Michael Rosen: ‘If I hadn’t written poems about my son Eddie, I might have lost those memories’

The book I am currently reading
Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War by Tim Bouverie. My family were very active in the fight against fascists in Britain. Growing up, I was always hearing about who was an appeaser and who was a collaborator, so I wanted to see what the latest views are.

The book that changed my life
The way James Joyce’s style just changes as the character ages in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was like a great penny dropped. I was so excited when I first read it that I thought: “I want to do that for the rest of my life.”

The book I wish I’d written
A White Sail Gleams by Valentin Kataev. It follows two boys, one middle-class and one poor, who are witnesses to what happened on the Potemkin battleship in 1905. I absolutely adored it as a child.

The book that had the greatest influence on me
Modern American Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer. My father owned a copy. American poetry just was so completely different from modern British poetry then. It was very exciting to realise that you could write like that.

The book I think is most underrated
Language in Use by Peter Doughty, John Pearce and Geoffrey Thornton. There’s this idea in education that when we talk about language, it must be reduced to the grammar of a sentence. It horrifies me. This book has been sidelined, because it doesn’t fit that authoritarian, controlling view.

The book that changed my mind
Thanks to people like David Olusoga, this is familiar to use now, but when I first read Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams in 1968, I learned that the huge wealth that enabled Britain to become an industrial nation came from slavery. We all know this now, but this book was written in 1944. It completely changed my view of Britain and the empire.

The book I give as a gift
I gave How to be Invisible by Kate Bush to my wife for Christmas. She’s a great fan of Bush. It’s not quite my era but that’s all right – it’s wonderful what it does for my wife. I love finding books that match someone’s enthusiasm.

The book I’d most like to be remembered for
Quick Let’s Get Out of Here! came off the back of 10 years performing, so when I read it I can hear my performance voice there for the first time. There are also several poems in it about my son Eddie, who died when he was 18. He was a very funny, rather amazing toddler, so it’s almost like a diary of that time with him. If I hadn’t written it, I might have forgotten those memories.

The last book that made me laugh
Jewish Comedy: A Serious History by Jeremy Dauber. It’s a slight misnomer, because people use that term to only mean Jews who have come from Poland or Russia to the English-speaking world. But you can’t call a book that.

The book I couldn’t finish
Mr Fussy by Roger Hargreaves. The Mister Men concept is utterly brilliant but I’ve always found, when reading them to kids, they love the idea but get bored halfway through and just want the pictures. The vocabulary is too complicated. When you’re reading it to a four-year-old, you end up rewriting the whole thing to make it work.

The last book that made me cry
My father Harold Rosen’s book Are You Still Circumcised? I read it quite often. It’s about his childhood and it’s so moving to read his descriptions of his zeyde (grandfather), his mum, and life as a Jewish boy at a grammar school. I want to do the audiobook, because I’m one of the last people to remember his voice.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Each time I watch another dramatisation of it, I feel guilty as both my parents always said I’d love it.

My earliest reading memory
Mischief the Squirrel was part of a series of picture books from Père Castor that were a huge influence on picture books in the UK. I still have all my copies, but Mischief was my favourite – I can remember being three or four and seeing my mum coming in with another book, and demanding Mischief again. She called me Mischief for a time.

My comfort reading
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner. Written in Germany in 1929, it contains huge optimism, but also tragedy because Hitler took over the Reichstag just four years later. It was read to us at school when I was about nine – if you ever want to feel like a child again, return to the books you read at that time. Books are like feeling banks. It will all come back.

A Dog’s Tale: Life Lessons for a Pup by Michael Rosen is published by Scholastic (£6.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p on all online orders over £15.

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