Growing up with Books.

The world of children’s books is a wonderful one – full of colours, pictures, words and ideas. The reading habit is a good timepass, offers entertainment, and food for thought with never a dull moment. A book is a child’s best friend especially if he or she is an only child. As you read on, you travel, explore, makes friends with the variety of characters, and let your imagination run riot in the world of make-believe! I remember I had a pillow-size book of bedtime stories and a book of fairy tales with lovely colourful illustrations which I must have read umpteen times in my childhood. Illustrated epics and folk tales from all over – they playfully instilled ethics and morals as you turned their pages over and over again. The grand leather-bound volumes of the Children’s Encyclopedia would unravel the marvels and mysteries of the world as you grew up. No selfies in those days but I loved to pose with these books for photographs! Books do play an important role in a child’s growth and personality development.

During the summer vacations, the occasional trips from Dhanbad to Chennai with a stopover in Kolkata to change trains, provided ample time to read books big and small. The Wheelers bookstore at Howrah Station was the best place to stock yourself for the long journey ahead. It had a vintage look in the 1970s with its slanting door panels made in England which were shipped to Calcutta (old name) in 1905. Higginbothams in Madras (as it was then called) was a bookworm’s delight – you could spend hours browsing through the stacks and end up buying almost a cartload of books to read!

Now, at a time when the world is in the grip of the Covid pandemic, when children are glued to their handy gadgets and driven to online activities, isn’t it the best time to introduce them to the lovely, large world of books – both digital and paper?

Start them young as tiny tots. Read aloud to them, it is also the best way to develop bonding. Let them touch, chew the edges, watch the pictures pop out, and listen to sing-song rhymes. For toddlers (upto 3 years) there are ‘books to cuddle with’ displaying bright colourful letters, large numbers, simple shapes and familiar objects. The Fun with Phonics series connects words with sounds.

For the 4 to 7 age group there are ‘books to explore together’ with elders who can take them on a picture walk through the pages. It is an interesting fun way to learn about the seasons, flowers, fruits and vegetables, the trees, the school, the family, pets, good manners and more. Ask the kids to read to you, tell you what they see.

Advanced pictorials like the Amar Chitra Katha, Chanda Mama, Tinkle and Gokulam lead the growing child (8 years and above) into a world of make believe, bringing alive characters in the epics, historical figures, and folk tales. Spider Books has brought out a series of more than 100 books on famous personalities in India and abroad, in an easy-read, 30-pages format.

Encourage the child to read at bedtime and during holidays. It can set out on an adventurous journey with Sindbad the Sailor, Robinson Crusoe, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Robin Hood, and Gulliver’s Travels. You have the evergreen classics for children and all-time favourites like the Panchatantra Tales, Aesop’s Fables, Fairy Tales, Alice in Wonderland, and A Child’s First Dictionary. As they grow, children love to read series like King Vikramaditya, Akbar & Birbal, the school series by Enid Blyton, Harry Potter, and soon develop a taste for classics by Charles Dickens, Children's Encyclopedia, and simple translations of the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, and the Tirukkural. These are ‘books to grow on’. The list is in no way exhaustive; there are books and more books in English and several Indian languages for kids who love to read.

With changing times there are now audio books and animated e-books for tech savvy kids who prefer to swipe and finger-touch instead of turning the pages.

Children who grow up with books become avid readers, and are more imaginative and intelligent. Reading builds up a child's vocabulary, improves concentration and strengthens brain connectivity. So shop for books together. Give a child a book, it is a stepping stone to success in life.

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