Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Once upon a time ... a newspaper gave away six enchanting fairy tales

To mark the Belfast Telegraph's brilliant promotion tomorrow, six well-known faces tell Kerry McKittrick about the joy, memories and benefits of reading to their children

Special bond: Claire McCollum reading to her children Samuel and Rosa. Below, the classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood

Fairy tales will always have a place in everyone's heart. For many of us they were our first introduction to literature. Originally fairy tales were aimed at adult audiences as much as children but over time they have evolved as a staple of every child's reading experience.

You might remember Little Red Riding Hood from the time you started reading yourself or have fond memories of acting out Cinderella as a child.

Maybe your parents took you along to see Jack and the Beanstalk in pantomime or you just remember curling up next to your mother, listening sleepily as she read you the tale of the Three Little Pigs.

Other traditional tales which linger long in the imagination from our formative years include Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Gingerbread Man.

You can pick up these family favourites in tomorrow's Belfast Telegraph – one Ladybird book with each copy of the newspaper. There will be six magical titles to collect in your newsagents.

Reading to your child has proved to be an incredibly important developmental tool for any parent.

It teaches children the importance of language, increases their imagination and gives parent and child some good old-fashioned quality time together.

Indeed such is the value of fairy tales that many are used in school to fire up young children's imagination and instil in them a love of reading.

We asked six well known Northern Ireland personalities to recall their favourite tales and how they are passing them on to their own children.

Claire McCollum (39) is a freelance broadcaster and journalist. She lives in Belfast with husband Alastair Clarke and children Samuel (7) and Rosa (5). She says:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is one of my favourites but I like all of the old-fashioned fairy tales, especially now that I'm reading them to my own children.

I love reading to the children. We try to do it most nights. We used to pile into our bed but now everyone goes into Samuel's bedroom. It centres and calms them down after the 'funny half hour' after tea and before bed.

Reading shows that you as a parent are interested in books and it will pass that interest and love of books on to them. I'd love them to enjoy books because I've only recently joined a book club and I find it is great. I am thrilled when I find a book that I can't put down now.

A lot of children devour books and others simply enjoy reading but might not have as much time for it. That is the way I was. I want my children to get into reading. It's nice to sit with a book instead of just reading from a computer or some other gadget. I like the feel of a book, it gives me quiet time."

David Meade (31) lives in Banbridge with his wife Elaine and their children Tilly (4) and George (1). He says:

I really loved The Gingerbread Man. Tilly is exactly the right age for bedtime stories and they're her thing at the moment. We've just taken her to join the local library and it's like she's won the lottery.

She doesn't like scary fairy tales at bedtime but she loves princess stories. We try to read with her when she comes home from school and then another story at bedtime.

Sadly I tend to be out three to five nights a week but I love those nights when I can read to her. I love doing all the voices but she hates it and tells me to stop. I think I need them as it can get a bit boring to do otherwise.

For me it's simple -- research shows that academic success in later life is reflected in the frequency of reading as a child. There's a direct link between how often your parents read to you and how well you do in your degree.

And there's no better way to make sure I get 10 minutes of really good, quiet time with Tilly on her own.

George hasn't been well and as his needs have been so great it's important that we can make Tilly feel special as much as we can."

Harry Hamilton (48) is a Freddie Mercury impersonator and is married to Heather. They have three children; Brooke (17), Lucy (16) and Tianna (12). He says:

Cinderella was a firm favourite in our house. The girls loved anything with a princess and a fairy tale ending. They did read things about monsters and trolls but Cinderella and princess stories would be the ones they went back to.

It would usually have been Heather who read the bedtime stories as I work quite a lot in the evenings. However, when I got the chance I really enjoyed doing it. I got told off for taking too long and drawing it out too much. Two of the girls are very close in age and they would have ganged up on me, telling me to read faster stories.

I think reading bedtime stories really helps a child's imagination which is a wonderful thing. It helps them to picture things in their mind. It really helps with their language skills and sentence structure.

It also increases their ability to describe things with words and engage in a higher level of conversation than if they only watched TV."

Dan Gordon (49) is an actor and playwright and lives in Belfast with his wife Kathy and their three daughters; Sarah (24), Hannah (21), Martha (15). He says:

When my kids were small my wife was enrolled on a masters course on gender studies. They had a book called Tough Princess about a princess who went round slaying dragons and bad fairies.

I spent years as a pantomime dame, though, and the girls would have come to all those. Jack and the Beanstalk was a firm favourite.

I told lots of stories to the girls but I made them very scary as it was more entertaining for me when the girls were terrified.

It didn't help them sleep much it has to be said, but I couldn't help myself.

I would stomp all over the bedclothes to show the giant coming after Jack -- they would disappear underneath the blankets.

It instilled a love of literature in them, the two elder ones in particular.

Sarah has just come back from travelling the world and is still deciding what she wants to do. In the meantime she's writing some of her experiences down as short stories and I think that is a direct reflection of her keen interest in the stories I used to tell her.

There was a lot of books floating around in our house but the old favourites were still to the fore.

I was read to in school. It was one of my favourite parts of the day.

My P7 teacher, David Kendry, would make us sit at our desks on a Friday afternoon, put his feet on my desk and read us Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

That was just brilliant."

Sarah Travers (39) is a TV presenter and lives in Coleraine with her husband Stephen and their children Jack (17) and Evie (10). She says:

I can remember Little Red Riding Hood from when I was very young because it was the scary one. It had the wolf-eating granny then dressing up as her, then the woodcutter came along with his axe to deal with the wolf. It was quite violent.

My little ones aren't so little anymore but I do recall reading to them as children. The bedtime story was something we all looked forward to.

Even if you had a long day at work it was lovely and relaxing to snuggle up with them and get into the characters.

I got into it and did all the voices -- they didn't let me away with anything so if I left something out they would remember and tell me off. Reading with your child encourages a lifelong love of stories and books.

We all know that children don't read enough anymore because of television and tablets -- they always have a screen in front of them.

If you go back to basics and encourage their imagination and encourage them to think for themselves then you reap the benefits further on down the line."

Emma Heatherington (37) is an author and lives in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone. She has three children, Jordyn (17), Jade (12) and Adam (11). She says:

My favourite fairy tale is Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It was one of the first stories that I told to my children and they picked it up very quickly and would say it along with me. I loved the fairy tales but I actually told them from memory instead of reading from a book.

I actually added bits on and made up original stories for them but it is lovely to go back to the old favourites.

I would do voices and actions and everything. To be honest I think it made them a bit too hyper but it was a bit of fun before bedtime.

As well as being educational and developing listening and reading skills for children I think it's a lovely bonding time for you and your child. It helps them to feel secure knowing they have that time with you before they go to sleep and they don't have to feel afraid at night.

At the time when my children were smaller I was going out to work every day instead of working at home like I do now. It was a bit of a rush in the evenings to get through homework and teatime and bathtime. Reading a story before bed was a nice way to relax and unwind with them -- to have quality time out in a busy working week.

I don't remember being read to as a child -- there were six of us so my mother wouldn't have had the time to read us all stories. She would have made up stories when she had the time and we were always encouraged to read, especially the classic fairy tales. I could read before I went to school -- my old principal still recalls that she had only seen two children in her whole career who could read before they went to school."

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