Emma Thompson talks to BookTrust

Published on: 05 October 2014

Oscar-winning actress and children's writer, Emma Thompson talks to BookTrust about reading to children, being a mum and her childhood memories. She was opening a special Peter Rabbit children's section at Gorton Library, Manchester.

Emma Thompson opens new Peter Rabbit library

It's so fantastic to open a space in a library - in a local library - that's not being closed like so many are and to be allowed to read to children in it.

What I love about this space is that it feels safe. It's a safe environment for parents and children. And safety is something I think about a lot. I worry about the younger generation a bit, particularly with social media. And a library is a safe place; the Peter Rabbit library is a safe place, which I hope the local community will enjoy and use the books to transform lives.

The children I met today from St James' CofE Primary School were remarkable. Children extrapolate, so stories are so important for them to make connections and to spark their imagination.

When I asked them the definition of oppressive, one of the longer words in the book, a girl said 'shaky' and she's right because being shut in can cause us to feel like that.

For those of us lucky enough to have been read to as children, to have had access to books and libraries and to have had a love of reading engrained in us, we each have a spectacular tale we can refer to which inspired a lifelong love of books.

Peter Rabbit certainly had a big impact on me as a child. My dad, you may know him for writing and narrating The Magic Roundabout, used to read the Peter Rabbit stories to me.

He had a lovely, treacly, beautiful voice. Only he was terrible, because he didn't want to read the long ones to me, he only wanted to read the really short ones, because he was very busy and he wanted to go downstairs to have a nice cup of tea with my mum.

But I would make him read The Tale of Mr Tod, which was very long, and he would get quite irritable, but at the same time I think it was one of the things that influenced me maybe more than anything, being read stories.

A story can be a life-changing thing, and we all need stories, sometimes more than bread and water. A story itself can be a safe place.

I'm a mum and reading a story together is a bonding experience - something so simple and ordinary. It's something they will never forget; it's part of their DNA.

When I used to read The Tale of Mr Tod to my daughter (Gaia) and I was tired and desperate for a G&T I would skip a couple of pages - and a lot of parents will understand this - because children always know.

My daughter said to me you missed the part of the battle and I would think to myself 'oh my goodness she knows the story better than I do'.

When Peter Rabbit wrote to me asking me to write a new tale he also sent two half-eaten radishes, it was very clever.

I was apprehensive about writing these books, as the person who created these tales is a genius. I also wonder if Beatrice Potter hadn't written Peter Rabbit what she would have done. Would she be another Marie Curie? She was a scientist you see...

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