It's one of my big things, something I'm particularly passionate about, and something I've been able to work personally on since the birth of my daughter, Alice, on 10th October 2010.
Children and reading.
Reading to children and with children, letting them choose their own books, watching their excited faces when they learn to turn the pages by themselves, or when they walk into a library for the first time.
It makes a difference. It shapes their lifelong love - or otherwise - of books, and therefore it's an important part of growing up. It can make them who they become. I know it did with me.
The best part is, it can be shared with one or both parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, or anyone else come to that, but it can also be a solitary pursuit, and there's enjoyment to be had in reading alone as well. That's a lesson in itself.
I have incredibly clear memories of sitting with my mother and listening intently as she read from one of my many story books. Time together, peaceful and serene and perfect. There was a library not too far from our house, and once a week or so we would walk there to exchange old books for new. I had a special book bag, and collected badges that the librarians had on their desk.
Books for birthday presents were some of the most exciting, more cherished than toys or clothes, and book tokens... Well, the magic was endless when I opened an envelope and those fluttered out! My own 'money' to buy my own books with.
I wanted Alice to experience that joy, so when I was still pregnant, I collected as many books as I could, and stored them on shelves in her nursery, ready for the time when she would start looking through them. Picture books, cloth books, hardback, paperback, classics and new creations - she has hundreds.
And as soon as she was born, I read to her. She was a few hours old, the hospital visitors had gone, and I fished a tiny little book of nursery rhymes out of my hospital bag. That night, the tiny baby in my arms heard all about the twinkling stars, baa-ing black sheep, and an egg that no one could fix.
It went on like that. I read to her whenever I could.
Now, at just over two and a half, Alice loves her books. Whenever we go on a car journey, she must have at least three to leaf through, even if we're only popping to the shops. We read together every day - I read the 'real' story to her, and then she 'reads' her own version to me. When she goes to bed, she asks for some books, and she sits poring over them until she finally nods off.
I can't ask for more than that.