For the love of books

For the love of books

“Mamma, look outside the window. Everyone thinks that is a giant rock in the sea, but she is actually a blue whale, and only I know her secret. Her name is Wanda”

This was my 4.5-year-old letting me in on his hugest discovery during his month long vacation at his grandparents’ house in Mumbai. As I asked him more questions about ‘Wanda,’ I realized that my book-loving toddler was turning into a story-teller himself. 

It was an unusual summer for him. 
Instead of watching cartoons all day as he wanted, his TV time was strictly curtailed to one show a day. The IPAD had not been carried along and my phone has always been off limits for him. While he started out ‘bored’ with no friends or technology, he soon settled into a lovely routine of his own. He coloured, he built lego blocks, he got me to read him book after book even as he stared out into the horizon and started noticing the world outside … dark clouds coming in from the sea meant rain, while a sunny afternoon after the rain could mean a rainbow. Most importantly, he started telling stories.

Technology is a two faced beast. At once, it is a boon as well as the bane of our times. While digital content for children is definitely getting more intelligent and nuanced, it brings with it its own set of problems. There’s enough research out there talking about the disadvantages of too much technology for the very young (even us, actually), and I’m not going to talk about that. But one thing not often spoken about is its impact on imagination. 

When we see something, we often take it as the ultimate truth. There’s no scope to imagine a situation or the way a character looks, because every little detail is already laid out in front of us. We are merely consuming the final product of someone else’s imagination.

I never gave this much thought until this summer, when my son’s forced ‘technology-detox’ opened up another, far more colourful and vibrant world. As the child of a self-confessed bookworm, he has always been surrounded by books and stories. But this summer, he wasn’t just a passive listener. He had his own interpretation of stories. The same story could be retold again and again with different characters. With a different ending. Or even beginning.

While all this sounds easier than done, and not every child would take to reading or telling stories, I do believe it is a habit that needs to be inculcated and nurtured right from the beginning.

So here are my top 3 tips on how to raise an avid reader. 

1. It is never too early to introduce stories to your child. Not flash cards and educational material, but proper stories… fantasies, folklore, fairy tales. You will be amazed but they are often learning the most when they are not consciously being ‘taught.’

2. Nurture their imagination.
We are often quick to correct them when they make a ‘mistake.’ The sky is blue, grass is green, unicorns do not exist, and so on. But think about it… eggs are never green, still, Dr Seuss is still one of the most imaginative and best known children’s authors ever.

3. Include them in your own reading journey.
Children’s books have come a long way in the last few decades. However, this summer A and I revisited a lot of old stories from my childhood (all thanks to my old books having been kept carefully by the grandparents). It was so much fun to revisit some of my childhood favourites through my own child’s eyes.

Coming back to Wanda, the huge whale-rock in the sea outside our window – her story has taken on a life of its own. She now has a brother named Wilson (another rock seen from another beach one evening) and often goes to meet him in the dead of night. Some day they might swim away to the huge open ocean out there … but until then, my son is watching, and chronicling their story.

By: Priyanka Dutt is an entrepreneur, author, television journalist and mother to little A Dutt.




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