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There was a bit of guff on the radio last week about the importance of reading bedtime stories to kids. Studies show it improves their literacy skills later in life apparently. Well, who would have guessed? How much time and effort do they waste on these continual studies to prove the bleeding obvious?

I read aloud to my boys when they were little. They loved their bedtime stories and I was rarely let off the hook for reading to them. Sometimes, when I was really tired and worn out by the constant demands of small children, this was yet another chore. But mostly I enjoyed it just as much as they did.

We read nursery stories, contemporary picture books, classic fairy stories and old familiars from my own childhood; Dr Seuss, May Gibbs, Roald Dahl, Joan Aiken, Eileen Bell, Tove Jansson, Norman Hunter and C. S. Lewis among them. But my personal favourite to read aloud was a Muddle-headed Wombat story.

This series, written in the sixties by Ruth Park, is an absolute joy. The adventures of Wombat and his best friend Mouse and his second-best friend Tabby are simply yet elegantly told. The foibles of the characters make them endearing and are easy for children to relate to. The first story in the series always used to trip me up though, because I found it so funny, I could barely finish reading it for laughing.

This scene still makes me laugh aloud. Mouse, the cleverest of them, comes up with the wonderful idea of using a vacuum cleaner to clean Wombat. This works wonderfully well, and then…

“…Then it was Tabby’s turn.

“You be careful, Wombat. I don’t want my ears turned inside out or my whiskers knotted.”

Wombat turned on the cleaner. He went up and down, up and down Tabby’s back.

“There are lots of grey spots here and I want to get them off.”

“You silly old muddle-head,” cried Tabby, “those spots grow on me! After all, I am a tabby cat.”

“Don’t you tell me I’ve got a head like a muddle,” growled Wombat. “You’ve got a head like a bicycle seat.”

Just then the nozzle fell off the vacuum cleaner, and poor Tabby flew straight up the pipe…”

The illustrations, by Noela Young, perfectly complement the stories.

Of course, the day came when Leo could no longer wait for me to read him the next chapter of ‘Harry Potter’ to him; he took the book and started reading it himself. Then there was only Max to read to and all too soon, he also preferred to read for himself.

Improving a child’s literacy skills by reading to them means you make yourself redundant.

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