08/09/2013 19:29 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Kids' Book Club: The Wind In The Willows

I have a confession to make. I know The Wind in the Willows is a great children's classic, but try as I might, I simply can't get past the first few chapters.

Published in 1908, this is one of those books we all associate with childhood. It has such an evocative title and consistently comes up in people's lists of their favourite childhood reads.
But I wonder how many of us have actually read the novel. For me, at least, when I really think about it, what I love about The Wind in the Willows never came from reading the book as a child.

In fact, my love of windy willowness comes from the beautifully made 1980s TV animation we all used to watch, starring David Jason as Toad. I seem to remember an audio version of this that I listened to again and again on my tape recorder.

It also comes from that stalwart of school plays, Toad of Toad Hall (I was a ferret, as I recall). But this stage adaptation wasn't by Kenneth Grahame. It was the 1929 work of A.A. Milne, author of my beloved Winnie-the-Pooh.

And I know and love the cosy, wintry illustrations E.H. Shepard drew for the book in the 1930s (again, you'll remember him as the illustrator of the classic Winnie-the-Pooh). It's imperative to get a copy of The Wind in the Willows with Shepard's pictures.

But when it came to reading The Wind in the Willows aloud to my son, I realised the novel itself was not very familiar to me. And to be brutally, honest, it was so slow-moving and over-descriptive that I gave up pretty quickly.

I only wanted to skip to the dramatic parts about my favourite character: blustering, car-smashing Mr Toad, who represents the thrill of the 20th century and the motor car.

Somehow, that said, I am extremely fond of this book - or, perhaps, what it stands for: friendship, the woodlands and waterways of the English countryside, turn-of-the-century manners - and, of course, 'simply messing about in boats'.

The novel by the retired secretary of the Bank of England was always a great success. Apparently Kenneth Grahame based the character of Mr Toad on his only child, Alastair, to whom he told the bedside stories based on their home of Cookham, Berkshire, which eventually evolved into The Wind in the Willows. Tragically, Alastair committed suicide when he was just 19. Kenneth died in 1932, aged 73.

What do you think - have you, too, found this book on the slow side? Or do I need to give it another try, this time with more patience for its gentler, slower world?

A children's stage version of The Wind in the Willows at London's Polka Theatre starts on 23 November and runs until mid-February.

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