Choosing the right books

Each one of us has different ideas on what kind of books we want our children to read. Based on our own personal preferences and experiences, we choose books for them. However there are certain commonsense guidelines that all of us can follow while choosing a book: –

  • The book should match the age of the child and should not contain any material that might frighten her.
  • The child should enjoy the book – it’s not your choice alone.
  • Ideally the book should contain a message or value that you want your child to imbibe, but this should be so well woven into the story that the child doesn’t realize he’s being influenced.

Books for different age groups :-

Infants like books with –

  • Nursery songs and lullabies.
  • Brightly coloured pictures and mobiles.
  • Baby pictures.
  • Actions along with reading / singing.
  • Animal sounds.
  • Books they can play with e.g. Board books, cloth books *

Today a wide variety of books for infants are available but most are expensive. The good quality books with glossy pictures and beautiful illustrations are all foreign imports and are priced accordingly. You might be tempted to buy at least one such book, but try and restrict yourself to a board book or a cloth book. Pop up books should be strictly avoided – unless you want to see it tear the very first time your child gets his hands on them. That could lead to a nasty scene involving you and your child and defeat the very purpose of making books attractive!
Unfortunately the Indian books available are of such poor quality by and large, that they are not of much interest to either the parent or the child. Of course there are a few exceptions -like the books brought out by Vikas Publications. There are a whole series of them ranging from ABC alphabet books to Know your fruit and flowers and animal books. The pictures are big and bright, the pages are of fairly good quality paper for small children and best of all the prices range from Rs.20 – 25. So if the kids happen to tear them or add a few crayon colours of their own, it doesn’t matter.
If you start reading to your children when they are babies, you will need to buy the more expensive foreign books. Look for bargain shops such as the Midlands, Aurobindo Market, New Delhi, where you can buy the books slightly cheaper than elsewhere. You can also try and beg, borrow or steal from family and neighbours. Or you could haunt a few libraries in your neighbourhood.
For infants start with books of babies – animals and human. Excellent first vocabulary and colour books are available in the markets. Don’t confine yourself to ‘Ladybird’ or another known brand, and don’t pick up the first book you find. Resist buying too many of the soft cloth , non toxic variety – they cost a great deal and have too few pages to keep your baby amused for very long. Buy books with pictures of daily activities (bathing, brushing, playing) and books showing everyday objects that the baby can relate to.
Toddlers :-
Toddlers like:-

  • to read the same book over and over.
  • Pick out favorite books on their own.
  • Large clear, realistic pictures.
  • To name objects in books & magazines.
  • Don’t like too many unanticipated surprises.

Pretty soon your baby will be a toddler and given our problems with schools admissions, he is also a pre-schooler who needs to be taught a great deal of stuff to give him an edge over the competition. So buy a few alphabet books and books with big printed words. When you read to him, run your finger under the words you are reading, so that he learns what is obvious to you – that the meaning comes from words, that those strange symbols can be read, and that you read from left to right.

it is at this age that most parents find themselves facing a dilemma – should they buy story books or more educational books? The thumb rule is let your child decide. If she likes the books you buy their she will be more receptive and (motivated to learn) will pick up reading faster. And if you let her choose most times a few times you can get away by slipping in books of your choice

Amongst the educational books on offer, a good buy are the Time life series. They are designed to be used from ages 0 – 8 and have been specially put together by a panel of child educationalists and psychologists for maximum learning. But they are extremely expensive and they contain no information that is not available elsewhere. Their strength is that they put together information in a consolidated manner designed to tickle a child’s curiosity and hold his interest at a different levels.
At this age, books are more for building up a love of reading and for keeping the child engaged and entertained. Books do provide much needed information, but any parent who spends time with her child talking to her, pointing out colors and shapes and objects – will make available the same information.
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  • When talking to your child – pronounce the words properly, use descriptive colour or action words.
  • Keep pointing out objects whenever you take the child out, even when you don’t get a response. At some level the information is being absorbed and assimilated.
  • Take your child shopping and try and make it fun for her. Let her ride in the shopping cart (if there is one); encourage her to pick out her favourite foods based on colour, size, and later, name. Incorporate small treats and let your child help in carrying small parcels.
  • Go to the park and encourage your child to play with other children and explore the differences in greens (tree, grass, different leaves), colours (of flowers, clothes, birds, butterflies etc).
    Kids :-
    Kids
  • Use words to express themselves.
  • Want to do things themselves.
  • Play with language and nonsense sounds.
  • Are fascinated by other children, share grudgingly.
  • Are fearful of the dark & strangers.
  • Like simple tales.

As the child grows a little older, parents provide both story and teaching aids. But the new question is what kind of story book is preferable – Western, which has concepts foreign to the child or Indian books which are of poor print quality. Generally, children should be encouraged to read both types. One old favourite remains Enid Blytons. They teach fundamental values such as honesty, loyalty, friendship, courage, caring and consideration. The more imperialistic/ chauvinistic attitudes inherent in the time period these books belong to, normally escape younger children. Therefore they are ideal for teaching values and they do not have any violence. However such books need to be supplemented by others that are more rooted in everyday Indian Life.
Other good books for children include Panchtantra Tales, Jataka tales, Mahabharat, Ramayana, The Bible,Folktales of different regions etc. These books give children a sense of their heritage and a feeling of belonging. They are also satisfying to their parents as imparting important cultural and traditional values. Let children in primary school read Amar Chitra Kathas. Each ACKatha contains a story taken from our epics or classical literature and puts it in a readable form for young readers.

As far as educational books go you could check out the series brought out by an American Publishing Firm – Scholastics Ltd. There are books on Sciences, Maths, English and Arts ranging from Activity books to beautifully illustrated, well written text books. Start younger children on the activity books. Then let your child supplement his regular school text books with these text books. Alternatively there are excellent Science and Maths books by Cambridge India and by Times Media. The Times Media books on Science, Maths & English for different age groups are distributed through the Frank brothers network. All these books are affordable and contain many activities and games designed to make concept learning fun as well as simple.

For toddlers and kids.

  • Read a bedtime story.
  • Read the favourites over and over again.
  • Give your child paper and pencil.
  • Give him a blackboard and chalk.
  • Write his name on all his possessions
  • Frame his creations.

Pre teens and Teens :-
Parents often assume that such children will select their own books and no monitoring is necessary. Also they encourage more educational texts for such children. Obviously you are the best judge, but we suggest that you continue to monitor the type of books a teenager reads. Even if you are unable to screen undesirable content, atleast you will be aware of what your child is exposed to. You will also be able to discuss the issues involved in the book so as to give your child your own point of view and clear up any misconception they may have.

Comics –
Many children are attracted to Comics. You will have your own preferences on the matter but you may like to consider the following: –

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  • If you categorically deny your child the right to read comics – be sure he will do so behind your back. Apart from the fact that he has learnt to deceive you and a divide has been created, the objective itself has not been achieved. Let him read a few but if you dislike them use them as treats or rewards only.
  • Even if you are in favour of comics, try and limit their number. However good a comic, it reduces attention span and concentration. Make a pact with your child – so many comics a month and in return he will clean up his room / help you in the kitchen / walk the dog etc without argument.
  • Try and bring more Asterix or Tintin comics – they contain a wealth of accurate historical and geographical information. Next preference may be Archies – they are superficial and extremely Americanized but they make a point to teach a few values (such as no drugs, friendship) and also contain no unnecessary violence. They also periodically attempt to increase GK and vocabulary.

Whatever the age group of the child, make it a point to be familiar with the books she reads. In fact with younger children read them first –

  1. It helps you to know your child better – his likes and dislikes, areas of interest, the information she is absorbing. This is a crucial if you are planning to guide your child in decisions such as career planning and also helps in avoiding pitfalls such as drugs or other vices.
  2. You will be able to screen out harmful content such as violence, abusive language, too much sexual related descriptions, hate content, racism etc. This is particularly relevant in the era of cable TV and Internet where the child already has too much access to filth.
  3. Within each child’s range of preferences you can find and introduce books which convey best the values you want to teach.
  4. Even with an older child / teenager, you can use the book to discuss important social issues such as HIV, drugs, rape, violence, caste, riots, environmental degradation, pollution etc. Your child is going to make up her mind on all such issues anyway, it is better that you give her your input as well.
  5. Whatever you find, try and be non-judgmental. Your child is a person in her own right and has her own temperament and nature. You cannot impose your choices upon her.
  6. Lastly and most importantly – relax! You are the most important influence in your child’s life. Your child will learn from not only what you say but far more from your example. So be yourself, enjoy yourself and the chances are your children will become just what you dreamed of while they were still in the womb!

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