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‘Kids need stories to understand the world. It’s our job to keep telling them’

If a story can have such an effect on a jaded 38-year-old’s brain, imagine what it could do to a four- or six-year-old

A while ago I had such a vivid, intense dream I still remember every detail of it two months later. In the dream I was shown nothing less than the secret of the universe. I was given the ability to fly through solar systems, nebulas and exploding stars. I zipped light-years in the blink of an eye and travelled far beyond where humans could even fathom. What I discovered was a truth we already know: our minds simply cannot comprehend the true vastness of space. Everything we have seen and recorded – from swirling distant galaxies to red dwarfs to every twinkling dot in the night sky – doesn’t even constitute a drop in the ocean.

We all know this but sometimes, it takes a feverish dream to drive the point home.

Then, things got really weird – it turns out we’re all just floating through the bloodstream of some colossal beast. In the great scheme of things, we’re nothing. All those galaxies and solar systems are less than a speck in the body of a gargantuan celestial body.

Unlike most of my other dreams, I know exactly where this one came from. It was partly down to all these incredible deep space images we’ve been seeing from the James Webb Space Telescope. The bigger influence, however, was that of Dr Seuss. The night of the dream I had read Horton Hears a Who! to our kids before bed. It’s about an elephant who discovers a tiny planet on a microscopic speck of dust. You see the connection. If this story could have such an effect on a jaded 38-year-old brain, imagine what it could do to a four- or six-year-old.


Sometimes we go on walks and sometimes we tell stories. Walking through forests we tell our kids about the woodland faeries. They’re mischievous creatures who like to play games. And if you play their games, they might even reward you. One of us will skip ahead to hide a chocolate treat on a mossy rock – a gift from the faerie king. The kids love these stories and fully believe in the magic of them. Why wouldn’t they?

On a walk through Devil’s Glen recently, however, we got lost. On the way back to the car we took a little detour. Partook in a little exploring. Why not? We’re in no rush. Ten minutes turned into 20, and ... wait. Have we been here before? I think I recognise that tree. I have definitely seen that tree before. Okay, let’s keep going. We’re on the right track.

Denied the promise of a snack and a warm drive home, the kids understandably began to lose patience. Then it hit me. I know why we’re lost! We must have stood on a stray sod. Little ears perk up – a stray what now? We explain what a stray sod is – a patch of enchanted grass. If you walk over it you can get disoriented and lost. Those faeries up to their old tricks again. Not to worry, there’s one sure-fire way to break the spell. We all take off our coats and turn them inside out. Lo and behold, a few minutes later and we’re back in the car park. The kids are delighted. Not just that we found our way back but because we outwitted the faerie king.

Every day is filled with stories because every day is filled with questions.

How do earthquakes happen?

Why do we speak English?

Where do babies come from?

Each question requires a (sometimes very carefully-worded) story.

The nights are filled with stories, too. When they were babies we read Goodnight Moon or Peter Rabbit until they fell asleep. Now, at four and six, they still need stories before they nod off. They crave stories – all kids do. They might ask for Investigators or whatever book they’ve borrowed from the library that week. Sometimes they’ll ask us to tell them about our old house or our wedding day (in the mysterious distant past, before they were born).

American writer Garrison Keillor said: “You get old and you realise there are no answers, just stories.” This is true but I think it’s something kids already know. To young minds they explain everything. Whether it’s a tiny civilisation living on a speck of dust or forest faeries playing tricks, children arrange their view of the world through the stories they hear. All we have to do is keep telling them.