Last night I went to see Matilda the Musical in London, and I have been so excited for the past month since we booked it! The set-up of the show was absolutely incredibly – I’d hate to ruin the best bits for someone who later goes on to see it, but needless to say there are some real gems from the film reproduced effortlessly on the stage. And some that I thought they’d have to leave out for logistical reasons were also in there. Apart from anything else, the kids were ridiculously talented and a joy to watch.
But what struck me, and came back to me like a trip to chokey, was how much the play (or book/film) is concerned with the joy of reading. The questionable characters try to pummel the joy of reading out of Matilda, but do not succeed, and Roald Dahl’s children’s masterpiece is as poignant today, if not more so, than at its contemporary conception. Today kids sit glued to the TV, with video games and junk food more so than ever, and that is exactly what the story attempts to counteract.
Now I am not saying I was a perfect child. I had paddies and one of my favourite hobbies as a toddler was to empty the entirety of the magazine rack around the house, repeatedly even when it had been cleaned up several milliseconds earlier. I was fantastic at school, but on occasions (so most of the time then), to use the words of Mr Wormwood, a little worm at home. But one thing I never relied on to the extent of my peers was television.
Call me biased. I’m sat here writing the blog, safe in the knowledge that aged nineteen I’ll end up doing English at university and books will end up taking up every spare moment of my life for at least three years. But I would never have had the opportunity to do that if I hadn’t had parents who had encouraged me to read. Roald Dahl was one of my favourites, and still is for many reasons, one of which being that I can finally appreciate how deliciously dark a writer he is, but he still gets away with labelling it as children’s literature (anyway, I digress). I certainly cannot fathom a childhood which involved more flashing images than the ones I made up in my head after reading Narnia, James and the Giant Peach or Harry Potter.
I volunteered last year in an inner city school near my uni, helping 4-6 year olds to read. I remember going in the week before their 2 week Easter holidays, and the week after, and reading with countless children who had had no parental intervention in their reading diaries since I’d last scrawled some praise, and that made me sadder than I ever thought it could. Dramatic as it may seem, a lot of who I base myself on today was formed in those years spent reading. I read ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ to my parents while sitting on the climbing frame as they painted the garden fence, taking great delight in screeching the Grandmother’s voice. I listened to my parents read the same twee stories to me night after night, and I learnt my phonics by listening to my Mum become ridiculous characters while she washed me in the bath. My Dad wrecked his voice night after night to recite ‘The Witches’ or ‘The Twits’ to me, trilling guttural delights which used to make me whoop in excitement. In short, literacy was and still in a huge part of me. And I don’t know what I would do if someone took that away from me. So I urge, anyone who not only cares for, but knows a child: read with them. Give them a toolbox that will last longer than your influence in general. Give them the joy of reading.