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With the arrival of our baby boy a few weeks ago, the "bed-time training" I was undergoing to prepare me for the responsibility of putting our four year old through her night time routine has segued seamlessly into the real thing. Our new little nipper is literally keeping my other half's hands full at the moment, which has given me a great opportunity to spend some priceless quality time with my daughter.
Part of the night-time routine is the obligatory story, so, having cycled through her various favourites over the past few months, I was delighted when my mother-in-law gave our daughter a new book, particularly so she would not feel left out by the shower of presents being brought by family and guests for her infant sibling.
Joanna Harrison's "The Three Wishes" made it's debut in our household the very same evening.
The book was first published by Picture Lions (the kid's imprint of the much better known publishing giant Harper Collins) in hardcover in 1999. However, our softcover, which retails at £4.99 was produced in 2000. It is a thin but large book, measuring roughly 8" by 11" (very similar to a standard sheet of A4 paper) and running to around 32 pages. The covers are robust and will withstand a fair bit of wear and tear.
It is dominated by illustrations and as such, will only take around five minutes to read - even allowing for interruptions and time spent appreciating the artwork. I would guesstimate an target age range of around three to six for this book and the subject matter makes it definitely for little girls.
Joanna Harrison both writes and illustrates the story and if the artwork looks vaguely familiar, it's because she was part of the animation team that produced Raymond Brigg's "The Snowman". Her other books include "When Mum Turned Into A Monster" (1996), "Dear Bear" (also 1996), and the more recent "Grizzly Dad" (2008) after a lengthy hiatus.
As with most good children's stories, Harrison keeps it simple. Lulu wants to make a fairy costume, but her mother is far too busy looking after her baby brother to be able to help. When she goes to sleep that night, she is woken up by a scratching sound - her cat is trying to get at something under the bed. She puts the cat out, and on investigating the object of the cat's curiosity, is astonished to find a fairy under her bed.
The fairy gives her three wishes, and, using the first one to transform herself into a fairy herself, she sets off on a night-time adventure with her new companion in and around her house. Eventually, chased by her cat, she wishes herself back into a little girl. In the morning, she tells her mother all about her adventures.
Her mother dismisses it as a dream and goes back to her housework However, our slightly fed-up heroine uses her final wish to "wish [Mummy] wasn't so busy". Magically, her mother immediately stops what she is doing and spends time with Lulu to finish her spiffing fairy costume.
The drawings form the centrepiece of the book and are in soft but vibrant pastel colours with a great deal of depth and texture. The illustrations really bring the story to life and are busy, but not distracting (in a "Where's Wally?" sort of way). Children will want to linger on each page, and the more you read the book, the more you find hiding in each panel.
A good example is the bit-part role played by the housecat, who gets up to all sorts of mischief even when he is not directly involved in the story. Spot the cat has become a favourite mini-game with my daughter whenever we read this book together, and it adds an additional layer of fun to what is already a very good bedtime story.
I like the books I read to my daughter to have some good learning points in them, but for once, I found the shoe firmly on the other foot with "Three Wishes". Sometimes it's good to have a story just for the sake of it, and as a parent, I am happy to let one or two slip by without fussing whether it's educational or not.
In fact, the learning was more for me. With a new baby in the house, it's made me realise - a little more - the impact a new arrival can have on the first (or older child) - especially when all of your attention is invariably focussed on an infant. That's something my mother-in-law obviously appreciated in buying this book for my daughter, and I wouldn't put it past her to have considered it a good and gentle reminder for me and my wife as well.
With its lovely illustrations and its gentle and engaging story, this is an excellent bed-time book which my daughter clearly enjoys, and has struck a chord in our household. A few nights ago, after I had just finished the story and tucked my little princess into bed, she gave me a little kiss and said "You're never too busy to read me a story, are you Daddy?".
Gosh. The unconditional love and faith that small children have for their parents is life-affirming and terrifying at the same time, so sometimes, just sometimes, it's nice to know that as parents, we can get things right.
© Hishyeness 2009