The comfort of the familiar

Children love routine and familiarity. New books are exciting, but old books make them feel good. They understand the story, plot and concepts better with each read.
Last Updated 30 January 2021, 20:07 IST

My nephew, who’s nearly three, cannot read yet. And yet, he props his favourite book open, turns the pages, and “reads” out the entire book. Does that mean he has secretly learned to read? No, but he has asked for that book to be read out to him so many times that he knows it by heart. He’s just reciting it from memory.

A lot of children do this. Even if they cannot recite the entire story, they know what comes next, and pounce on you if you make the inexcusable blunder of missing a sentence, or saying the wrong word. While we ooh and aah about the cuteness of the whole thing, let’s spare a thought for the poor adult who is forced to read that book until they’re sick of it. In the Calvin and Hobbes comics, Calvin’s father has read out the (fictional) book Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie to him a million times. “You know how the story goes!” wails the father, clutching his hair, when Calvin asks for the same story yet again. “You’ve memorised the whole thing! It’s the same story every day!”

Seriously, is it worth all that trouble you go through to read a book to your child again and again? Well, it is.

Comfort: Children love routine and familiarity. New books are exciting, but old books make them feel good. It’s like meeting your old friends, whose company you know and love.

Comprehension: Just like we comprehend things better when we re-watch a movie or reread a book, children understand the story, plot and concepts better with each read, and learn to make connections.

Vocabulary: Children’s books have a lot of new words. Hearing a word multiple times ensures that the child registers the word and its usage, and is more likely to use the word (correctly!) in regular conversation the next time the situation arises.

Confidence: Once the child actually learns to read, it is easier for him to read a book that he’s already familiar with. This makes him confident in reading, and it’s more likely that he’ll try out a new book with new words that he doesn’t know. I understand. The adult needs to dip into previously unknown reserves of patience in order to read the same book every single night, especially when you have emails to send and a sink full of dishes to wash. It can be frustrating. In fact, Calvin’s father even rants: “Architects should be forced to live in the buildings they design, and children’s book authors should be forced to read their stories aloud every single night of their rotten lives.” Ouch.

Actually, authors do keep adults in mind when they write their books, and some are a lot of fun to read aloud. For instance, I didn’t mind reading out Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo no matter how many times my daughter asked for it. Wish you bucket loads of patience, and remember, it’s worth it, and this phase will pass!

The author has written 10 books for children and can be reached at www.shruthi-rao.com

GobbledyBook is a fortnightly column that gives a peek into the wondrous world of children’s books. Hop on! Or as Alice did, plunge into the rabbit hole.

(Published 30 January 2021, 20:01 IST)

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