Research has shown clear benefits of shared book reading for child development. (Source: mihirjoshimusic/Instagram)
By Mihir Joshi
In a world where even most adults rarely read books, I can't begin to tell you how important it was for both my wife and I, who love to read, that our son should get into it at a very early age. In fact, for me, it is such a ritual that I can't sleep without reading. Even if I'm back after a long day, I have to read at least one or two pages before I go to sleep. Back in the day, I used to have a night lamp and physical books and now I read on my iPad, but some reading has to happen!
I read everything from superhero comics to science fiction to thrillers to Wodehouse and this habit of reading for me started at a very young age thanks to my father. I remember sitting with him and looking at Asterix comics even before I could read. I knew the stories thanks to the pictures and I absolutely loved them. As I grew older, I read them again and began to appreciate them even more as I understood some of the historical context, the humour and the fantastic art in those comics. Even the names of the characters in Asterix comics are brilliant puns which you understand only with time. But that said, the experience of reading those books was brilliant at each stage of development.
We got him books even before he could properly sit up and now at 18 months, he knows what his favourite books are and can go to his bookshelf and pick out what he wants read to him. Research has shown clear benefits of shared book reading for child development. Reading with infants, toddlers and young children is good for language and cognitive development, increasing vocabulary and pre-reading skills and honing conceptual development. It also is a great bonding time with your baby. You get to not only spend some quality time with your babies but it is absolutely brilliant to see their faces light up when they come back to something they have seen and love.
If you start early with your babies, their ability to learn as they grow older is also tremendously enhanced. When they are really little you want books with big shapes, faces, objects, colours and simple text. The text is almost inconsequential, but it helps us tell a story. They love the shapes and images more than the story you're telling. If you keep reading the books, their understanding of the words begins to improve too and soon they are able to recognise words that go with the images they've been seeing. Repetition is key. No matter how bored you get, you need to read and re-read the books to your babies. It isn't about having a hundred books and buying a new book every time one gets over. It is more about having 10 or 15 good books and going over them many times. When you feel that your child has really got the hang of one book, then think about getting a new one. Till then you can repeat the books many times over and you'll see the excitement in your baby's eyes is just the same every time!
Not all books are created equal. The books that we should read to six to nine-month-olds will be different than those you would read to your two-year-olds, and they'll be different than those appropriate for four-year-olds who are getting ready to read on their own. In other words, to reap the benefits of shared book reading during infancy, we need to be reading our little ones the right books at the right time. Also, all infants are unique so you also need to find books that your baby will like as well. Maybe some of the books Neil likes a lot may not be the same ones your baby will like. So, experiment! Go look for different age appropriate books and text them out with your babies and once you find they gravitate towards certain books…keep reading them and then get others like them.
I obviously want to introduce my son to the magical and beautiful world of comics soon but let me tell you what he's been reading so far. These are some books which we'd heard about from other friends, online research and just randomly seeing them at bookstores. These have worked quite nicely with Neil and could be a good start for your kids too but like I said, make sure you look for other books too! You should be able to find pretty much all of these at good bookstores or on amazon. In fact, one of the things we did was, we added a ton of books we wanted onto an Amazon wishlist and shared it with his grandparents and aunts. They wanted to get him something on each of his monthly birthdays (I know the term makes no sense but we call it that). So on the 13th of each month he'd get a new book or something else we'd put on that wishlist from his loved ones. It is a great idea to control the things you want coming home and to ensure that the money spent by your loved ones goes on the right kind of items.
Books for kids (Source: mihirjoshimusic/Instagram)
Anyhow, here's a list of some of Neil's favourite books!
1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
2. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
3. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault
4. Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
6. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
7. Where is Baby's Bellybutton by Karen Katz
8. Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
9. The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
10. Little Gorilla by Ruth Bornstein
11. First 100 Words by Priddy Baby Books
12. Giraffe Is Lost by Roger Priddy
13. Pratham Hindi Varnamala
The last one was a surprise for me too but Neha said that he has to learn Hindi because we are trilingual, and we wanted to introduce him to the languages we speak. He understands Marathi because it's our mother tongue, English because we talk, read & listen to music in it, and was only lacking exposure to Hindi. Hence we thought we'd start him on that too, and he loves this book. Right now, it is just about recognizing words he knows and getting to those pages. It is super fun to see him trying to find a word he's associated with an image or something in real life. A varnamala or a picture dictionary is a great way to make those connections.
So there you go! These are some of Neil's first books. Reach out to me on social media and tell me the books you've got for your babies. And if you get any of the ones I've recommended, let me know how your baby finds them. Start reading!
(The writer is a singer-his debut album Mumbai Blues won the GIMA Award for Best Rock Album in 2015-hosts his own talk show-The MJ Show and does live Hindi commentary for WWE. Follow him on twitter @mihirjoshimusic)