Stumbling over books is less painful than Lego, though much more blasphemous. That is usually what my life gets reduced to on library clean‐up days, during vacations. In the morning, the two boys would report to duty, and be given a minute long lecture on their responsibilities, and how I, the overworked mother, slogs to keep the place clean. Two nodding heads scurry across the house collecting stray books that magically find their way under the sofa, on the dining table, and in all sorts of drawers hiding between toys, socks and worse. I sigh, watching them run about, as I quietly slip out to do my round of grocery shopping, haggling with the vendor or, sometimes, a cup of solitary coffee just for sanity’s sake.
Every time I step back in, fantasising about neat bookshelf with books lined up in some comprehensible fashion, I trip and fall. In front of me is a familiar trail of books leading to two boys plonked in their favourite corners, with their noses buried in books. I boil and holler, “BOYS!”
Few moments pass before they are jolted back to reality, and few more before they realise they are not inside the pages anymore. If I am lucky, the horror of the unfulfilled promise about shouldering the burden of keeping the house livable dawns upon them, and they hurriedly pile them up, making me wish I had never asked them in the first place. However, on most days they just rush to show me the book they found buried in the pile. The excitement of finding that perfect book disarms me, and the next hour is spent in an animate discussion involving vampires, dragons or simply a boy, much to the disapproval of the house‐help.
My younger one had written in one of the paragraphs on ‘love of books’ for some unit test at school, ‘the characters seem to leap straight out of the pages and drag me in!’ That somehow sums up the love we have for the written word. They have cried, giggled and been suitably scared thanks to the variety of books they devour. Over the years, I have been asked quite a few times how I got them hooked. I usually shrug and wonder myself. There was never a conscious guideline, or a recommended reading list that I followed. I am sure there are hungrier bookworms elsewhere who have a method to the whole thing, but mine mostly involved letting them get tremendously bored and keep my ideas of valuable books to myself. So how do we start?
1. Yank out that cable. Okay, may be not so violent but switch the damn TV off! Install child‐locks, bolt the room, or do whatever it takes to wean them off. They need to feel bored to be able to entertain themselves with other stuff not involving a screen.
2. Give them alternatives of their own choice. Let them lose in the children’s section of the bookstore. Allowing them to choose raises the chances of that book actually being read rather than ending up as a hurriedly wrapped, last moment gift.
3. Be patient. Recently, I read somewhere, “Everyone is a reader … some just haven’t found their favourite book yet.” This is even truer for kids. If they do not like a few books and let them gather dust on the shelf, do not wince, give up, and shove the remote back into their hands. Give it time. They will find their book. It is somewhat like finding the right wand for Hogwarts.
4. Tie some incentives. Some nuts are harder to crack. My younger one resisted the book wave for the longest time till he succumbed to temptation. The rules were simple – he was to read a book, tell me what it was about and get a star. Ten stars meant he gets to do something he loves. Reinforcement works. Devise your own rules.
5. Ban the banned book list. A parent once remarked I ‘should not’ let them read Captain underpants. I went and bought the entire series. So there. Children get lengthy lessons on moral values at home, and in school. Books need to become their sanctuary. Everything doesn’t have to be informative and politically correct.
6. Don’t be fooled by categories. There are no boys’ books or girls’ books. But then, that is purely a personal belief. I have grown up reading all sorts of ‘boy books’ and my gender identity is firmly in place, thank you. Also, the defined age groups can be used as an initial starter at best. After that, each child figures his or her own course.
7. Add variety. Comics, Graphic novels, short stories, poetry – let there be a variety of choices and before you know it you might find your kid hiding in a corner guffawing at the piece of nonsense poetry he just read.
8. Thou shalt read. Every time the boys read something new, they get me to read it and wait impatiently for me to finish so that we can go over the jaw‐dropping or the tear‐jerking parts again, together. When they were younger, I used to read to them. A little later, we read together and now we just exchange notes. I love books, they love books. You cannot expect them to love something you seem to be disinterested in!
9. Never force. Books can never be shoved down their throats. I am yet to come across a parent who has successfully ‘disciplined’ their kid into reading and enjoying books. So let them be. Keep motivating them, enticing them, and blatantly tricking them into reading.
10. Shed your ideas of a good book. Yes, Roald Dahl is one of the best and yes Enid Blyton is integral to Children’s Literature but there is a world beyond the names that the salesman rattles off! And there are a number of Indian authors out there who have churned out wonderful tales that are grossly under represented at the stores. So go ahead and browse at leisure with an open mind.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list of ideas, and there are scholars out there with a number of abbreviations added to the bottom, right corner of their names giving them the legitimate expertise to come up with a sound theory. These are just the things an exasperated mum did to keep the kids off her back. Nearly a decade later they are still firmly on my back, though the game has changed. The sibling fights are now usually centered around who would read the new book first, who dog‐eared the pages, and worse, who left the book in the washroom. The books still lay strewn all across the house and I have given up any hope of an organised bookshelf. On days that ill luck particularly hounds me, I step on that stray piece of Lego invisible to the human eye thanks to the books camouflaging it.
Originally posted at : Everybody loves Reading – Just find the right book.