Thursday, 5 August 2010

Are you sitting comfortably?

"Why are the ugly sisters mean to Cinderella?"
"Oh, I think maybe they're jealous because she is prettier than them."
"But I'm pretty and no-one is mean to me."

Ah, the innocence of childhood...I am torn between thinking it is lovely that no-one is mean to Little C and feeling sad that at some point, someone will be. It is also inevitable, I suppose, that if you continually tell a child how pretty they are, they will accept it just as they accept that trees are green. There is no hint of vanity here, just as there isn't when she says "Let me look in the mirror so I can see how sweet I look." Or maybe there is, but it doesn't matter in the slightest at her age - such pride in her own loveliness will soon be ground down by the harsh rules of how we live. Let her enjoy being the most gorgeous thing in the world for the time being.

Little C so rejected the concept of people being nasty as a result of jealousy that Cinderella now sits at the bottom of her very large pile of books. It may well make a recovery in years to come, but as things stand, it could turn into a pumpkin for all she cared. And this is not just because she finds the subject matter hard to believe - she is happy to read The Gruffalo ad infinitum or to accept that the three pigs built houses to live in. Gritty social realism is not essential to her. No, there was something about the concept of the ugly sisters' cruelty that made her uncomfortable...maybe I am naive and she has already encountered unkindness for its own sake or maybe she just finds the whole idea beyond the pale.

On occasion, she actually asks me to remonstrate with characters in books. "Tell the snake off," she insisted during The Gruffalo recently. It's nice to speculate that she still likes to believe that reason will always win the day and make people behave better - though such a perception is nullified by those occasions when reason is the one thing she won't listen to.

If Little C has such a thing as a favourite writer, it would have to be Julia Donaldson, author of the afore-mentioned Gruffalo books and other fabulous stories such as Room on the Broom, Stick Man and Monkey Puzzle, which Little C currently considers the most hilarious story in the history of time.

It tells the story of a monkey which has lost its Mum and enlists the help of a frankly useless butterfly to find her. Having already suggested snakes, parrots, spiders, frogs and others might be the missing parent, the butterfly finally brought our house down when it took the frustrated monkey to an elephant for the second time. The book's explanation that the hapless butterfly's children bear no resemblance to it cut little ice - the butterfly is firmly denounced as an "ejit" (if she's picking up my putdowns, I will have to watch my language). The following day, we are walking down the street when she starts giggling. "I'm still thinking about that butterfly," she explains.

It is fascinating to see Little C so engrossed in fiction, especially books. She reflects later on what we have read and usually manages to fit in a few 'why' questions - like why Goldilocks runs away - I mean, what would you do if you woke up to find three furious bears looming over you? I can also recall discussing the various personalities of Peppa Pig's family in Carluccio's in Richmond, much to the amusement of other lunchers.

The things we value in ourselves we love to see in our children. I love the fact that Little C has an imagination and a sense of humour. Few traits matter as much as those two - not in terms of 'going far' whatever that means - just in terms of having the capacity to enjoy yourself. At the moment, she has that in spades and it's fabulous.

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