The power of reading

Michael Rosen, Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London Michael Rosen Professor of Children’s Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London
Herbaceous borders along the path leading to Hill Top, Sawrey, Cumbria

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.

The Vegetable Garden in summer at Hill Top, Cumbria, home of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top 

Discover Hill Top, the Lake District farmhouse that Beatrix Potter loved.