Our bedtime story over the last few weeks has been ‘Barkbelly’, a charming tale about a wooden boy and his quest to find where he fits into the world (Barkbelly). Like all good bedtime stories, it has been a pleasure for both the child and the reader. It is beautifully written with vivid descriptions and fabulous imagery which brings the story to life with very little effort and it has totally captivated the children when we snuggle down at bedtime to read.
The reason for mentioning it is not only to recommend it to anyone who might be looking for books for youngsters although I would encourage anyone to pick it up. The aspect that has caught my interest is the effect that it has had on my children.
Having been adopted by a caring family as a baby, Barkbelly runs away because he fears that he has done a dreadful thing and is frightened of the consequences. At this point in the story, my children, who had been enjoying it very much, suddenly didn’t want to read any more. My youngest in particular was upset by the idea of the boy having to leave all that was familiar and safe. Such was their concern that I almost had to tell them that I thought it unlikely that Barkbelly had done the dreadful thing and reassure them that all would be well. But I didn’t.
Having run away, Barkbelly has a series of amazing adventures until he hits upon the idea of trying to find his birth family and then, by piecing together various clues, he finally found his mother the night before last. Last night we settled down to read about the grand reunion, ominously placed more than a few chapters from the end. The child introduced himself to his mother only to be greeted with indifference. He has a father and brothers and sisters but no one is in the slightest bit interested in him or his story. They are polite but unaffected.
Again, my children did not want to read on. They did not want to think about Barkbelly being rejected by his mother. We had a chat about why they felt like this. And they, like me, want a happy ending. They struggled to understand firstly that the boy had left his loving home and then that his birth mother does not appear to be bothered about having him back and because that was too difficult an idea for them to process, their first reaction was to stop reading. Of course, their curiosity about how the story turns out will override this discomfort and we will read to, what I trust will be a happy ending.
I did wonder, however, whether I should stop. They did not like how the book was making them feel and I, as their mother could fix that and make everything OK just by putting it down and reading something else. But, the book is aimed at their age group and I concluded that it was better to expose them to things outside their comfort zone, albeit gently through fiction, than keep everything rosy in their world.
I understand their feelings. We all want home to be a happy, safe and comforting place and I hope that theirs is. But in the same way that the older two read Jacqueline Wilson, eventually they need to know that not everyone is as lucky as they are. Interestingly, the older two had none of these qualms when their dad read them the book. The difference between children who attend full time nursery verses those who are at home full time might make a blog for another day.
In the meantime, we will empathise with Barkbelly tonight and hope that in the end he too finds where he feels happy and safe and loved.