Jane Hissey: Why stories are important

The other day, my grandchildren and I had been collecting runner beans to dry to grow next year. I was admiring the beautiful pink and purple seeds with my grandson and casually said 'If you had a cow, would you swap it for these beans if someone told you they were magic?'
All of a sudden I realised that all three of the children (3, 6 and 8) had drifted over and were sitting around me waiting for the rest of the story of ‘Jack and the beanstalk.’ It was a magic moment because I realised how important the act of storytelling is to children.

It doesn’t matter how many times children have heard the story or whether you are good at story telling, they won’t mind (and anyway, you will get better at it if you do it every day!)
Some friends of mine, after reading to their children every night, would make up a story about the children’s favourite cuddly toys. When I went there to babysit I had to do the same. I thought it was such a good idea. Those children became great readers and storytellers.

As a child, I remember my father reading Black Beauty to my brother and me. I was only 3 and my brother was 6. I probably didn’t understand much of it but I remember exactly where I was sitting and the pleasure of being there and even the smell of the book! And when I re-read the book years later I could hear my father’s voice reading the words.

When I was about 8, my mother, then widowed, moved us to a very old cottage in Norfolk. When we had a thunderstorm (which we frequently did) it seemed that the whole house would shake and we would all rush to get into my mother’s bed. There (by torchlight if we had a power cut) she would read us Winnie-the-Pooh and Mrs Beeton’s Cookbook. We would all end up in fits of laughter about the antics of Piglet or Pooh or at Mrs Beeton suggesting we needed a dozen eggs for a cake, and storms would soon be forgotten.

It is so important for parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunties, uncles, neighbours (or whoever is around) to make time to read to children and to continue to do so long after they can read for themselves. When you think back to your childhood, if you were lucky enough, you can really remember the magic of being read to. It allowed you to concentrate on the story itself rather than the process of reading and therefore follow stories that you probably could not read fluently yourself.

Even at primary school, our rather fierce headteacher would read to us for half an hour at the end of the day. I remember those stories so vividly even now and I do hope it happens in primary schools today.

When I write and illustrate my books I am well aware that parents may be asked to read the story over and over again. I try to think of them when I am working on a book and create an atmosphere of humour, kindness and gentle excitement but with a quiet and peaceful ending.

It is a wonderfully bonding experience to share a book, especially to come back to it night after night.. The reader can give a child a lifelong love of books and that really is a very precious gift.

Jane Hissey’s first picture book, Old Bear (published in 1986) was instantly acclaimed a new children’s classic. Since then, Jane has written and illustrated over 20 picture books, each one taking a year to illustrate. Richly illustrated in coloured pencils, Jane’s books feature soft-toy characters and everyday objects that belong to her or her family. Old Bear has travelled with Jane throughout the world; to schools, libraries and literary events, becoming increasingly worn and threadbare but recognisable to millions of Jane’s readers. The 40 episode television series of Old Bear Stories won many international awards including a BAFTA and a NY Film Festival Gold Award. Jane has three grown-up children and lives in Sussex, England, with her husband, Ivan, who is also an illustrator. Browse our Jane Hissey collection here. 

Jane Hissey