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I read to both my kids from six months onwards, I think. A relationship with books, which I could not foresee at that time, and a precious one, started a decade ago. Books weren't as affordable, and books for small kids were few. For me books were a way to engage my baby – what else can you really do – talk, sing, read – can't play much, they aren't moving much. So, like toys, books were an essential engagement tool. I read about the harmful effects of screen-time, and the passiveness of TV watching, so I decided to ensure that the kids have something else to do. I shunned TV.
Reading at bedtime was an important ritual for me, till the kids were about 4-5 years old. I did not want the kids to be dependent on my feed, or the bottle, or my lap, the rocker, the thup-thup on their backs. So I used books. Reading out stories that can help them unwind, calm down, relax – using my intonation to help do that. It worked really well. I remember my daughter used to love hearing the stories and stare at her mobile, or toss around in her crib till she just fell asleep silently. And my younger son just followed what she did. I tried playing music too, for the same reason, but the books worked better on most days.
And this carried on for some years. I started buying them books that I thought they could read, but they went through them quite quickly, and so we progressed levels fast (Pepper and Bruno books, Lady Bird series, Noddy books, books on Flowers, Birds, Marine Life, Planets… you name it, and we were buying it). I waited for some indication for the kind of books they preferred thereby making it all easier for me, but that didn't happen.
A few more years passed and I had two kids at hand between 7-8 years. They had thoroughly enjoyed Dr.Seuss with the nonsense words and lovely rhymes. I loved reading those out to them too. Geronimo Stilton, Thea Stilton came into our lives with American slang words, and not the best of grammar. But the layouts were very interesting, and I caught my kids talking about Chinese language and its unique characters, trying to set codes for each other and break them (an activity I was also roped into many times), discussing the Mayan Civilisation, time travel, different cities in the world, and what have you. The series captured the interest of the children and they blazed through it in no time, and then got over it. Not the best to ‘learn’ from, you say? I beg to differ.
Harry Potter, of course is a member of our family (my son's spectacles are also very similar and everyone keeps reminding him that he resembles HP). Books, movies, websites, quizzes – we have been through all. The magic is kept alive by reading the books again and again, each time discovering something new in it. That’s my son – skipping pages, paragraphs, starting books from the last page (!), laughing hard and falling down hard (a delightful sound I must tell you). He has also been found reading with one leg in his trousers 15 minutes after coming out of his bath. Sigh!
My daughter is a fan of the Classics – Wizard of Oz, Tom Sawyer, and her all-time favourite ‘Black Beauty’ would top her list. She has been through most Enid Blyton books. With her simple concepts and very British expressions and language Enid Blyton won over my daughter, who also incorporated phrases like “goodness gracious”, “whatever do you mean” into her language, much to our delight!
Tintin and Asterix have pleased them as much as they pleased me! There’s so much joy in sharing the same joke, the same humour this way. I didnt expect it, since they are exposed to books so different from what we read while growing.
Now they are 9 and 10 years old. Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and Kane Chronicles have made Greek and Egyptian mythologies their second language since the last year! All the Gods and demi-Gods that I could never remember.... and now I can’t keep up with them! The excitement and the involvement, and the stories that they share with each other are quite something to hear. Science-based books, like George’s Secret Key to the Universe, are not boring and painful. With fantastic concepts weaved into a gripping story, they have managed to pull their interest into all things scientific and got my son into re-reading the Horrible Science series, and then into Horrible History, and… well, you know how that goes.
You can imagine the dent in my wallet, and the lack of space in my cupboards, shelves and behind the sofa cushions! Books are pouring out of everywhere. And I am still buying all kinds of books – different ones that they may not initially like, poetry books, comics and graphic novels, and books with great illustrations- even some that may be beyond their understanding. They may leave it for a while – like my daughter did with Finton Fedora, Golden Compass, Zombiestan (not at all in the same league, but who knows how this works) only to pick it up a few months later and declare how much fun they are.
Reading for my kids is a wide canvas - reading 3 books at a time, reading the last page first, boys reading ‘girls’ book, and girls reading ‘boys’ book….. my kids don’t really know which are girlie book, and which are boyish! Discussing characters and sub-plots and new plots, enacting scenes from books, duelling with spells, charms, and flying on dragons – this is their play and pretend play rather than re-enacting some scenes from a serial or something manipulative and mean. Its imagination, and thinking to a different degree - and I thank my stars for that!
People ask me how I did it. Well, there’s no method, there are no rules. I really don’t know how to answer that question. My husband and I read, books were always available; there was no prescriptive reading for any purpose other than fun and engagement. 'I want my child to be intelligent and read a lot,' is something I hear around. Books are not read to enhance vocabulary, or to make them more expressive, or for that matter to make them intelligent beings with high moral standards. I don’t know if there’s causation here. I would say my kids are intelligent – because of, and even in spite of books! As for books with moral lessons, they tend to stifle the joy of reading after a while.
When you come to my house, you may witness reading upside down (seriously, on the sofa with feet on the wall), falling off the sofa while reading and ending up reading on the floor lying down for the next 2 hours, reading in bed, in the chair, in the loo (not really encouraged), in the garden, while lying on the dog, and outside in the doctor’s reception, even in the mall. There are times I have to tear them away for something more important. But usually they have the books all to themselves – any time access to any book. Books are asked as gifts, books given as gifts, and you will see eyes lighting up when a new book is spotted somewhere. You may find yours truly and kids reading the same books at times (Harry Potter, Hobbit, Percy Jackson, Septimus Heap series, FableHaven), and as a family enjoying weekend movies about books.
As I type my two are buried in some books somewhere, lost to this world. Its lovely isn't it?