Joan Aiken’s best advice for World Book Day? Read aloud to your child!

Reading Aloud

Arabel enjoys reading aloud to Mortimer in one of Joan Aiken’s own stories, illustrated here by Quentin Blake.  Mortimer is actually busy throwing cherry pips at the horse pulling their holiday caravan, but he does find a good use for some of the information she shares with him from the Children’s Encyclopaedia later on in their adventure…

Joan Aiken famously (and rather fiercely!) said:

Reading Aloud quote

But she had the luck to have an absolutely wonderful and devoted reader-aloud for her mother, and wrote: “She started from the moment one was able to understand any words at all, and if one was ill she was prepared to go on reading almost all day – having diphtheria at the age of three was a highwater mark of literary experience for me.”

Sadly in those days all the books later had to be burned, but most were replaced as they had become such favourites. Joan tries to analyse why those first books read aloud to her had such potency, and decides that it is the element of mystery, of only partly being able to understand the language, that made them so special for her. One book, the original Collodi version of Pinocchio was completely hair raising – but her favourite scene was when the fox and the cat dressed as assassins jump out on the poor puppet in the forest.

The illustrations were equally scary…

5 - Pinocchio

As she wrote, a particular highlight after this was Charles Reade’s Gothic historical romance The Cloister and The Hearth; here you will notice that she is still barely four:

Corpse painting

(…and she became a terrific reader aloud herself, to myself and my brother – we loved it of course, but I can see my nerves were not quite as steely as hers:)

Corpse painting 2

Joan Aiken was absolutely right about the relationship that reading aloud builds up in a family.  All those shared stories and even the unforgettable and hair raising experiences become markers of family history; the quotations especially become landmarks in their own right, and will live on in other settings. It is one of the great pleasures of having a family, and one of the most enjoyable shared experiences, even when it is the same story you have to read over and over again…

Reading Aloud 2

> > > * < < <

Best Joan Aiken bedtime stories that won’t give them nightmares?

A Necklace of Raindrops or Past Eight 0’Clock

Or of course Arabel and Mortimer, but then you’ll always have to read another story!

And today, March 1st is Jessie’s Birthday, and so a fitting day to celebrate her!








6 thoughts on “Joan Aiken’s best advice for World Book Day? Read aloud to your child!

  1. I was just thinking about how deeply I love Joan Aiken’s works, and I happened to open FaceBook and there was your post! March 1 is also Dido Twite’s birthday, isn’t it? ❤

    • Yes, well spotted! It comes up in the Birthday League in Dido and Pa – obviously a hugely resonant date for Joan. Mine was used too, for the red headed boy who comes to grief, also rather poignant! Thanks for getting in touch, always much appreciated.

  2. I began reading to my son when he was an infant and we continued the sessions well into his mid-teens because we loved sharing books. Joan Aiken was one of our favorite read-aloud authors, both novels and stories (daytime for the scary ones). Even now, while he’s in his mid-20s, when we sometimes need a good laugh, out comes a Mortimer and Arabel book and we enjoy a read-aloud session all over again. I wish that I could thank Joan Aiken for all of the pleasure she’s given me and my son through the years (I first read her books as a child). I can thank you for this wonderful blog – I especially enjoy the manuscript excerpts you include now and then, and your thoughtful and often poignant comments about your mother and about her writing. They provide insight and context and inspiration for readers and writers alike.

    • Thank you so much for this! I wish Joan knew the pleasure her books still bring, that is why I keep this blog to make that contact for her. It often does seem poignant, because in her lifetime, pre- internet, although she did get wonderful letters (see some on the website page ) I don’t think she had any idea of the legacy she was leaving…she was always rushing on to the next book, eager to get the ideas down, and to share them with new readers. New writers take courage – it may not seem like it now, but if you put your heart into them, those books you are writing now may resonate with families for years to come.

  3. Thank you for the kind reply. Through the years reading to my son I began to realize that there were special books which appealed to me as much as to him. I call these “books for all ages,” and there ought to be a category or genre for just that! We were all children once, with our eyes open to adventure and our spirits attuned to myriad possibilities. It’s a special writer who kindles that sense of fun and love of pure story for children and reawakens it in adults. Joan Aiken excelled at that. I know that she showed me and other writers that it’s just fine to revel in wacky wordplay or strange or spooky settings, all the while keeping a warm heart beating under the surface. For me, she opened a door.

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