Jul 062023
“Make your child an additional character in the story!” #kbcInPerson with Asma Shaikh
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[Note from Asha: We have a new series #kbcInPerson where a kbc member gets to interview another kbc member! The idea is to get to know our top contributing members better, as well as to learn from their reading journey. Here’s Amardeep’s wonderful virtual conversation with Asma! Interviewing other members is open to everyone. Should you wish to interview someone from our tribe please reach out to me at asha@kidsbookcafe.com.]

  1. Asma, your reading journey with Ruhani is extremely inspiring. We know you are raising an avid and extremely curious reader, but first we would like to know more about your own reading journey. Tell us more about the role books have played in your life since childhood till now?

I am typically known as a bookworm. We did not have a TV at home and the only go to entertainment was books, books, books. Starting from Arabic and Urdu fairy tales that my grandma would read to me, to reading anything and everything on signboards while on a train, to the favourites like chandamama, fulwadi, Champak and Chacha Chaudhary. Summer vacations used to be about reading up books for next grades and books of older cousins. I even got a membership to central Mandavi library in grade 6 and exhausted all children’s books within 15 days! So started to use my mother’s membership card to borrow books from the main library and later on convinced grandma, grandpa and cousins to get membership so I could borrow more and more books!

My best memories of school were about choosing a corner bench and reading a book while pretending to be fully attentive to what the teacher was saying. When I moved to Bangalore for work, I enjoyed the freedom to stay up all night and get engrossed in reading. Whenever I hit a roadblock in adulthood, books have been my constant companion that have pulled me out of darkness and made me into the strong, spiritual person I am, helping me create the life I had dreamt of as a child. Till Ruhani was born I used to carry books whenever I visited friends and relatives and was notoriously known to prefer reading over talking to friends!

2. Coming to Ruhani, at what age did you start reading to her?

I started reading to Ruhani at the age of 3 months. I read to her “Oh, the places you’ll go” by Dr. Seuss and the illustrated version of Harry Potter. At 6 months of age, Ruhani used to explore cloth books. She started to ransack our bookshelf at the age of 9 months and that’s when we got her “My first book series”. At 15 months, we got her Eric Carle, Mike Rosen and some lullaby collections, Think and Learn ABC which are self exploratory and enacting books. However, these were not enough to keep her and us engaged for 12 hours of a day during the pandemic and that’s when KBC came to the rescue opening a whole new world of kid-lit.

3. Do you have a set reading schedule? What is your favourite time to read?

During the pandemic books were read for all meal times, naptimes and even potty times. Ruhani’s most favourite time to read books is at bedtime where she will pick up 20 books and push the bedtime by 2 hours.

4. Ruhani’s love for sharks is legendary! And the photo of her diving into her collection of shark books is epic. Do you think reading books on a particular topic leads to greater interest in that topic? Share with us few tips that have helped you raise a curious book lover.

Around 18 months, Ruhani would run around and throw and sing and dance but wouldn’t sit to read books. Around that period, I happened to find KBC and the biggest tip I got was to find books that interests the child. Baby shark was her favourite song at the time and the only time she would sit and explore the book or ask us to read was if book contained sharks. Shark books were her companions from morning till bedtime and nothing else. Just following her interest helped increase her curiosity in the topic and in no time she learnt about all different types of sharks that are out there. Though it was tough to push the bedtime for us, but we continued reading whenever she asked. In a few months she started picking up books on different topics and slowly was asking all visitors to read to her as bonding activity.

5. Your recommendations on books for active toddlers, especially books to read to burn their energy before bed time, are precious! In a day and age where parents tend to resort to screen time to calm their toddlers it is creditable that you use books, and have managed to remain screen free for most of the time. Please share with us some tips on how you have used books to engage Ruhani, to help keep her away from the screen.

The best way to take kids away from the screen is to hide the device itself and replace it with activity books. We used Peppa 1000 words sticker book, pop up ocean book, Children’s cook book, five minute mum activity book, Usborne finger painting/ play dough/tie a ribbon/sound books, shed a light books, Melissa and Doug water wow, shadow picture books, Books with famous songs (like One love, Baby Beluga, Baby shark, Barnyard Dance, Perfect piggies, what a wonderful world, five little monkeys, etc.), push pull slide books, Usborne peep inside fairy tale and look inside series, Usborne music books like drums, keyboard which child can operate and dance on her own. Another thing we did was to take her out whenever possible and carry nature activity books along. This is how love for bugs/plants/birds/flowers/smells/textures/life cycles was developed. Ruhani did not like to sit and go through flash cards, so we made her jump on flashcards to identify an object. Getting puzzles with her favourite characters like Peppa/ Gajapati / ocean creatures helped too. Continuously observing her interest and getting books on relevant topics always helped. The interest moved from Sharks to insects to human body to food to numbers to funny books to Peppa. Nat geo children’s books helped to answer her constant questions.

6. Kiran’s read alouds, and his tips on reading to toddlers are pure gold. Who amongst the two of you usually reads to Ruhani? Do you’ll have specific genres that each of you like to read to her?

In the beginning, for almost a year Ruhani wouldn’t sit and read whenever I read. With lot of voice modulation and dramatic enacting and singing Kiran was the one reading. He also has a flair to add new elements into fairytales where he inserts Ruhani as an additional character in the story. Now with the start of playschool, we read only during naptime and bedtime. So, whoever is putting Ruhani to sleep reads to her.

7. What is Ruhani’s current favourite genre / topic of interest? Who is her favourite author?

Ruhani’s shark love has ended and now she has moved onto funny books by Nick Sharratt, Mo Willems  and Leslie Patricelli. Peppa is another favourite of hers. Peppa books become topic of meltdown and fights whenever we have visiting toddlers. After Asha gifted us Nick Sharatt’s book, Daisy is Ruhani’s favourite character. Little princess series has continued to be her favourite since she identifies a lot with how a character behaves. Zayn and Zoey books (use KBC15 coupon code for exclusive kbc discount) , story cards are the ones Ruhani asks to be read, again and again.

8. Have  you ever used a book to address a problem / issue with Ruhani?

Little princess series and Benny & Buzo’s magic series have helped us deal with all toddler issues like bathing, combing, brushing, sharing, winning, visiting doctor to potty training. Leslie Patricelli’s bed book is helping us to prepare Ruhani to have her own bed. Potty training was very smooth and child led for us all because of books: We used Potty and Toot by Leslie Patricelli, Caillou: No more diapers, Time to pee by Mo Willems, Who’s on the loo for toilet etiquette to name a few. Elizabeth Verdick’s best behaviour series helped us to sit still during mealtimes, use a calm voice, gentle hands, follow a bedtime routine and know the importance of sleep, tidy up after play. When Ruhani had trouble settling into longer hours at school, I packed a bunch of her favourite books along with favourite toys and blankie, which helped tremendously

9. As a working parent, what challenges have you faced in the reading journey?

In order to develop a love for reading, we had to read books to Ruhani well beyond bed time and it used to be very tiring. It is very tempting to give screen time and rest for few hours but we consciously go back to reading books or do book related activities after a lapse. We do end up using screen time when one of us are unwell or there is an event in family which needs constant attention from us or during long car journeys, but we always get back. Unlike screens, the biggest challenge with books is till children learn to read on their own, they need an adult to engage with them (we tried audio books and it did not work), so we consciously adjusted work meeting timings in a way that one of us is always available to engage with Ruhani . During work from home when there was no boundaries between work hours, work used to stretch for 12 hours and beyond. As a mother it used to be a continuous struggle for me to constantly say no, push back and maintain boundaries. However, a strong desire to connect and spend quality time with Ruhani with minimal screen time also gave me courage and motivation to switch to an organisation that allows working parents to bring their whole self to work.

10. When did you join Kids Book Café, and what impact do you think the community has had on your reading journey?

I joined kids book café in December 2020 in the hope to engage Ruhani with screen free time and I haven’t looked back since. The support that I received from fellow parents on non-reading related queries has helped me be a more aware and conscious parent. Ruhani has developed such a connection with books that we are able to support her during meltdowns not with screen but with her favourite books. Not only books, I was educated about current education system and boards that are around and what is most helpful for child’s development. It has changed my perception towards IB and Cambridge boards which I did not know about prior to my query on KBC. I made connections with old teachers at KBC and made lifelong friends with like-minded parents. I am forever grateful to Asha for building such a vibrant and loving community.

[Note from Team Kids Book Café: For your convenience, affiliate links (MARKED IN PINK) to some of the book titles & images have been added to enable you to buy the books from AMAZON, should you wish to! A very small amount of money comes to kidsbookcafe.com when you purchase a book via the amazon affiliate link provided (at absolutely no extra cost to you!). Do let us know if you need information about other children’s books by writing to asha@kidsbookcafe.com.]

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