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Once a boy won a race! – a book with a difference

February 18, 2016

Once a Boy Won a Race

Every month or so I review a book. It could be recently published, or it could be relatively old. Because I don’t review them for a living, I rarely get to run the rule over books in advance of their publication. Which is fine, because I don’t want to read anything to order.

But occasionally I’m sent something because I know the author and I find the subject interesting. This is partly the case with a little book called Once a Boy Won a Race!.

It’s written for children. Now you can find any number of children’s books for all ages on Amazon. What’s rare about this one is that it was created by children. An eight-year-old and a nine-year-old, in fact. It’s based on one simple idea. If you want to reach your chosen goal, you need to try, try and try again. And if you succeed, it’s because you’ve practiced and trained. In other words, effort yields results.

The format is also simple. A picture, drawn by the authors, on the left; the text on the right. At the end, the suggestion that there will be further episodes, and the opportunity for the reader to write about what they are going to win, and how they will keep trying. On the back cover, there’s a sweet picture of the authors, Phoebe and Isabel.

In this case I can’t say I know the authors. But I do know Phoebe’s mum quite well. She’s Dr Clare Beckett-McInroy, an educationalist, executive coach, trainer and entrepreneur who lives in Bahrain and works across the Gulf region. She’s also a writer whose output includes an excellent book on networking – Networking Know How.

Clare is a person I’ve worked with on a number of projects. She has formidable energy. Not a week goes by when she’s not promoting some initiative, be it a coaching course or an event for businesswomen in Bahrain. Yet my experience of working with her is that no matter how busy she is, she always reserves special time for her two young daughters. Hence the book.

Last week the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper published a major feature about The Life Project, a study that began in 1946 and has looked at the lives of tens of thousands of Britons from childhood onwards. Many of the received wisdoms we live by today have their origin in lessons learned through the study. For example, that pregnant women shouldn’t smoke, that children are adversely affected by divorce and domestic strife, and that parents should set clear rules about bedtimes.

These pieces of advice are based not on social and cultural prejudice, but on hard evidence gathered over the sixty years of the project

Two of them stand out in the context of Phoebe and Isabel’s book. First, that you should read to your children:

“Also encourage them to read for pleasure. This prompts a general improvement in educational attainment, including maths.”

Like so many other parents, we tried to do that with our kids. Also I spent many evenings with one of our daughters creating stories on the hoof – an endless series of variants about a giant who was fierce but had a golden heart. I’ve no idea what effect that had on her development, but she did end up in a creative career, working in set decoration for TV series and movies like Downton Abbey and The Theory of Everything.

What Clare has done in encouraging Phoebe and her friend Isabel to write their own book goes a step further. She’s provided the kids with a sense of ownership. Something to be proud of. And the simple idea on which the book is based is a lesson that they will probably advocate for the rest of their lives.

The second piece of advice that links back to the book is that you should try to breed contentment:

“Provide children with a warm, non-hostile environment – one researcher said that this correlated with better outcomes more than “any other damn thing”.”

For a parent, you could say that helping your daughter to write a book is on the same level as getting her to produce a clay pot, or a gingerbread house at Christmas. All part of the magical experience of growing up. Stepping stones of achievement that build self-confidence and perhaps point the way towards future careers.

But here’s my prejudice as a book-lover coming into play. By encouraging children to make books part of their lives, not just as consumers but as creators, you help them to become comfortable with ideas, not just things. Although there are outstanding examples of authors who developed their skills in relative isolation – Beatrix Potter comes to mind – that warm and nurturing environment surely has a major part to play. And it’s something that Clare and her husband Simon, both teachers by training, most definitely provide.

Phoebe and Isabel have an advantage that Beatrix Potter would have envied. These days anyone can self-publish via companies like Amazon. Perhaps Potter would have published The Tale of Peter Rabbit much earlier in her life had Amazon been around. After all, she was writing and illustrating in her teens, but the book that made her famous was not published until she was 36.

The authors of Once a Boy Won a Race! didn’t have to wait so long, and no doubt there will be more stories to come. Of course it helps to have the support of someone like Clare, who knows the ins and outs of publishing on Amazon, but I’m pretty sure that before long they will be able to navigate the process all on their own. Another great learning experience to come.

But for now it’s probably enough for them to see their names in lights, to be able proudly to show the results of their efforts as a bright shiny book. And who knows, maybe they will become best-selling children’s authors.

Meanwhile, take a bow, Phoebe Beckett-McInroy and Isabel Looby. There are plenty of races to be won, and I’m sure they will win their fair share. And if you’re a parent of young children, you might want to buy the book, so that your kids can also be inspired to win a few.

From → Books, Social, UK

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