BENGALURU : Every now and then, someone asks me how to get their kids interested in reading. Which books will get them hooked to more books? How do you get them to sit and read every day or to listen to a story? I’m not sure why they’re asking me. Perhaps the parenting columnist tag makes them feel that I have ‘real advice’ to give.
Perhaps it’s because they know that I love to read, and that my children have naturally inherited this from me. Unfortunately, neither of the above are true. I have no real advice, just my own experiences as I try to survive parenting with as much of my hair and sanity intact. And sadly, my children are not natural born readers. Or rather, they don’t fit the mould of what many grown ups think readers look like.
My boys firmly inhabit the world of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid, Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates; they are enormously interested in Butt Zombies from Uranus, love to scale the heights of mad cap tree houses and are always ready to zoom off with Captain Underpants. Not a single book on their ‘Must Read’ list would be deemed literature by many adults.
If I’m honest, when I stupidly declared, ‘If my kids aren’t readers, I’ll consider myself a failure as a parent’, I really did envision them reading moving stories about humanity and the triumph of good over evil, and not about a grown man running around in his underpants saving the world from fart monsters. (Also, yes, I realise there are far worse things for my children to grow up into than - GASP - non-readers.)
So when some people hear my list of book recommendations, I can almost see their raised eyebrows and pursed lips. So I quickly share with them my favourite Neil Gaiman quote: ‘I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. It’s tosh. It’s snobbery. It’s foolishness. Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading. We need our children to get onto the reading ladder. Anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy.’
Which is not to say I don’t try to get my kids interested in other books. Yes, the kind of books I’d like them to read. But when I leave those books “casually” lying around, they look at them with polite interest and then tell me ‘You can read this to us if you like.’ And so I do. This year, while my children went through book after book featuring Geronimo, they also went to bed with stories about rebel girls and boys who dared to be different. We giggled our way through Awful Auntie and are currently reading Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.
Maybe my kids will never read Harry Potter on their own. Perhaps they won’t know the bittersweet joy it is to finish Little Women. But they will have their own childhood books they look back at with fondness. And who am I, despite my good intentions , to take that away from them?
So, read to your kids. And let them read what THEY want to read. And after they’ve gone to sleep, sneak their copy of Captain Underpants to bed with you and giggle your way through it.