Jun 122022
The Intangible Benefits of Reading Books
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Anecdotes from 10-years of our reading journey

Our treasure!

As parents or caretakers, we are often riddled with making the right choices for our children and many times our decisions are made considering set guidelines, possible outcomes or tangible benefits. But when it comes to introducing and investing in books for children, many of us don’t show as much enthusiasm as other activities.

To my surprise (rather, shock), I have heard people say it’s because reading books does not give any visible benefits like bringing in medals/certificates or blessing the kid with a priced seat in a reputed institute.

Also when it comes to activities like singing or dancing, kids have platforms to show their talent or at least be able to perform before relatives or guests at home, unlike reading which is considered a lonely activity just for time pass with nothing to gain or showcase. I’m sorry if you may find this to be hype but sadly this is the truth that I experienced raising a reader.

So in an attempt to help understand the importance of investing in books for children, I thought, why not throw some light on the intangible benefits of reading books through some anecdotes from a 10 year-long journey of raising a reader.

Before getting into it, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Asha and the Kids Book Café community for helping me introduce a variety of genres and picking up age-appropriate books for my daughter, Miss.M. A mere thank you will not suffice for all the dedicated work that goes behind building a highly active, positive and resourceful community and bringing the best of the book world to our fingertips. Dear Asha, please take a bow!

That said, here you go now with anecdotes from my daughter’s reading journey to get you inspired and see books as an investment that you can gift your child with.

At first, when she approached me I thought I may have a tough time answering her questions but she surprised me. She just came to me to get the affirmation of the existence of another gender.

She just wanted to hear it from me and she just accepted it that like male and female there is this other gender too. As simple as that.

What amazed me, even more, was when she happened to come across a transgender woman, she wasn’t startled or so. She just said this aunty is like “Rose” and just moved on with what she was doing. I’m sure it could have been difficult to come to this level of acceptance without exploring the world of books.

  • Empathy: In an unfortunate turn of events, my appa had a stroke this February and it took a toll on him and the caretakers as well. We were all in it together and trying to understand and accept the new normal.

During the early weeks of recovery, appa was not his best self. The stroke had things slow down for him in multiple ways. In such a circumstance, M and I were around him.

M used to insist her thatha to play with her all the time. Had appa been himself, he would have been her partner in crime. But the stroke had taken a toll on him and he was not his best, which led him to raise his voice at times that M couldn’t comprehend and both end up arguing (like a sibling rivalry). It was a rough phase to watch and get through.

What helped us then was a story from the book Hope by Pragati Sureka where there is this story about a parent going through mental health issues and the conversation the other parent has with their children regarding the same.

I didn’t carry the book with me, so I just recollected the story and explained our situation. She was quick enough to understand and all she said was, “Thatha will get back to be my normal thatha soon and play with me na?” as tears rolled down her cheeks.

That day, that particular book, Hope, helped us sail through that phase with a better understanding and approach. It helped M understand that it’s OK for adults too to go through mental struggles. Within weeks, M and her thatha were back to being partners in crime.

  • Appreciating Art: This is something that can be easily overlooked. In a society where logical and scientific reasoning is given more importance, art appreciation is deemed less important.

We found KBC a little late, only after M turned 8 but in the last 2 years, we introduced to some wonderful picture books like The Lion’s Feast, The Middle, Moneybunny Books, Thukpa for All, Seven Habits of Happy Kids, etc. 

A huge fan of illustrations, M looks out for pictures in chapter books too and looks into details of the cover pages. She learnt to appreciate the nuances of art just by observation. Things like colouring face with not just the “skin-colour” that comes in shades of peach but opt for dark brown or pink too and choosing different colours for hair too, came naturally.

Minute detailing like adding a few slanted strokes to show the movement of wind, making comic strips, doodling, creating sketches of her imaginary characters, etc. were all learned from the picture books.

Miss. M & her BFFs!
  • Communication & emotional awareness: Every child has a way of communication. It doesn’t necessarily have to be talking in clearly structured sentences. Introducing kids to books helps them develop their way of expression.

They find and learn words through stories that can explain how they feel or what they are going through. Be it through talking about stories and feelings of/for the characters, expressing through comic strips or just doodles or journaling.

M was inspired by the character Avantika from the book Why Is My Hair Curly? by Laxmi Iyer and she started journaling. There were doodles too along the corners. One look into the journal, I know that not every feeling is “spoken” about. Some are drawn, some are journaled and some are reflected upon. Books help kids explore and express their emotions in ways unexpected.  

  • Taboo talks made easy: I can’t emphasise enough on this. As parents or caretakers, we are obliged to have difficult or uncomfortable talks with children. The taboo talks about puberty, sex education or death, etc. are made easy with the help of books.

Our favourite books on puberty, the Menstrupedia comic and Just for Girls are such a resource. It helped me prepare unlearn a few conditionings and have an open conversation with M. Her curiosity was directed in the right way and answered all her doubts.

On the funnier side, whenever she finds me feeling tired, she comes near me and says, “Don’t worry amma, maybe you are going to get periods and you will be ok. Just take a rest”. It’s sweet right.

  • Develop a knack to understand complex things: While we as adults may still struggle with understanding the complexities of life, books help children and even us to comprehend those complexities with ease.

During one of our bonding sessions with the book, M and I were reading the book, The Gita: For Children by Roopa Pai. The author had done a wonderful job with her lucid writing that helps kids comprehend concepts like dharma, soul, rebirth, conscience, etc.

In an interesting conversation with M as we read about conscience and how to have control over emotions, identify the right from the wrong, etc, M came up with something beautiful and unexpected.

She told me conscience is more like her imaginary friend (courtesy, being the only child, I guess) Meenu with whom she always has conversations. When asked why M tells that Meenu always points out the right from the wrong and that she gets irritated with Meenu at times because she never stops doing that.

I was amazed at how she could connect that inner voice to the imaginary friend and how she had her conscience personalised to someone comprehensible. You never know how books help comprehend even complex subjects.

  •  Understanding language instinctively: Let me be clear that this is not about learning the language through grammar books. It is about understanding the language instinctively.

I have never sat and taught grammar lessons to M. It’s only from school that she earns but even before that too she was able to identify a mistake in a sentence just by a single read. Even if she doesn’t exactly know what is wrong in the sentence, she still fixes it out instinctively. This could happen only because of reading a lot across genres.

M recently amazed me even more. One day, I found her having 2 books side by side and comparing them. It’s a different story that there is always a bunch of books around her while she is reading but this looked different.

I found that she was comparing the books from the Aru Shah series and the Kiranmala series. I was intrigued and when I asked her why she pointed out that Aru Shah’s story is told by someone else while Kiranmala herself narrates her story. It just dawned upon me that she was comparing and talking about the third person & first-person narratives in the writings, something which I learned very recently during a writing workshop.

The writer in me was so proud of it and this is what I meant by understanding the language instinctively.

  • Conversations at home: In an era where everyone sticks to their gadgets and there are not many conversations at home, it becomes difficult to have healthy relationships.

Healthy conversations do matter for bonding well and books just aid that.

You got to trust me when I say, we don’t have a television at home and it’s sleeping in our loft for 3 years. Instead, we have books in every corner and M is never out of topic to converse.

Sometimes it’s about asking serious questions on astronomy to her appa while other times it’s about trying out mind links (Aru Shah fans know better!) with me. It’s educative, it’s fun.

  • The joy of reading books: I would love to leave you with this particular thing though. M now realises that not every kid has the luxury of having books around. She enjoys books and knows its worth so much so that that when she sees her friends don’t have access to books, she feels sad about it. So everyday and everywhere, even to school, she packs a book to share with her friends and have fun.
  • That is the joy of reading and sharing and this sole reason can be much enough to introduce kids to books.

    I am sure there are a lot many experiences our way and this list will get updated from time to time.

    Hope you have enough reasons now to start on a reading journey if you haven’t yet.

    If you are someone already on the journey of exploring books, let me know your favourite moments or anecdotes.

    Cheers to reading and exploring books!

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