What books did you read when you were a child?
I read a lot as a child. My mother was a children’s librarian, and she was in charge of teaching me to read and write. These are the two things I could do really well. My father was in charge of maths and, much later, teaching me to drive. I cannot drive and I am no good at maths, but I don’t really blame him. I remember reading Where The Wild Things Are, Winnie The Pooh, The Tiger Who Came To Tea, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Children of Green Knowe. I loved My Naughty Little Sister. I remember when I was really small putting my fingers in the holes of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and wanting to eat the lollipop.
If you could be a storybook character who would you be?
Easy! Lyra Belacqua! In this universe and any other.
What is the best thing about reading?
Being transported. Also, crying: then you know you’ve really believed in the story. Oh and watching the children’s faces when they are absorbed in a story. Like I’m doing right now.
What is your all-time favourite book?
You cannot be that unkind to me. Please let me choose four: For Esme With Love And Squalor (J.D. Salinger), The Sea Thing Child (Russell Hoban and Patrick Benson), Northern Lights (Pullman) and the collected works of Shakespeare. I am really sad I cannot have five because this means I cannot include the poetry of Keats, which feels wrong. Oh, and I absolutely love The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. I feel I have cheated a little on this question. I liked it very much.
Other than reading books what is the most important thing a parent can do to help develop their children’s communication skills?
Argue with them. In a good, loving way of course. It is really important to eat together, and discuss topical issues, such as you might read in First News, and debate. The ability to see both sides of an argument turns later into the ability to write really good essays, and this is an important skill right through your education.
How big a part did your parents play in encouraging your writing skills?
Massive. They still do.
How do you encourage your children or grandchildren to read, what books do you enjoy reading with them?
I don’t have any children of my own, but I can tell you some of the books I study with my classes: A Monster Calls, Bog Child, Wolf Brother, Rooftoppers, Northern Lights, The Graveyard Book, Arthur and his Seeing Stone, Lord of the Flies, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, the poetry of T.S Eliot and Ted Hughes. I encourage the children by giving them the best literature I can and teaching them why it is so delicious.
Emma Cox is Head of English at Exeter Cathedral School. She loves reading and writing and spends her whole day talking about literature to the wonderful children she teaches. Her first book, Malkin Moonlight, won the National Literacy Trust and Bloomsbury’s New Children’s Author Prize and is out now.
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