Tuesday, May 12, 2009

For the love of reading

I remember when I used to trawl the baby stores late at nights when I was pregnant with Chip. Set next to the baby bibs and developmental toys that promised to turn wee babies into geniuses, there were shelves upon shelves of CDs. Baby Mozart, Baby Bach and Baby any-composer-you-can-think-of. I must admit I was tempted to pick one of those CDs, only to be admonished by a little voice inside that said, “Stop! What, are you doing, you utter idiot? Did Bach sit into wee hours of morning to compose music for teensy babies?” Of course he didn’t. The Bach and Mozart (and Pink Floyd and Deep Purple) CDs at home would do just fine, right? And they did. But, I think, what worked more, was that our love of music rubbed off on Chip. Music surrounds us and surrounds Chip too and he has learnt to work the iphone to play the songs he likes and on many idle Saturday afternoons, he lies on the sofa in the gentle sun and hums his favorites.

I have often wondered of music-less parents who invest their dollars in buying baby music. Do they end up with music loving children? Unless the children listen and learn to appreciate good music not just into their toddler years but way, I mean way beyond, I don’t think music listened to as babies would help much.

What does this have to do with reading, you ask? Well, plenty.

In the United States at least, there is a cultish drive to get kids to read. As early as possible. In baby hood, if you can. A child who does not read in Kindergarten is well, someone who will grow up shunning books. Four years of parenting and I laugh at this. As a child, I learnt to read late. Sure, I could read words and simple sentences by the time I was five or six, but I did not read independently until I was eight. I remember the first book I read. It was an abridged version of the Three Musketeers. The story was intriguing, as was D’Artgnan’s yellow horse and Lady DeWinter. It was the first time, I remember the power of books – how they could take me to another time and place and I was enchanted. Of course, I was only eight and could not articulate my feelings then, but yes, it was totally what I did not expect a bunch of words to do to me. It was a slow start and I don’t think I became a voracious reader until I was eleven or twelve. By then, there was no looking back. I devoured books. I would want to come home from school, just because I could read in peace.

When I look at what the experts tell me – you know read to your child every night and all that, I take it with a grain of salt. My parents never read to me or my brother. They helped us read when we were older – I would go ask my father for meanings of words or to explain a paragraph, but that was that. We were pretty much left to read alone. We would discuss books and many a battle followed between my father, my brother and me (my mother would keep out of these fiery debates) and many a tear were shed (by me of course) over the debates.
Books were fun, reading was fun. My father took us to the annual book exhibitions in our little town. He would buy books for himself and us. We had memberships to the library and we would bring and read books from there. We were surrounded by books. We were intrigued by my father’s and uncle’s bookshelves. On boring summer days, when it was too hot to play outside, I would look at our book shelf and find an old tattered book and begin browse through it, only to find when I looked out the window the sun had set and that I had finished reading it in one sitting. My father, I think inculcated a deep love of reading in us without ever reading a single book to us.

So, when I see parents read to their young children with a missionary fervor, every night, I want to ask, do you do it as a chore? Something that “needs” to be done for your child’s development – whatever that might mean. Do you “run though” the books not taking time to talk about it with your child? Do you know if your child comprehends the story? Such reading is futile, I think.

Reading is more than decoding words, you know. It’s about nuances of words and their meaning. It’s about predicting how the sentence might end and then be pleasantly surprised when the author chooses to end it differently. It’s about learning how to guess a meaning of the word from the sentence that wraps it. It’s about cadence. It’s about how some sentences transform meanings of words. It’s about how some words become the soul of a sentence. Reading is much more than stringing words together. Knowing how to string words together will not make you a book lover. Knowing that rest of the stuff will.

I read to Chip, sometimes. Not on a regular basis. Some nights we read half a dozen books and then don’t read for a week. But he is surrounded by books and parents who love to read: albeit different things. Many nights, find, Chip and I reading. He, his own book and me, mine. His with colorful pictures and a sentence or two in big, bold letters on each page, mine covered in small print. Chip reads aloud – no, he can’t really read, but he knows the stories in those books and he tells it aloud to himself while adding detail that is only limited by his imagination. Every once in a while, he peers at my book and asks me what it is about. I tell him. He looks eagerly at the pages that lack color and pictures and I can see the fascination in his eyes. He spells out a few words and finds the pattern here and there on the page and is satisfied. He returns to his book and me to mine. Side by side. Both, book lovers, in their own way.

Edited: Trawl, not Troll, as pointed out by Sue :)


the mad momma said...

what a beautiful post dot. i agree completely.

Sands said...

Such a lovely post. Couldn't agree more. Neither one of my parents are into reading but I turned out completely different and am a voracious reader. I haven't dligently read to my kids either but have raised them to be book lovers :)

choxbox said...

lovely post dottie!

Suma said...

this was a very well written post...i was/am a voracious reader, but i don't remember anyone reading out to me...

Mahendra said...

Whatever your thoughts about reading to children, you are definitely an excellent writer! Beautiful post.

When her parents indulged in bed-time reading, our 2 yr old refused to rest and sleep until she had her own 'abhyas' (study) to cuddle up with while sleeping!

And I don't know from where, but apart from our love of music, she has an innate love and ability of dancing. Can't stop her from grooving to bollywood beats!

dipali said...

Awesome post, Dottie! What the child perceives as loved in his daily life with his family is far more meaningful than things that are only done because some 'expert' thinks they should be.

Just Like That said...

:-D some time back there was a thinking blogger award. If I'd seen this post then, the award would definitely go to you, Dots.
Truly, I never thought of it before, but I never had anyone read to me either, and the first books I had of my own, Enid Blytons, were when I was about 7 or 8 definitely.
But my parents did encourage my habit of reading and my Dad especially inculcated in me a love of the written word.
When I read to Sonny boy, I make sure that he enjoys what I read to him and I hope that when he is old enough to read for himself, the words reach out to him with faces and characters, the way they do to me.
Lovely post, Dottie. :-)

Mama-Mia said...


true true true! i remember frantically trying to READ to Cubby at 6 months and he trying to wriggle out! and isued to whine saying how come my kid doesnt like books!

come one year and he was begging for books. even now he hates listening to stories and i really cant make them maha-interesting! so its pretty much show and tell! he likes to show AND tell! :p

and yeah! i think i started reading because Dad would just have age appropriate books in the house and I would see them reading often! :)

awesome post!



rayshma said...

lovely post... as always!
my parents weren't much on reading.... neither was my bro. dunno how i caught the keeda... but will ensure my kid does too. :)

Mystic Margarita said...

Lovely post, Dottie! I did have my mom read bengali kiddie stories to me when I was little, but not as part of a ritual like parents these days do. And my father told me a lot of stories - Shakespeare, Dickens, Stevenson - all simplified so I would understand. And he game me abridged classics to read when I was very little and often didn't understand the big words. I think listening to the stories made me want to read the books in the first place.

DotThoughts said...

mm: :)
sands: that's awesome!
choxie: thanks!
suma: me neither!
mahendra: that's so cute - that she wants her abhyas. And bollywood songs are immensely catchy! I would dance too :) Thank you for your words!
dips: how true!
JLT: awwwww. I used to be an Enid B fan too! big fan!
mama-mia: your alst line - exacto!
raysh: with you areound, the kid will be a reader, no doubt!
mystic: my dad told us stories too.. I think we just developed a love of narrative, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I read to my kids everyday simply because I think that any story is better imagined than watched on TV. And given the little time that today's working parents get with their children, those moments of letting my thoughts take flight with the story I am reading, and watching her expressions change as she comprehends what I read - are magical! So no, I don't hope that my reading to her will make her a voracious reader - its just a shared experience with her that we will carry on until the time that we both enjoy it.

Your paragraph about Reading not being about decoding words - gosh, that is just poetic. You are a fantastic writer.


Sujatha said...

Felt good reading this. Lovely post!

SUR NOTES said...

lovely post.

i guess music, books, anything else can overwhelm a child with its magic only if the child can feel the magic-and not be brought to it like a chore.
it breaks my heart to hear parents say-dont gift my child books -he/she tears them up. as if its the child's fault!!!

and FB tells me its your birthday today- am i right? Happy birthday

Subhashree said...

Lovely lovely. Love your post and agree completely with you.

Shobana said...

Yes, yes....here in the US, I have seen many a parent in the library, on weekend afternoons, literally abusing their children to read books. Comparing them to other children and sometimes I have the urge to slap the said parent, and put that child to bed for a nap, where it should be in the first place. I personally think, we should just introduce them to books...make it available to them and inculcate the habit by practising it. My 2 cents and as always, a great post.

mayG said...

hey thats such lovely post!

oh I'm the happiest, my little one has taken to reading to herself now since she sees mom tries to cheat and flip pages after she has read out the same story 5 times in one go! *sigh*

Orchid said...

couldn't agree more!

DotThoughts said...

Rashmi: It is a beautiful experiece to share no doubt. But youa re not doing it as a chore either!!

Suj: thnaks!

Sur: thanks!

subha: :)

shobhana: totally!

mayG: lol!!!!

Orchie: thanks!

GettingThereNow said...

Nice post Dottie! I agree wholeheartedly. My parents didn't read to me, though they encouraged my love of reading in other ways.

Mom Gone Mad said...

De-lurking after ages to let you know that I LOVED this post.

And I love the effortless way in which you express yourself.

DotThoughts said...

ceekay: thanks!

mgm: thanks for your kind words!