Founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and writer at Crime Watch, Craig Sisterson, shares what he and his two-year-old daughter Madi have been reading lately.
Story time is one of my favourite times with Madi, our two-and-a-half year old. 'Again, again, more story Daddy!'
I’m the stay-at-home parent, so have to fit in spurts of freelance work among days centred on drawing, Lego building, playing in the backyard, and heading out on adventures to local parks or to catch up with friends (along with far drearier tasks). It’s a kaleidoscope of joyful moments and exhaustion, but no matter how stressful life might get, whenever Madi grabs a book and clambers up onto my knee, delight shining from her face, all’s well with my world.
We don’t have a set story time, like before bed, but often read books at various times throughout the day. The only hitch is once we get started, we can be sitting there a fair while, reading either the same story over and over, or a few different books one after another. Since she was a few months old, Madi’s loved books. She has her own bookshelf in her room, as well as one downstairs in the lounge, and each is stacked with dozens of great kids books. So we have lots of choices at least!
...once we get started, we can be sitting there a fair while, reading either the same story over and over, or a few different books one after another.
For the past three or four months, Madi has been obsessed with pirates. 'Naughty pirates walk the plank, stinky ship’s mess!' It started with a zany, fun book by Claire Freedman we got out of the library called Pirates Love Underpants, and a TV show over here called Swashbuckle. It’s since flowed into playtime, dress-ups, book choices and lots else. Madi wears her pirate hat for big chunks of the day, and will make me and others walk the plank. She absolutely loves My Granny is a Pirate by Val McDermid, which I bought for her since I knew Val through crime writing, and Madi had been playing pirates with her own grandma (my Mum) on Skype. It’s a terrific book – Val’s just a cracking great storyteller, whatever she writes.
The other book in high rotation at the moment is The Gruffalo’s Child by Julia Donaldson, which I bought for her last year. It’s a sequel, and we read it regularly at the start, then it went on the shelf among the other choices. A couple of weeks ago, Madi started randomly picking that one off her shelf every day again. 'Big Bad Mouse scare baby gruffalo, go home to daddy ... baby gruffalo see shadow'. I’m pleased to say another author back in favour lately is Lynley Dodd. We have an entire set of Hairy Maclary books on the shelf, thanks to Kiwi relatives. Madi really loves Scarface Claw, absolutely losing herself with delight when he appears.
What are the kids' books you like best?
Personally I prefer ones told in verse, rather than straightforward prose. Done well, they have that lovely sing-song quality when you read them aloud. For the same reason, books full of ‘fun words’ and a bit of zaniness help hold my attention as well as Madi’s over several re-readings. Dodd, Freedman, Giles Andreae (Giraffes Can’t Dance) and Donaldson are all great examples. And if there can be a cool, not clunky, underlying message, even better. I actually like some of Donaldson’s other stories, like Zog, even more than the ultra-popular The Gruffalo, for that reason. There’s a cool theme for Madi about the Princess who tends to the dragons. Ditto with The Worst Princess by Anna Kemp. I’ve also just bought Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls for Madi, and am looking forward to working our way through those tales. It’s cool to see a couple of amazing Kiwi women, Kate Sheppard and Nancy Wake.
We try to keep Madi in touch with her Kiwi roots, and salt in Kiwi authors onto her shelves. Along with Hairy Maclary we’ve got some Margaret Mahy, Tu Meke Tui, and others. An acquaintance of mine from the NZ book community who’s also over here in London, former Penguin editor Katie Haworth, has recently started writing children’s books. We really like her book Emma Jane’s Aeroplane, and I’ve also just bought That’s Not a Hippopotamus! by Juliette MacIver, a book awards finalist.
Reading Hairy Maclary
Bookshops or libraries?
Both, definitely! Books are a truly wonderful thing, and anyone who helps get them into kids’ hands and cultivate a love of reading gets a thumbs up from me. I used to take Madi to Baby Rhyme Time at our local library every week, and we’d stay for an hour or so afterwards, reading stories and borrowing a few to take home. Libraries are wonderful resources – they’re under massive pressure here in the UK but they open up a whole world to everyone, at little to no cost. I loved going to the library when I was growing up in Nelson, and I can already see that same joy in Madi.
Craig Sisterson is a freelance features and travel writer, and founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, New Zealand’s prizes for crime, mystery, and thriller writing. He writes for a variety of magazines and newspapers in several countries. Before heading abroad, he was Deputy Editor of NZLawyer magazine. He’s also worked as a commercial lawyer, US summer camp counselor, and vineyard hand. He grew up in Nelson, and currently lives in London with his two-year-old daughter.