Meet Charlie. Charlie is a little boy of almost four and a half and is about to start school. Charlie is almost ready for school. He can dress himself, tie his shoe laces, count very well and loves to make things. Unfortunately Charlie doesn’t want to learn how to read even though his parents had tried and tried to get him interested in stories – reading to him every night from when he was just a few months old.
The trouble is, Charlie cannot imagine the story as it is being read to him, so he can’t ‘see’ in his mind the creatures, strange lands, magical people and strange animals they’re talking about. His parents are really worried as they’re sure that he will struggle to keep up at school if he doesn’t start to read very soon. One Saturday, about two weeks before he is due to start his first day at school, his parents decide to take him to an old bookshop in town. This bookshop is a wonderful place, full of old books, magical books, with words that are just desperate to get out of the pages and live in the real world. One book, in particular, captures Charlie’s attention. There is an image of a large but friendly looking dragon, on the front whose name, Charlie’s father tells him, is Ernie. The man who owned the bookshop looked at Charlie and bent down so that he was at the same height as the little boy and said ‘This book is a magical book. If you listen very carefully to the stories that are kept within it you might even find that Ernie the dragon takes you on his magic book to visit the stories themselves. Would you like that’? Of course Charlie simply had to have the book, so his father paid for it and they took it home.
That night Charlie’s father asked him to pick whichever story he wanted and they would read it together. Charlie picked a story about a magical land full of magical creatures and listened, intently, as his father read to him. After he had finished, Charlie’s father tucked him into bed, kissed him on his forehead, and wished him sweet dreams. Charlie was asleep before his father even left the room.
That night Charlie had a dream. Ernie the dragon is really the guardian of all books for children – his job is to help all children to ‘see’ the story so that they will want to learn to read for themselves and be able to enter the magic land whenever they do so. The first Charlie knew of Ernie was a tap on his shoulder and a gravelly voice saying ‘wake up Charlie, time to go on an adventure.’ Charlie opened his eyes and saw the dragon from the cover of the book he had asked his father to buy that day – the dragon from the book he had been looking at before he went to sleep. The book itself was floating about five inches above the floor and was the size of his bedside rug. ‘Come on Charlie, the magic book’s already open and ready to go, jump on’. So Charlie did. Next second he was flying out of the open window and up, up into the sky. He wasn’t cold, neither was he scared. Ernie the dragon seemed very friendly so he had nothing to be scared about.
They must have flown on the magic book for at least half an hour, passing over trees, towns and villages, farms, fields and barns before coming to a large stretch of water in the middle of which was an island. ‘Look Charlie, that’s where we’re heading’, said Ernie to the boy. A few minutes later the book fluttered down to the ground, having landed on the island. Ernie beckoned Charlie to climb down from the pages so that they could have a look around. Charlie was entranced. That night he met a magical rabbit who sang to him, a giant owl who allowed him to climb on his back and have a ride, he also climbed up onto the top of a bright red mushroom and sat cross-legged like a little pixie.
All too soon it was time to go back. ‘You’ll need your sleep Charlie’, said Ernie. ‘If you like we can go somewhere else tomorrow night. Would you like that’? Charlie nodded his head furiously. ‘Good’, said Ernie, ‘but you must make me one promise. You must promise me that you will now learn how to read for yourself so that we can go on marvellous journeys together whenever you want to. Your father can’t keep on reading to you forever and I have so much more to show to you. Will you do that for me’? ‘Oh yes I will, oh my, I will. This was amazing, and it was all from a book’? Responded Charlie. ‘Of course young Charlie. Books are magical, you can travel anywhere you want, see anything you want. You can travel back in time or visit the future. You can go to America, India, Japan, France, Italy, anywhere, once you learn to read’. Then he guided Charlie back onto the magic book and they flew back home. Charlie got into bed and went straight to sleep.
In the morning Charlie ran down the stairs, surprising his parents as he asked them if they could teach him to read properly, and could he start right this minute. ‘Why Charlie’, said his mother, ‘whatever has prompted this’? Ernie the dragon has told me I can visit anywhere I like once I can read, and he took me to a magical place last night. I want to go to lots of magical places so I have to learn to read.’ Charlie’s parents were amazed and very pleased. Who would have thought an old, faded and scrappy looking book would have had such an amazing influence on their son?
This short story popped into my head the second I saw this gorgeous illustration. I hope James Gurney doesn’t mind my using it this way.