The power of reading
Michael Rosen is inspired by Beatrix Potter’s books.
As a child, my favourites were Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester, which is unbelievably well worn. My mum read them to me when I was four or five. I adored The Tailor of Gloucester – the idea that there was a secret world underneath the floorboards. In the end, though, Squirrel Nutkin became my absolute favourite.
I found it terrifying and fascinating at the same time: the idea of this impertinent squirrel taking the mickey out of an authority figure – Old Brown, the owl – who then threatens to skin him and ends up snapping off his tail. I carried that through into my writing, trying to capture moments of danger and risk.
I used to love the picture of the squirrels making their way on rafts across the lake. It was magical, lyrical and wonderful. As a suburban kid, it gave me a sense of yearning for the countryside. When I was young, my family and I used to go camping on farms. We learned quickly what a rugged life farmers had. Nowadays, most urban children have little to do with the countryside.
Beatrix Potter’s books also gave me a sense of story, of ambiguity about characters – and just the sheer joy of being around stories that you sat and pondered about. The power of reading is the way it extends into a conversation – and conversation is where we’re sorting out life.
This interview by Claire Masset first appeared in the National Trust Magazine summer 2016 issue.