'No storybooks now please, my kid has exams!'

BOOKS FOR CHANGE

'No storybooks now please, my kid has exams!'

Hooked: Michael Panckridge with kids at  a discussion on books organised by Hippocampus Book Council and the Australia-India Council PIC / ADITI KULOTHUNGAN

Mohan Raj, a voracious reader was presented a set of picture books for his six-year-old son by a colleague. Pushing the books deep into his laptop bag, Mohan said to his colleague, “My son has exams this week, I’ll show these books to him after he’s finished the exams.”

Since when has reading become a distraction? Since when have books been in the same league as Evil TV, Horrid Video Games, Bad Munchies? The pity is that in this instance, the child should not have been having an examination at his tender age! And even if he did, the parent should be have been happy to ‘distract’ him with story books. But that’s my view, and as an editor of children’s books in a publishing house, this could be considered professional bias.
“Are books necessary when there’s so much else?” asked Michael Panckridge, at a discussion on books organised by Hippocampus Book Council and the Australia-India Council. Michael’s admission that he never read books as a child, and even later, only read the sports section of the newspapers, comes as a surprise since he is now a best-selling author of over 30 children’s books.

Kids today have stories in comics, on television, in video games and movies. Vinayak Varma, feature writer, illustrator and graphic designer, said: “I don’t think we can compare one media with another. If there is new technology then we have to be excited about it...for these come from the same DNA as books.”

Vinayak is the illustrator of the book, The Magic Store of Nu Cham Vu, written by Sreekumar Varma and recently launched by Puffin India. “Books, toys and TV are all vying for time. That some children still like to read books shows that there is considerable magic in books,” he added.
“It’s precisely because there is so much information that they need to read books — you get a world view,” said Gita Wolf, author and founder of Tara Publishing.

So what kind of books should children be reading? “Just surround children with good books,” said Usha Mukunda, bibliophile and librarian. Added Roopa Pai, author of the recently launched book, The Quest for the Shyn Emeralds, “As kids, no one told us what to read, and we each discovered our own tastes in reading — we can read ‘bad’ books and still learn something from those!” Roopa’s  book is the first about Taranauts in an eight-part fantasy adventure series for 8-10 year olds.

Of the many factors that affect children’s overall development, books are just one factor. Parents who can afford books for their children need to feel lucky to be able to do it. For a vast majority of children in India books are novelties.  Hippocampus Reading Foundation, the NGO set up by Asoka Fellow Umesh Malhotra, works with the government and with NGOs like Akshara Foundation to take books to children from poorer communities.

For parents who are not yet convinced that books — all kinds — help their children, there is news from the Central Board of School Education. Students from class 5 onwards could soon be rewarded on their reading habits under a CBSE proposal to use a new evaluation system to encourage children to read storybooks. CBSE has asked affiliated institutions to include reading habits among parameters to be used in the comprehensive and continuous evaluation (CCE) of students in English, and has even proposed a reading list. The CCE, already in place till class 8 and extended now till class 9, is aimed at reducing a student’s dependence on his performance in term-ending examinations to secure good marks.

Not all children like to read. This is perfectly normal, just like not all children like ice-cream. And just as there is a need to surround children with books, there is a more important need for parents to avoid forcing books down the throats of unwilling readers. Experts suggest that a child who sees his peers and parents enjoying the act of reading is more likely to become a reader. Finally, award-winning author and illustrator of Are We There Yet  and other books, Alison Lester had this to say about children and the reading habit, “If you can read, you can go anywhere.”

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