a childhood in books

a childhood in books

I was five months pregnant when I bought the first book for my child. Time for Bed by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer. I read it aloud to my unborn child every night.

In the weeks that followed, I bought a few more books. Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, The Magic Hat by Mem Fox and Tricia Tusa, Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, and The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfizer. Everyday I read these books aloud to my unborn child.

When D was four months old, on an unforgettably windy spring morning, we were at a coffee shop by Maroubra Beach. A few steps beyond the shop, two kids were selling used children’s books for a couple of dollars each from a bench set outside their house. I purchased Go, Train, Go and Sandra Boynton’s A to Z.

When D was around 11 months old, my social media feed was filled with pride-filled, enviable images of parents reading books at bedtime to their infants and toddlers. I remember this vividly because I also remember that my own attempts at reading to D back then had little to do with reading out loud or pointing to pictures and instead revolved around ensuring he didn’t rip off the pages, which is what he seemed to think books were for. Bedtime routines had little to do with books and more to do with nursing and singing songs and rocking him to sleep, and I sincerely thought those days would never end.

Among the tiny collection we had, there were some books he couldn’t care for and some others he put to good use. One in particular was a cloth book titled “My First Word Book” in which he’d point to a picture of blueberries to indicate that he wanted to eat blueberries. This was before he learnt to walk and open the fridge by himself or talk and demand for blueberries. (His first word for them when he was around 22 months old was ‘blue babies’.) Somewhere around this time his experiments with language and love for words exploded, and thus began a wonderful, ongoing journey with books.

On D’s second birthday, my brother sent over a huge collection of Thomas, The Tank Engine books. One of these was a wonderfully thick hardbound book, with the weight and appearance of an encyclopedia, titled StoryTime Collection. My first reaction at the sight of the magnum opus was one of disbelief. How could a child as constantly in motion as mine possibly sit through a reading of any of the wonderful tales in this collection? Surely, it was way beyond his reading and comprehension abilities. I was obviously wrong. Within a month or so, at D’s insistence, we had read aloud each and every tale in the book several times ... so much so that he’s quick to spot any errors we make in our reading and narrations and pronunciations! “Quarry, not query”. “Peeped, not said.”

Sometimes we find him ‘reading’ his books aloud to himself. At 2 years and 3 months of age, he knows his alphabets but he also knows which lines of the story appear on which page and are associated with which picture, and can read aloud an entire book without actually reading the words.

In the very early stages of my pregnancy, I remember telling a friend, a mother of two, that I can’t wait for my child to arrive because I can’t wait to read books to him. “That would be the last thing on your mind when your child arrives,” she laughed. Gosh! How right she was! And also how wrong! Reading and stories have somehow become an unimaginably huge part of our lives now. We read during breakfast, lunch and dinner. We read for an hour before nap time. We read for an hour at bedtime. And when we are not reading, we tell stories. Story time is when we are walking to his Montessori toddler school, when we are waiting for the hot meal to cool down, when we are tired after playing in the park and are walking back home ... Anytime is story time. We act out scenes from the books we read. D has a very funny way of imitating how the dragon in Room in the Broom walks. He makes his little train engines, Thomas, Percy, James, Gordon and Night Toby, deliver an ‘urgent package’ to Sir Topham Hatt.

I often scroll through the innumerable videos and photos I have of D growing up these past couple of years. And each time it strikes me how little I remember, and how much I have forgotten even though I spent these two years doing little else besides watching him intently, hoping to burn everlasting impressions in my mind of his infancy and now toddlerhood.

This blog is an attempt at capturing the wonderful moments of reading to our child. Starting on November 1, a new post will appear every Thursday at noon (EST), that moment when morning turns to noon, on a day that is perched so close to the weekend yet remains within the heart of the week, on a date that heralds the beginning of a new month, each post capturing a much cherished book and all the fun we have reading it and beyond.

It is only apt that this announcement comes on the day D turns 28 months old. In exactly a month from now, I will be celebrating 38 years of life on this planet. And the first post in this series will be published on the first of November, the month of my birth. And who came up with this idea of creating a blog on children’s books? Who but KrA? That noble, gentle, wise, intelligent soul I am privileged to spend my days with. I can’t help but notice these patterns in the randomness that life is and feel happy at discovering some sort of meaning, a colourful thread linking the three of us in a beautiful, mystical wonderment.

I hope this space will become a treasure trove of childhood memories for D, a constant reminder of the wonders of reading and imagining, of the beauty of stories. It is also an attempt at sharing how vast the world of children’s books is; each story is precious to the child reading it. It is also a tribute to each author and illustrator, a ‘Thank You’ note to them for bringing their words and pictures to life so that little D, KrA and I, among countless others, can fill our lives with the magic of stories and dreams and imaginations over and over again.