By Sofia Jesus
My most remote memory of reading is of my mother — a smiley, blurred mother under the pale light of my bedside table lamp — telling me the adventures of a boy called Noddy.
You — or your kids — may know Noddy now as a TV star, with stories and songs filling up Youtube streams and revenues from merchandise. But back in the 1980s, in Portugal, Noddy, to me, was just this cute blue-hooded, wooden boy in a series of books — a series first launched by writer Enid Blyton in 1949, with beautiful drawings by Robert Tyndall (since 1953).
But I’m not here to tell you about Noddy or how he introduced me to the amazing world of Enid — I guess I can call her by her first name because I read all her books from The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series.
No. I’m here to tell you about how a mother’s reading poured love and introduced me to books; and how I hope to do that with my own child.
There are children’s books that appeal mainly to children; like Noddy. But there are also children’s books that move us, adults, as well, in different, powerful and profound ways.
A Mãe Que Chovia (The Mother who Rained, in a free translation to English) marks Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto’s debut in children’s books.
With greyish yet beautiful illustrations by Daniel Silvestre da Silva, the book tells the story of a boy who is — or possibly believes he is, because he might have lost his real mother — the son of rain and has to learn how to share his mother and her love with the rest of the world.
Beautifully written — in Portuguese — the book moved me as a reader who is a daughter as well as a mother. The rain appeared to me as a metaphor for a mother’s unconditional love. That rain, which comes and goes as seasons dictate, made me think as much about eternity as about ephemerality. It made me think on how we all need to learn to treasure every moment together, as well as to learn how to always be there, even when we aren’t. As someone told me years ago, mothers — and fathers and sisters and brothers and good friends — are like the little stars in the sky: we don’t always see them, but they are always there.
In the programme Ler+, Ler Melhor (Read More, Read Better, in English), available here, José Luís Peixoto said he believed the book “tries to establish a generational bridge”. And he added he imagined it being read to children, offering moments that could open the door to side conversations and explanations. “Because the world itself is like that.”
“The aim of the book is to create moments of connection between mothers and children and to create moments in which one could say what is important to be said between a mother and a child,” the author explained.
And that is how reading to children, or being read to as children, appears to me: as a metaphor for that magical link between a mother — or father, I believe — and a child.
Like many childhood memories, I don’t know if the images I hold from Noddy’s bedtime stories are real or if my brain made them up, based on the facts I learned over the years. Namely: that ever since I was a baby my mother used to read to me; that I loved it; and that as soon as I learned how to read, at the age of five, I became happily and healthily hooked on books.
But I am certain that the strongest memory I hold from this remote reading experience is not that much built of words or plots as it is of glimpses of that smiley, blurred face, pouring love under the pale light of my bedside table lamp.