BENGALURU: During the COVID lockdown, I enjoyed reading books to my son. Since he is an auditory learner, I had to read aloud from a book every day. This introduced me to a genre of books that I had never read when I was growing up. In fact, I feel I started enjoying them more than my son did! My own childhood reading mainly consisted of Amar Chitra Kathas, Tinkle and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series. With an estimated sale of over 600 million, Enid Blyton has been a bestseller since the 1930s and one of the top-ranked children’s book authors of all time.
The first book I read aloud to my son was The Boxcar Children, created by a first grade schoolteacher in the US, Gertrude Chandler Warner. With 150 titles in the series, the books are aimed at grades two to six. One of the more recent innovations has been to enable the book using augmented reality, giving children a 3D view of the characters. Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came next. Dahl, often referred to as “the greatest storyteller for children of the 20th century”, writes books that champion the kindhearted and feature an underlying warm sentiment.
While Harry Potter, which falls in the ‘young adult’ category of late teens to early twenties, remains at the top of the list for every child, I personally never got around to enjoying the series. So when it came to introducing it to my son, I preferred to play it on an audible rather than read it out myself. The first book in the Harry Potter series is available on the Spotify app; each chapter is read by a celebrity, and that includes Daniel
Radcliffe and Alia Bhatt!
Interestingly, according to the Amazon bestseller ranking, children’s books sold the most during the lockdown. As libraries and schools remain closed, children are being home-schooled and that has made parents buy more books. Drawing books, workbooks, picture books and craft books are among the current bestsellers.
In India, Pratham Books has democratised access to books through their engaging storybooks published in various regional languages. Tara Books in Chennai started by Gita Wolf produces handmade books by local artisans. This is one of the most unique and remarkable publishing ventures I have come across. As an example, This Truck has Got to be Special by Anjum Rana is a colourful book with such bright and beautiful illustrations that they almost overwhelm the story. If Gita’s aim was to introduce the rich diversity of Indian folk and tribal art into books for children, she has already succeeded. We need more of these in cost effective ways, in as many regional languages as possible.
Children who read more, learn better and are more likely to succeed at school as well as in life. The best gift we can give to our children is the wealth of books. And above all, as I have discovered personally, children’s books have something for every age group.
When Eric Carle, author of the classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, was asked where the idea for the book came from, he said, “One day, I playfully punched some holes into a stock of paper. Looking at the holes I thought of a bookworm. Then I changed the bookworm into a green worm. With the help of my good editor Ann Bendence, the green worm then became a caterpillar.” Let’s hope that all children become like the hungry caterpillar, reading and consuming books aplenty — and evolving into beautiful adults!
(The author is a technologist based in Silicon Valley who is gently mad about books.)