Leels meets literature

SUVASINI SRIDHARAN says her baby already loves to nibble books, and it is just a matter of time before she starts reading them

November 12, 2016 04:55 pm | Updated December 02, 2016 03:06 pm IST

Since having my daughter Leels (no, that isn’t a new-age name like Leaf, unfortunately, it is just a diminutive for Leela), early this year, my reading has taken a major hit. A new baby doesn’t allow you much free time and trying to read with her next to me, I quickly realised, was attempting the impossible. I was deeply immersed in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s, All Change , when my then six-month-old let out a shriek as she attempted to launch herself off the bed.

The next time I was curled up with a book was while Leels was playing. We were both on the floor this time. I looked up from Curtis Sittenfeld’s, Eligible , as it was a little too quiet in the room. I found the little Miss biting the corner of the bathroom mat ecstatically.

While I have made my peace with never getting to read an entire book, in the unforeseeable future, I have a plan. I am going to get Leels to love books. There is a photograph of me where I am about a year old, I am lying in bed next to my mother and we are both reading. Well, more like she is reading and I am staring at the pictures in the magazine I am holding trying to copy her. Growing up, my siblings and I were surrounded by books. And we always saw our mother with her nose in one, she would lose herself in them and that is when our first positive impression of reading began.

I am not taking chances with my daughter, since she seems most keen on destroying every book she spots. I decided to start reading to her from when she was a couple of months old. Every day I read the same flap-book to her about a farm and all the animals in it, hoping one day it would register with her. I did the animal voices, and tried to sound excited every time I read it aloud. For weeks there was no reaction. And then one day when she was about four months old she grabbed the book and pulled it towards her.

My heart leapt. Did she want a closer look at the picture? Was this her favourite part? Is she a child prodigy? Will her first word be ‘book’? She shoved the book in her mouth and chewed on it contentedly.

I haven’t given up though. I keep reading to her. I rotate between a few books and barnyard animals start to wear thin after the 100th reading. I have spent many happy hours online researching and ordering books for Leels. I’ve chosen books with gorgeous illustrations like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the babylit books introducing her to the characters from classics like Sense and Sensibility and Moby Dick , and funny books by Dr. Seuss to make her giggle. Next, I have my eye on the lovely bilingual books from Tulika Books so she will learn Tamil. I am having as much fun building a library for her as I do buying books for myself.

And finally, last week it happened! I was reading to her, making ‘moo’ and ‘oink, oink’ noises and feeling fairly foolish; when suddenly she put her chubby, little hands out for the book. I held my breath as she pulled the book towards her, stared at the page and then looked up at me, smiled and turned the page. I don’t know if she realised what she was doing, but its progress and I’ll take it.

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