How does a Joan Aiken heroine tame a dragon in a desert? She reads aloud to him of course! In a story called Cooks and Prophecies, where due to various enchantments the pair find themselves living together at an oasis, they discover a shared love of stories:
Joan Aiken was passionate about the power of reading aloud, the shared experience of communication through stories, and often talked about memories of her own childhood and the many books that were read to her and her siblings. In one of her talks to writers and teachers she became quite fierce, saying if parents couldn’t spare an hour a day to read to their children, they didn’t deserve to have any!
Often this shared process plays a powerful part in her own stories, together with the idea of a voice that remains through a book that has now become a bond with someone long after childhood, or even after they themselves are gone.
In ‘The Boy Who Read Aloud’ Seb escapes from his cruel step-family, taking with him his last possession, the book of stories that his dying mother had left him:
Early one morning Seb runs away, and sees an advertisement on the village noticeboard:
ELDERLY BLIND RETIRED SEA
WOULD LIKE BOY TO READ
Not knowing that it was a very old notice that had been worn away by the weather, and which had originally asked for a boy to read the newspaper to an old sea captain, Seb sets off to see the sea with his book, and on his journey shares stories with a rusty abandoned car, an empty house and an old tree, all of whom listen with delight and respond in true fairy tale fashion by offering magical gifts in return for the stories that have whiled away their loneliness.
Finally, he comes to the sea:
As she would sometimes say at the end of her stories, in traditional style, ‘there is no moral to this story I’m afraid.’
And nor need there be, what matters is the voice.
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Read more about Joan Aiken’s own early memories of books shared in her family
and find these stories in the wonderful Virago collection of Joan’s own favourites
illustrated by Peter Bailey
…or visit the dragon on the Joan Aiken website and colour him yourself!
Pat Marriott illustration above from Joan Aiken’s first story collection