How to turn your child into a reader
Last week, my eldest niece’s daughter turned 13 (in case you’re wondering, my sister is 16 years older than I am!) and all our thoughts turned to buying her the perfect present to mark her transformation into a teenager. After being presented with a plethora of choices – Handbag? Shoes? Earrings? Clothes? – Hitee made her decision.
All she wanted for her birthday was books. And not just the kind that you can download on Kindle. She wanted actual, physical books made of paper and glue, the ones that come with beautiful covers that you can gaze at admiringly, and the smell that transports to mythical worlds far away from your everyday reality.
So, that’s what all of us gave her: books. And her joy as she laid eyes on each one was quite something to behold.
Truth be told, it took me back to my own childhood and teenage years, when I lived for the times when I could get hold of a new book. In my case, the few books I owned were supplemented by the school library, and those in turn were supplemented by the lending library that my mother had signed me on for. So, it felt good to see that the Goswami reading gene had been transmitted to another generation, even if it had skipped one generation in the process (the only reading my niece does is WhatsApp forwards; I exaggerate, of course, but only by a bit).
But more importantly, it made me delirious with joy to see that at least some young people were still into books and treated reading like a pleasure rather than a chore. I can only hope and pray that their tribe increases year after year.
But that increase won’t happen in the absence of effort on the part of the responsible adults in the lives of these children. The joy of reading needs to be inculcated at an early age, and then fed on a steady diet of good books if it is not to die out by adulthood. And parents and family members can play an important role in this regard.
So, what should you do if you want the child in your life to grow up to be a reader? Well, here are a few pointers that have stood me in good stead all these years. Maybe they would work for you as well.
Start them young
And by that, I mean very young indeed. Read to your baby even if it seems as if she doesn’t understand anything at all. Sing aloud to her from books of rhymes. Introduce her to the different animals in the books you read. As she grows older, this routine will be so familiar to her that she will regard books as an integral part of playtime. And she will soon be clamouring to be read to, not just at night as a bedtime ritual, but also during the day.
Make reading fun
When your kids are younger, you can keep them amused with pop-up books, so that they can physically touch the castles they are reading about and gaze at the princesses who live within them. When they learn to read themselves, make them read one page while you read the next. As they grow older, you can involve them in the storytelling itself. Break off at an interesting point one evening and ask them to come up with their own version of what happened next by the morning. That will not just make them more invested in the stories but will also boost their imagination and enhance their creativity.
Bond over shared favourites
Half the pleasure of reading to your children stems from the joy of rediscovering your own childhood favourites – and seeing how they speak to you now that you are all grown up. There will be plenty of books from your own childhood that will not make the cut in this era of political correctness, but some perennial favourites are just the thing to bond over (as in, if Noddy seems too racist, then stick to the Five Find-Outers). There is no greater satisfaction than seeing your kids fall in love with the fictional characters that were your own best friends growing up. And in seeing them immersed in the same stories that were the staple of your childhood reading.
Broaden their horizons
That said, the world has now expanded far beyond Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew (yes, yes, I know, one is an author, the other a fictional character) and there is an entire new universe of children’s fiction out there. Explore that along with your child, discover new worlds together, marvel at the plethora of diverse characters that exists in kids’ fiction today. Introduce them to mythological tales from all across the world. Buy them translations of children’s books from other countries and cultures. It is never too early to teach them that we live in a big, wide world, in which people of all shapes, colours, creeds and beliefs exist. But that, no matter what their differences and however diverse their stories, they are all united by the universal themes of love, peace and acceptance.
Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004.