There isn’t a book-loving mother in the world who will not shove a book in front of her infant the instant its eyes begin to focus. In keeping with the unwritten Book Code by which we booklovers abide, my parents and I made sure that both my children were submerged in books almost from birth, leaving no stone unturned on the path that leads to glorious bookwormhood. Juhi, my senior offspring, has always stayed true to the Code. Books have to be wrested from her grasp and she has to be forcibly ejected from the house to play, as is the norm with bookworm purebloods. Aniruddh, offspring the younger, was similarly a source of joy and pride for half a decade, toddling straight to the bookshelf immediately upon rising and insisting on many a reading session through the day.
On one memorable occasion that I noted down in his baby record book, Aniruddh – then a few months short of 4 years – awoke around the time of the hustle-bustle of getting Juhi ready for school, headed for the bookstand, and settled down with a book. When I called to him to come and have his teeth brushed and his face washed, he replied that he was reading. I answered that that was very good but he should brush and wash first. He said, “Okay” in a resigned tone and added, “I am reading to increase my knowledge”!!
And it was this literary enthusiast who, something over a year later, announced that he hated books and refused to read under any circumstance whatsoever! Lightning flashed and thunder cracked at this blasphemous statement and Book Code adherents reeled as the little turncoat switched loyalties to football. Stricken, I watched numbly as the young impenitent passed the bookstand without a glance and devoted his time to kicking a football around under the tutelage of his father.
What should I do, I wondered? Should I haul him back by the scruff of his unrepentant young neck or should I let him be and hope that he eventually returns to the straight and narrow? I decided on the latter course. I was occasionally able to lure him to a book by reading aloud to him but he didn’t pick up a book on his own for an entire year. My fellow booklovers can well imagine the agony I underwent, seeing this unfortunate child spurn the panacea for boredom and headed on the way to bookless darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Yes, it was a dark year but there was light at the end of the tunnel! The little chap was 6 years old when he, with firm steps, made his way back to the path right and true, and is now at 8 years a keen reader and re-reader! How, I hear you cry in wonder – how did this miracle happen? Once again, the magic of Harry Potter!
[A short detour here, related to what follows. There are widely differing views on whether or not parents should strictly monitor their children’s reading (and TV-viewing). Many, indeed, discount the need for parental censorship and let their children read (and watch) fairly mature content at a very young age. Call me old-fashioned but I do keep an eagle eye on what my children read and watch. Juhi read only the first three Harry Potter books at 7 years, subsequently reading the fourth book at 8, the fifth at 9, and the sixth and seventh recently at 10.5 years. The sixth and seventh Harry Potter books – “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” are, in my opinion, a little dark, and then there’s all that snogging. I might have withheld permission for these two books a little longer but Juhi displays a maturity beyond her years, doesn’t hesitate to ask me anything (I regularly encourage both children to come out with questions about anything they might have on the mind), and has a truly heart-warming appreciation of her mother’s opinion. She understands why I talk about “age-appropriateness” (though a more accurate term might be “maturity-appropriateness”) whether in books, movies, or anything else – and, indeed, keeps a vigilant eye on what her younger brother reads and watches! For Aniruddh is an extremely sensitive child and a little reserved when it comes to sharing his troubles – one has to dig deep before he’ll reveal what’s bothering him. If he reads or sees something that distresses him he is more than likely to keep it to himself.
The importance of age-appropriateness becomes evident through an example. Like I explained to my children, once when Juhi was 5 years old, she watched a cartoon where the good guy defeated some funny alligators – and that night she woke up shrieking, clutched me tightly and refused to let go, saying there were alligators under the bed. It was a humdinger of a nightmare! After that we stuck to the CBeebies channel (the Mr Maker art programme being her favourite). Clearly, she was not ready for action-packed cartoons at 5, but at 7 she could watch them with a merry laugh and enjoy her sleep undisturbed. What we read, what we watch, what we are exposed to – all play a part in shaping a child’s mind and it’s a tricky task for parents to determine when each child is old enough (read “mature enough”) to be introduced to the next level of content with no disturbing impact on the young mind].
Returning to the burning question of how Aniruddh was enticed back to books, Juhi was, at the time, an expert in all matters related to the first three Harry Potter books. She talked about them incessantly, her enamoured audience consisting of her little brother who listened all agog with ears flapping. Suffice it to say, Aniruddh knew all about Harry Potter’s friends and foes, the Hogwarts teachers, the Houses, everything of any significance in the first three books without having read a word of any of them! He could ace a Harry Potter quiz based on the first three books thanks to what he had gleaned from his sister. I, meanwhile, was cunningly turning over in my mind the possibility of inveigling Aniruddh back to the world of books through Harry Potter. Acting upon this, we watched the first Harry Potter movie together. And that was the feather that tipped the scales! A few days later, I spotted Aniruddh going to the bookshelf and picking up the first Harry Potter book. Hope fluttered! Fingers crossed! He set himself a target of two chapters a day and finished it on schedule. Then he picked up the second book in the series. Hope blossomed brightly and yodelled in glee! And there’s been no looking back since! A surfeit of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Amar Chitra Katha, Tintin (which he’s read multiple times already and practically memorised!), and much, much more – and he’s going stronger than ever!
And that’s why I say – bless Harry Potter! Bless J. K. Rowling!