The Indian Library Association celebrates the week beginning Children’s Day as National Library Week. Bhumika K. finds that not only is the reading habit thriving among children, but kids get started earlier than ever

All people lamenting how kids these days don’t read much, wake up and smell the coffee. Kids are very much reading, and a lot, because parents today are making an effort to ensure their kids start early and get hooked to reading by the time they can read independently. And it’s a habit that seems to stay, once they get going.

Mridula Charlu, a senior manager at an IT firm says it’s been two years since their family of four took a library membership at their neighbourhood branch of Just Books “because we all love books. We used to go to the library once a week on Saturdays, now we are not so regular,” she admits. She started reading books to her now nine-year-old daughter Arundhati when she was barely one. “And then while potty-training her, we gave her books to read to keep her entertained while she sat…that’s where it really started, she laughs. “By the time she was three, she was reading independently. Now, I have to tell her to stop reading, go out and play. My husband and I read a lot as well, so I guess she picked the habit from us.” Arundhati has a group of about six other classmates, who exchange books between themselves and read. Her son Agastya, now a little over four years, and Arundhati read every night before they go to bed. Some classics are also downloaded on the iPad for them to read.

There may be other many encouraging factors too, apart from enthusiastic bookworm parents. The number of good libraries that allow books to be ordered from home and are delivered at the doorstep have increased. So have activities around books — new book launches are accompanied by storytelling sessions for children. Many libraries conduct monthly activities for kids around a theme or book that could include painting, craft, making up their own stories — al of which lead kids towards more stories and more books.

Divya Purandar is a familiar figure in Bangalore’s bloggers’ circles as the one who blogs at One Story A Day. It all started for Divya and her then three-year-old son Abhay when they were in America. She was bowled over by the books and library system there. She started this habit of reading her son one story a day and it’s become an inseparable part of their life over the last four years. “Now he’s picked up reading on his own and I get him books from early readers’ series thrice a week,” says Divya. She’s a member of three libraries “just for him”, and apart from borrowing, also buys him books every month. “He’s not really a voracious reader and doesn’t grab each and every thing I get him, but now I discover he’s interested in reading books on adventure, cars, and mythology, especially Amar Chitra Katha.”

But why then are so many rueing that kids don’t read? Mridula points out that there are two kinds of children — those that read and those that don’t. Umesh Malhotra, CEO of Hippocampus library, says there are two categories of parents — those who are educated and have always believed in the power of reading, and those who are schooled and focus mostly on academics and struggle to realise the importance of the reading habit in their children’s lives. “The average starting age of reader in our place is about 3.5 years and we have upward of 3,000 members. Many mothers bring their kids to our library when they are as young as one, and we have seen them evolve as readers till they are about seven. Parents have taught children the alphabet by the time they are three, and they specially take time out to make them read,” he observes.

Varsha Pillai, mother to Aadya, who’s just a little over two, has been reading to her daughter since she was one. She started identifying things in books before she turned two. They graduated from hard board books, to touch and feel, to small stories like the Baby Einstein series. Books are also great company for children on long journeys, she’s realised. Varsha believes there are many takeaways to children learning to read early. “She is able to identify and recognise things around her. Recently we went to the Mysore zoo and she recognised a Toucan because she’d seen it in a book.” Apart from going to the library regularly, Varsha also buys second-hand books that can be rough-used, and come at a much lower cost than rather expensive children’s books otherwise.