How to choose books for your child

Anupa Lal

The Call Beyond
15 May 2020

Once upon a time when I was seven years old, my mother read an article on Enid Blyton. It condemned her books as unworthy fare, poor in literary nourishment; as bad for the psyche as sweets for the teeth. Eager to obey the experts, my mother sold all my Enid Blyton books to the kabari. She replaced them with classics like Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island and some dulllooking pictureless tales from ancient India. Most of these books were still new and untouched a month later when I celebrated my eighth birthday. To my delight – and my mother’s disappointment – I acquired a whole pile of Enid Blyton books as birthday gifts!

So, my mother’s attempt at literary guidance wasn’t a success. But then the choice before her was limited. Today, nearly three decades later, my sons are luckier than I was. … … Enid Blyton is still popular but so are Shankar, Satyajit Ray, Tara Ali Baig, Ruskin Bond, and so many other Indian writers in whose stories our children can discover the fun, the adventure and the values of their own lives. … And in the last 20 years, folk tales from every part of the country and stories from Indian mythology have been specially rewritten and illustrated for children. The best gift we can give our children is time; and there are few better ways of spending time with children than reading to them. My husband and I started reading and singing to our boys nursery rhymes in English and Hindi when they were a few months old. … We began turning the pages of brightly coloured picture books with the boys as soon as they could sit up. … A little later, simple animal tales with plenty of pictures, like Dr. Bhondoo Dentist, Mahagiri and Little Tiger, Big Tiger became a regular bedtime habit. … …

As a mother of two, and aunt of many, over the years I have discovered one golden rule when reading aloud to children. Never read a book that you don’t enjoy yourself. Enthusiasm, like boredom, is infectious. … A love of books needs to be caught rather than taught. When you read aloud a book you cherish, you convey your enthusiasm not only for that particular story but for the whole delightful business of reading and re-reading. … …

Which book suits which child at what age? This question often perplexes parents. What I have found very helpful is a bibliography published by the Children’s Book Trust (CBT) which divides most of the children’s books published in India, according to language, into three broad categories – for the under fives, the five to tens, and the eleven to sixteens, and gives a brief description of each. Some other publishers like Thomson Press and National Book Trust (NBT) also specify the age group for which their books are intended.

It is wise to remember that children have their likes and dislikes where books are concerned just as we do. Pratibha Nath, teacher turned full-time children’s book writer, recalled a bright tenyear old in her class who wasn’t in the least interested in the fairy tales his classmates read so avidly. Once, during the library hour, when the class was discussing a story from the Panchtantra, he got up and said, “How can crows ask a fox for help? Birds don’t talk like we do.” Something clicked in Pratibha’s head. At the end of the class, she pulled out the Man-Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett and said, “Vikram, read this. I think you will like it.” He did. Vikram read more books on wildlife by Jim Corbett and went on to enjoy Kenneth Anderson and Joy Adamson. He had discovered a new interest and Pratibha a budding naturalist.

Even the brightest children will only have time to read a few hundred of the excellent books written for them all over the world. So getting stuck in a reading rut seems such a waste of time. It is all right if they start with something undemanding, as long as they move on. The trick is to offer them something richer every time.

If you want your child to develop the habit of reading, help him to build up a library of his own. A modest basic library need not cost more than Rs. 150. Most Indian children’s books, paperback as well as hardcover, cost between Rs. 1.50 and Rs. 15.* … Give your child a shelf or better still a book case to house his collection. Book cases made of cane are light, sturdy and inexpensive. He might also need a table lamp and an extra pillow. The fix a time for bed but not for “lights out.” In this way, you would have carved for your child a perfect space of reading time out of the school-ridden, homework-haunted, television-distracted day.

From Live Better, Feel Better. R.D.I. Print and Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Excerpted from The Call Beyond, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 41-43, 1995

*Editor’s comment: The prices prevailing 25 years ago have, in themselves, some entertainment value today!