My son loves books. He loves his books and he loves mine too. Yes, even the boring ones with no pictures – he just likes to riffle through the pages, turn it this side and that side and I even caught him smelling the pages once. If you know me, you’ll know that that moment was probably one of the most happiest moments of my life. See, I could never be sure he’ll take to books. Half of his genes vehemently detest books of any kind and there’s nothing I can do about it. But looks like the better half of his genes (yes, mine!) prevailed.
I’ve been asked how he does this. How is he so interested in books, at 2.5 years of age. Simple – he’s always been surrounded by books, right from the time he could crawl. Not before, though. I was not one of those women who read or sang to their unborn child. I wanted to, but I couldn’t afford to become attached to the baby before he/she was born and have my heart broken yet again. And I also had a distinct indifference to books when I was pregnant and during the first few months of motherhood – I’m going to blame the hormones and move on. So yeah, if you didn’t read to your pregnant belly, it’s ok dude – they can still like books, don’t worry! ;-)
Right. So, when he was around a year old, he got his first picture books. Ironically, we didn’t buy it for him – it was a gift from my friend when we dropped by to visit her! It was a board book with no sharp edges (very important, when giving books to little children) and a touch and feel theme – the images were laid out in patterned paper/cloth/fur so the child can touch and learn. I lose count of the number of meals I have gotten him to eat with the help of these board books. Oh, that’s a great time to get them to see books, btw – when they are tied and bibbed up in their high chair, with a table in front of them.
The next few months he was getting more and more picture books (alphabets, numbers, animals, birds, vegetables, fruits, vehicles, etc.) thanks to his super-enthu Dad who couldn’t stop buying them for some reason. At some point, I might have actually asked him to stop buying so many books. So even though there was no active reading per se, books became as familiar to him as toys, if not more. He could sit by himself and run through all the books, sounding out the words he knew.
Then came nursery rhymes. First the audio and then the books. Nursery rhymes are a fun way to get a child to learn a language and introduce new words and actions into their vocabulary. Only thing is we need to try not to complicate things by looking at the inner meaning of some of these rhymes because, dude, they are downright mean! :-D Just sing the damn rhyme and get it over with – don’t go around explaining the meaning to the child please! They have some time before reality hits them on their butt, before swinging a punch on their face.
We then gradually moved to stories – simple ones, with every day terms and themes. It need not be the actual classics, but a heavily watered down version is good. He has a version of Alice in Wonderland that’s about 8 pages, with 2 or 3 lines per page – THAT simple. The language lacks nuance and quality, of course, but I make it up when reading it to him (I correct the grammar before I read it aloud! Heh heh, old habits die hard mate!). In hindsight, check the language before buying the book – some of them are very badly written and it’s a pain (literally!) to read them.
When he was almost 1.5, I got him his first Dr.Seuss book – A wocket in my pocket. It is gold, trust me. The Blue Back series is for toddlers, so I just blindly bought a couple of them – result, he was already finished with the slightly complex ones before seeing the simpler ones! :-D Example, The Foot Book is probably a good one to start with, instead of ABC or One Fish Two Fish. No harm done, just that they enjoy the simpler book a tad less than the others.
The latest additions in his library (yep, he has an ever-growing one!) are The Lion King, The Jungle Book and T.S.Eliot’s Old Possum’s book of practical cats. The last one was a gamble, but hey, he did like the poems and has some favorites too! These books are for me to read to him – they have comparatively less illustrations than his earlier story books and I was wondering if he would like them or not, but he did. It all comes down to how we read, btw – a monotonous reading will not help in getting the child interested, trust me. They need to feel the drama and the excitement! So I had to brush up on MY reading skills before picking up the books. And the other thing I do (rather, ended up doing without realizing) is to read each story the same way every time – the same cadence, pausing/stressing at the same place, etc. so now he’s able to complete the sentences in the book after reading it 3 or 4 times. This, I find, is a good way to improve their speech and vocabulary. I’ve heard him repeat those phrases to himself when he’s pretend-playing with his toys!
So, there. Even though I’m running out of space in the cupboard for all his books and even though there are times when I don’t really feel like reading but I HAVE to because he’s being all whiny and cranky, I’m completely thrilled that my boy loves books almost as much as me! I’ll never have to worry about him being bored or lonely as long as he has books around him. I can’t wait for him to grow up and discover the infinite pleasure that is reading, all those wondrous journeys to far away magical places, to let his imagination run riot at the mere sight of words.
His first Eric Carle is in the mail. And I’m buying him his first Enid Blyton shortly. That’s a milestone. The next would be when I thrust a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone into his hands and see him vanish into his room for a day and a half. All the Ruskin Bond. Calvin and Hobbes. I can’t wait to roll my eyes at him when he invariably tries out some of the Young-Adult junk and hates it just like I do. I can’t wait to see him inhale his food down so he can go back to the Jonathan Stroud or Neil Gaiman book, unmindful of my exasperation at yet another uneaten meal. And before you know it, he’ll be old enough to read Ayn Rand. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Murakami, David Mitchell and all my other favorite authors. And all the contemporary fiction of his time, 20 years from now.
I can’t wait for him to recommend a book to me, maybe even buy me one with the first bit of money he earns. And then we will have come full circle.
I can’t wait for him to read, even without food or water or sleep, as if his life depended on it.