19 September 2010

Never Too Young to Start Reading James Joyce

Books have always been part of my life. I do not know when I was given my first book, but I know they are always there. My earliest memory is of a brightly illustrated version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There was also at some point an Atlas of the World with illustrations of animals. I remember going over it, page by page, for years. So when my first child was born, I passed this love of books on to her. And the same with her brother three years later. They were barely a few weeks old and they would get to listen to stories, and hold the books and play with them. Meg and Mog were favourites. So were the Billy Goats Gruff. As they got older I was given the chance to catch up on the classics of English language children’s literature (having missed out of them as a child since I was brought up in the French language): the original Winnie the Poo (not the sanitized Disney version), the genius of Roald Dahl, the fabulous Narnia Chronicles (I have been slowly savouring those again in the last few months) but to name of few.

So when Cathal was born, the magic was passed on by his parents, and myself, and books appeared around him within a very short time. In a way, they became quite important for him, especially when he was very sick in hospital after his open-heart surgery. I noticed that reading to him a short book, pointing out to the picture, getting him to “touch & feel” were ideally suited to him at that time: easy activities as they required little physical effort, and just enough to get his mind off the pain for a while.

I have kept one of the books his mother and uncle particularly liked. I consider it a little treasure. We read it every time Cathal comes to my home for a sleep-over (this is our thing, just the two of us, with no one else involved). It is the Cat and the Devil, originally a letter written by James Joyce himself to his grand-son Stephen in 1936 and put into book form, with wonderful illustrations, with Stephen Joyce’s blessing.

As I read it to Cathal, he listens with great attention, as if enraptured by the rhythm of the long and musical sentences, and by the sounds of the language, or languages, as French appears in the end, spoken by the Devil himself. I am not sure if he understands the story, or if he gets the wonderful humour present at every page – as any good story, humour is as much at the level of the 4 year old to whom the letter was addressed, as at the level of the adults who must have read it out loud to him. I mean the Lord Mayor of a little French town is called Alfred Byrne (true, just like a very famous Dublin Lord Mayor), and the Devil when very angry “can speak quite bad French very well… with a strong Dublin accent”. Wonderful.

And then, once I am finished reading, Cathal invariably takes the book and reads it back to me.

This has reminded me of the inspiring Karen Gaffney, a young woman who just happens to have DS. Last year, at the World Down Syndrome Congress in Dublin I heard her say that her favourite reads were Macbeth and Harry Potter. And I then thought, nothing is impossible for Cathal, all it takes is encouragement. So there it is:

Didn’t I tell you? Never too young to start reading James Joyce.

And have you noticed that at the end he says “more” as he wants another book? Just like me, can’t put them down.


jazzygal said...

Wow! That is brilliant Nan P! I clearly heard Cathal say "Devil" and "more".
He really wants to tell the story, doesn't he?

It is a wonderful thing to instill the love of books in a child.

Something I haven't done with WiiBoy. Well,I have tried. He loves being read to but he's old enough to do it himself now. Maybe I should work on it a bit more. This post is inspiring me to do so!

I too loved books as a child and read lots of them!

xx Jazzy

Clive said...

Cathal is just wonderful in the video reading the book - he has grown so much!

We hadn't heard about that book but will do a search for it now on amazon - would love to get a copy!

We posted about James Joyce on Bloomsday on Clive's blog - my great grandfather's bookshop was mentioned in Joyce's Ulysses and amazingly as a result of that post - a second cousin in Ottawa, Canada got in touch last week. She was googling the family name Clohissey and up came our mention of Joyce! We were so excited to get in contact with her.

Both Sorcha and Murray love reading - I'm a bit of a bookworn myself - counted 20 books beside the bed yesterday with Murray and I'm trying to read five at the one time - never a clever move!

Anyway, we loved that post and to see Cathal reading James Joyce - as you say, never too young to start ....

take care

Mel said...

How exciting! Luke's current favs are the DK peekaboo series, especially the noisy peekaboo ones- his absolute favourite page is the fire engine. Nee-nah, nee-nah!

I was so excited on Friday when my Ben brought home Harry Potter from the school library. He read the first 10 pages himself, which is pretty impressive if I say so myself (he is 6) before his mother managed to get in on the action! I have been waiting to share this with him for the past 6 years- thought it would be further in the future though.

I LOVE Roald Dahl too, and was recently re-reading the Petit Nicholas series my high school french teacher loved.

Nan P. said...

Jazzy – I couldn’t imagine my life without books... So it’s only natural we should give Cathal the bug too.

Fiona (via Clive) – I remember reading about your very special connection with the Great Man. And a bookshop of all things! The edition I have has illustrations by Roger Blachon (and what illustration they are) and was first published by Moonlight Publishing in this format in 1980 and then again in 1990. It also contains a letter by Stephen J. Joyce. Unfortunately I think that this particular edition is out of print. I have trawled the net for it to give as a present and been unable to locate it. Let me know if you do find it, as it is indeed a treasure.

Mel – I am very impressed by Ben! Go, boy, go! I too got hooked on Harry Potter! So did Cathal’s Mammy (and she was already all grown up), so did my sister who like you can’t wait to pass this on to her own children. As for le Petit Nicolas... You know he was co-written by Goscinny, one of Asterix’s 2 creators... Oh, please don’t get me started on Asterix, that will fill about 3 or 4 posts...

Anonymous said...

il n'y a rien de plus plaisant que de voir un petit bout avec un livre.et c'est très tôt que le gout du livre "se cultive". alors voir petit prince avec un livre, et pas n'importe lequel, est adorable. et d'ici quelque temps cathal et gaétan pourront partager leurs histoires!

biz au prince et à nan

dom and co

Jeffrey Goble said...

Wonderful and lovely.

jazzygal said...

You've been tagged for two awards over at mine! Think you may already have one but sure have the other one now too!

xx Jazzy

Sesame said...

glad I popped over today Nan P.. great to see Cathal in action. Now he is one handsome Devil...can tell he likes his stories...feel ashamed now...used to read stories to my lot...Babs loves to read..he is a natural...but havent done much of it since the demon facebook took over... needed a kick in the backside like this to make me wake up and haul out some books for tonight. Even though they all can read what kid doesn't enjoy ten minutes gathered round listening to a story...cheers Nan. xx