'It is really nice to see the pure enjoyment children get from reading': The Queen Consort sits down with the Children's Laureate

Published on: 02 March 2023

We brought together The Queen Consort, a BookTrust supporter, with Children's Laureate Joseph Coelho for a very special World Book Day conversation.

The pair spoke about their favourite childhood books, why Her Majesty has loved reading with her grandchildren, and the benefits of enjoying stories from a young age...

Photo: Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Joseph: Your Majesty, I was wondering if you could talk a little about any books that spoke to you in childhood – maybe a book that sparked the imagination?

Her Majesty: That's so difficult, because there are so many books I read as a child – or you went through different phases as a child by loving this or that.

But I think I have to admit in the end I ended up probably being a sort of pony-mad child with Black Beauty, which I howled over night after night after night. That was probably one of my favourites.

And then – you're far too young, but we had all these wonderful old-fashioned adventures, wonderful children's stories. And you'd go on the adventures yourself as a child – Swiss Family Robinson, my sister and brother and I, we always used to go off and camp and pretend we were stranded with just our animals for company! It takes you into a multitude of different worlds.

The frisson of being scared by books

Joseph: I think it is so special when you find those books that allow you to escape. I used to love the Ladybird fairy tales.

Her Majesty: Oh yes, they were lovely.

Joseph: And they had gorgeous illustrations, and they were a little bit scary!

Her Majesty: Did you ever try the Grimms' Fairy Tales? They were seriously scary! I remember going to bed at night and having quite bad dreams about them.

Joseph: They don't hold back, do they?

Her Majesty: No, they don't hold back!

Joseph: And I think children appreciate that.

Children's Laureate Joseph Coelho meets Her Majesty The Queen Consort in the library at Clarence House

Photo: Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Her Majesty: I think as children half of you wants to be scared. You don't want to be scared too much, but it's that sort of frisson of just being a little bit frightened.

Joseph: Well, books are a safe space, aren't they, where you can be a little bit scared and it's okay. You can close the covers, get under your duvet...

Her Majesty: Exactly! Sort of peek out of the top. But what were your favourite books?

Joseph: I actually have one of them here.

Her Majesty: Oh, do you?

Joseph: Again, I was really thinking about this – what was one of my favourites, because there were so many, but I remember my Reception teacher reading There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.

Her Majesty: 'I don't know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she'll die!'

Joseph: Yeah! And I remember being completely delighted. And it's the wonderful illustrations, which are by Pam Adams, but also the die-cut holes in the book!

Her Majesty: Oh, you had the holes! You were so excited about the poor old fly!

Joseph: Just as she swallows larger and larger animals! But I adored that and I think because it was a little bit silly, it felt a little bit naughty. But yeah, I have very fond memories of my Reception teacher telling us that story again and again.

Her Majesty: I know, it's lovely to have the memories, isn't it?

The bonding power of books

Her Majesty The Queen Consort speaks to Children's Laureate Joseph Coelho in the library at Clarence House

Photo: Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Joseph: Would you be able to tell us a little bit, Your Majesty, about your experience reading to your grandchildren and why reading together is such a wonderful bonding experience?

Her Majesty: I mean, it was a lovely – it was just a wonderful way of getting to know them; as you say, of bonding. Sitting on the end of their bed and just reading. We took it in turns to find our favourite stories, and what's lovely is it's really got them reading, properly reading. They are bookworms now. It's so lovely, if I go and see them I find them tucked up in bed with a book and saying, 'Please don't turn off the light, I just, I've got to finish this chapter!'

I think it's something that if it's instilled in you at a very young age you never forget it.

I remember my father reading to us and consequently you turn around and you read to your grandchildren. And I think I read every children's book! I mean, I could practically do them backwards – Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy, it's a real tongue-twister, that one!

Joseph: I do often hear from parents saying, 'Oh, my child's made me read your book 15 times!' And it's like, 'Oh, I'm sorry!'

Her Majesty: That's very nice because at that age they want to go back to the beginning, you start again, and then they want it read three or four times a night.

Joseph: And woe betide you if you get anything wrong! Even slightly wrong, it's like, 'No, that doesn't happen!'

Her Majesty: Absolutely!

It is really nice when you see the pure enjoyment that children are getting out of reading, and if you get that at a very early age it's going to help you so much in future life because the earlier you read, the more you're going to understand; the more books you read, the more you're going to understand about different places, different cultures, different ways of life, different everything.

Joseph: Yeah, and then that skill's for life, isn't it? And it leads to a whole host of benefits. And it's fun!

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