Joan Aiken’s Best Advice? Read aloud to your child!

Reading Aloud

Arabel loves reading aloud to Mortimer, as here in one of Joan Aiken’s own stories – illustrated by Quentin Blake.  In fact Mortimer is busy throwing cherry pips at the horse pulling their holiday caravan, but he does find some facts from her Children’s Encyclopaedia quite amazing – and very useful 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 in her own mother Jessie, and wrote about this happy relationship:

“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, after this infectious illness, many of her books had to be burned, but most were replaced as they had become such favourites. Joan remembers  that those first stories read aloud to her had great potency, because of the element of mystery – of only partly being able to understand the language – and in this case as she was ill, and possibly slightly delirious, they remained particularly special for her.

One book, the original Collodi version of Pinocchio was completely hair raising, especially for a two year old,  but she said 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 also pretty scary, but I loved them too, and we treasured that book.

5 - Pinocchio

As she wrote about another later memory, a particular highlight was Charles Reade’s Gothic historical romance The Cloister and The Hearth – even here you will notice that she is still barely four years old:

Corpse painting

(…and she became a terrific reader aloud herself, as mother to myself and my brother – we loved this of course, but I can see my tastes – and 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 – especially the slightly hair raising experiences – become markers of family history; familiar quotations which are landmarks in their own right, and then live on in the family memory.

It is one of the great pleasures of having a family, and one of the most enjoyable shared experiences, even when, as with some special favourites, it is the same story you have to read over and over again…

Reading Aloud 2

> > > * < < <

Read some excerpts from Joan Aiken stories about the power of reading aloud –

A Boy who read to the Sea, and a Girl who read to a Dragon

from the Virago collection The Gift Giving


 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, now out in TWO wonderful NEW Puffin Compendiums

Two New Mortimers

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9 thoughts on “Joan Aiken’s Best Advice? Read aloud to your child!

    • Yes, well spotted – I first published this on March 1st Jessie’s Birthday! The date 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.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. 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.

    Liked by 2 people

    • 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.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. 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.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This seems as good a place to say this as any…so here goes!
    My now eight-year old daughter and I started reading Wolves in October and just last week finished the Witch of Clattteringshaws–for seven months, I read from the books nightly, and what an incredible experience it was! We held our breath when Dido encountered the woman with the boots in Nightbirds, cheered at the top of our lungs at the end of the Cuckoo Tree, laughed at young Dido asking for donkey rides in Battersea, and made up our own tunes for Pa’s songs. We loved the Woodlouse, and Is, and Penny, and the old man with the sheep, and so many of the characters whose voices I did when I read aloud, in the accents, of course. The stories are exciting, adventurous, funny, and good often triumphs, but not after a great ordeal or test of strength. Reading those books to my daughter has been one of the great joys of my life, and hers as well, and I remember the feeling of sorrow when we closed that last book. But Dido and Simon will always live for us–we will pass these stories down and save our copies lovingly.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dear Kirstianne and Daughter! What a lovely message, thank you so much. This is why I am here… I had the luck to have these stories read aloud and told to me, and am so happy to try and pass them on to new readers and readers-aloud. My Mum had some wonderful family followers who wrote to her and cheered her on – one of my favourite families was known as the ‘Five Bob Kings’ and is honoured on the website – see the blue airmail letter – “Croopus Miss Aiken you’ve done it again!” and there are lots more on the letters page you might enjoy too – I’m so happy to keep up the family tradition.
      Happy reading to you both – at least you won’t run out of Joan Aiken books any time soon!

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Pingback: Reading Aloud – Joan Aiken’s lifelong campaign to share a love of stories | Joan Aiken

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