‘Ambassador’ is a big word, with grand connotations, that conjures up images of butler-served trays of Ferrero Rocher. I was honoured to be asked, along with my two children, to be an ambassador for the MS Readathon this year. I am hoping that in a small way, that I can encourage children to read more books, to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis as an illness and to raise money for MS Ireland.
That’s all fine, except for one, pretty big thing ...
** whispers ** I haven’t been the best at reading with my children in the last while, at all, at all. Despite my ideals and good intentions, pre parenthood and when they were babies.
I feel that I can say it now, as I have redeemed myself somewhat over the last few months. I chatted to staff in the MS Society in early summer about the Readathon, wrote some thoughts down and got some promotional family pics taken. For the photo shoot, I rooted out some of my favourite books, including a battered and tattered copy of 'My Naughty Little Sister', by Dorothy Edwards. The book is about 35 years old and looks every year of it. It was left outside in a makeshift tent made many years ago - a heavy carpeted affair that was baking hot when dry, but sodden when wet. I retrieved the book, mould stains and all. The cover is ripped too, but I don’t like the idea of putting ‘new’ sellotape on it. 'My Naughty Little Sister' really should have been retired to the bin. But it has huge sentimental value for me.
Many moons ago, our First Class substitute teacher was a Mrs O'Neill. She always brought a 'My Naughty Little Sister' book with her, which she read to the class in the afternoon as a treat. I can still see her sitting there, her gentle, older lady voice reading.
I must have talked about the book a lot at home and my mother acquired a copy for me, 'up North', courtesy of my late aunt Moira. I was speechless when I got my very own copy, which, as the current state of the book suggests, was read over and over.
A compendium of the ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ book series was published a few years ago, bound in a fancy red hard back. I excitedly bought a copy for my nieces that Christmas, writing a personal note inside the front cover. I can't say that the gifts were received as enthusiastically as when I got my copy, but they hadn't had The Mrs O'Neill Experience.
When my copy appeared again over the summer, I asked the children if they would like to hear a story. They were enchanted by this manky thing that I had held onto and loved seeing my marks on the pages. ‘Why did you draw a line under that sentence?’ they asked, as if I did it yesterday. I told them about Mrs O’Neill. They listened to the first story and wanted to hear another and another. We were soon back into the night time reading ritual. That lovely quiet time.
Funny, on rereading the stories after so many years, I was a bit disappointed that ‘My Naughty Little Sister’, wasn’t actually that naughty and her friend ‘Bad Harry’ wasn’t a bad fella either, if you leave aside the trifle-eating incident ... and eating the work men’s lunch that time. When I reread them now, I have had little flashbacks to when I read them originally. Some of the story lines now made me feel uneasy, for instance, My Naughty Little Sister going to visit her grown up friend Mr Blakey, the shoe mender friend and sleeping under his counter. The writing style now seems antiquated and yet the children loved the stories. I’ve read them over and over with them. It’s been a lovely experience for all of us.
So ! To kick off our Readathon, we are going to lovingly put away my jaded copy and invest in the red hardback compendium of ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ books. It includes lots of stories that I have never read. I can only hope that we are making similar memories and that the children can find it in their hearts to someday forgive me for the silly voices I make when reading aloud.
The MS Readathon runs from October 9th to November 9th. We are looking for sponsors. Every little helps ...