Monday, 10 December 2012
I would not, could not, in a box....
At work the other day, I was asked by one of the department's PAs if I wanted to take part in a charity thing called "Collect a Star". This is organised every year - I think - by the city council. The basic idea is to give some kids from deprived backgrounds around the city a present to open on Christmas Day, when otherwise they might have very little. All you had to do to take part was to solemnly commit to spend £10 on a present and then, a couple of days later, you're given a star with the name and age of the person you're buying for. That's it. You then go out and you buy your star a suitable gift ("no toy guns, soldiers, tanks or other unsuitable toys" the rather stern note informed me).
Why not, I thought. I was out doing some shopping at the weekend anyway, so what's another name on the list? On Friday morning, I got my star: I was buying for Lily, aged 6. ("Thank you, Santa!")
As our nephew and nieces have been discovering, C and I are the kind of people who like to buy worthy, educational type gifts. Luckily, they're all so young at the moment that they haven't really realised quite how boring that is.... even if everyone else does: as we were kicking around gift ideas in the office, the other members of my team were laughing at how I seemed dead set on finding a book or educational game of something for Lily. Everyone else, I think, was just off to Toys R Us to get trucks and things like that. Well, each to their own.
Actually, in the end I found this really difficult. I saw loads of really cool books, but as I learned when I was reading with kids at Primary school every week a few years back, the range of reading ability at that sort of age is 6... and often the best readers were the ones who had parents willing to sit and read with their kids more or less every night. How was I to know if Lily would be able to count on this sort of support? I would have loved to have given her an introduction to Greek mythology or a cool set of primer cards on the alphabet using cool animal collective nouns (a zeal of zebras, a raft of otters a pandemonium of parrots, an embarrassment of pandas.... that kind of thing), but you just don't know, do you? I read the Hobbit for the first time when I was about seven, but in this case, I reckoned that I needed something a bit safer.
In the end, I bought a Dr Seuss compendium, including the first two Cat in the Hat stories, Green Eggs and Ham, the Fox in Socks and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Well, the stories aren't too complicated (the Cat in the Hat is a mere 236 distinct words), has some cool pictures, and I still really enjoy them at the age of 38, so.....
Now, clearly I don't know if Lily will like this or not - and perhaps she'll be casting covetous eyes at the big toy trucks and things that my colleagues seem to have bought for their stars - but if this book manages to to spark even a tiny glimmer of interest in the joy of language and of the absurd (two of the things that I cherish the most in life), then I would consider it a job well done.
I think I'm going to be okay. Check this out:
"Ted Geisel [Seuss]'s friend William Ellsworth Spaulding, who was then the director of Houghton Mifflin's education division, invited Geisel to dinner in Boston and "proposed that Ted write and illustrate such a book for six- and seven-year olds who had already mastered the basic mechanics of reading. 'Write me a story that first-graders can't put down!" [Spaulding] challenged." Spaulding supplied Geisel with a list of 348 words that every six year old should know, and insisted that the book's vocabulary be limited to 225 words. Nine months later Dr. Seuss finished The Cat in the Hat, which used 223 words that appeared on the list plus 13 words that did not. Because Geisel was under contract with Random House, Houghton Mifflin retained the school rights to The Cat in the Hat and Random House retained the rights to trade sales. The story is 1629 words in length and uses a vocabulary of only 236 distinct words, of which 54 occur once and 33 twice. Only a single word – another – has three syllables, while 14 have two and the remaining 221 are monosyllabic. The longest words are something and playthings."
Suitably worthy, I think, but also still a fantastic read. I hope you like it, Lilly.