so beautiful, I cry every time I read it. Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman came at a great time for our family when my son was suddenly exposed to other people being mean about his princess obsession. I’m so grateful these books are out there for our beautiful children.
The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman is a favourite in our house – my kids love it. It always starts great conversations about how different we all are and how special that is.
I am really fond of Mem Fox’s Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I have read that book to my babies since the day they came home from the hospital, traced their little fingers and toes, and kissed them on the end of their nose. It kills me! Every time I read it they’re a teeny, tiny bit bigger. I hope they still let me kiss the end of their nose when they’re teenagers! They’ll probably tell me to bugger off and I’ll be chasing them with this battered book all haggard and teary: ‘You used to be so little!’ haha!
Bookshops or libraries...?
Both! We are also really lucky that lots of people gift us books. I think it’s great to buy children books for their birthdays.
But I am such a massive supporter of libraries. Libraries save lives. It’s more than the books. I remember as a kid being dropped off at the library and finding a safe world between the book cases. The librarians were always kind to me. As a teenager I used to hide away and libraries always felt like places I could be myself. They’re a home for a lot of troubled kids. And while I hope my children never feel the loneliness I felt as a kid, if they ever do, I’d hope they could know libraries are a safe place full of loving people and stories that will take them all around the world and away from whatever sad thoughts they’re feeling.
Emily Writes is a mother of two pre-school boys. Her first blog post in March 2015 went viral, reaching more than one million people in a few days. She is currently editor of The Spinoff Parents. Emily founded and runs a not-for-profit/volunteer-run charity called Ballet is for Everyone, which provides free ballet lessons for children from low-income homes and children with disabilities and high health needs. She lives in Wellington.
Her first book, Rants in the Dark (Penguin Random House, 2017) is out now.
Photo by Christopher Tse