Just one sentence.

One of the themes of our bid is ‘Read Me!’, a programme to promote  children’s reading, and we’ll be hearing a lot more about that over the coming months. But what about ‘See me!’ or ‘Hear me!’? When I was a kid one of life’s great philosophical problems for me was presented by the plate illustrations in the stories I was reading, usually with one line from the text as caption beneath. I found myself wondering ‘Why do I need a picture of precisely THIS sentence to help me here? What is there in the picture that isn’t conveyed by the text?’  (OK, I may not have used those words exactly.) But I’d study the picture for hours trying to extract every piece of information from it. After all, in a 200-page story there might only be eight pictures. They just gotta be important!

Conversely, sometimes the picture isn’t enough. I much enjoy the TV adaptations of the William stories, but they inevitably lose the colour provided by Richmal Crompton’s delicious prose (‘Taste me!’ too?). Take just one sentence from ‘William Holds the Stage’, a short story from William the Pirate:

Dorinda was a little girl with dark hair and dimples, who was the temporary possessor of William’s heart, a hard-boiled organ that generally scorned thraldom to any woman.

Read that out loud. Enjoy the sounds of the words. How can a TV dramatization convey that? Look at the simplicity of the first half of the sentence against the metaphorical complexity of the second. And I can just imagine a TV producer striking out ‘thraldom’ and saying ‘Nah, the kids won’t understand what it means’. Rubbish! This is the way to give somebody that word to treasure forever.

Oh, and if you want a laugh-out-loud short-story read, do have a look at ‘William Holds the Stage’. It’s the one in which William (attempting to impress Dorinda) hijacks a production of Hamlet in uproarious fashion, and the first half includes one of the funniest talking-at-cross-purposes exchanges I have ever read.

What sentences from children’s stories stick in your mind?

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