We started reading to Bobo quite early. For nearly eight to nine months of his life, the only bedtime reading for him was Goodnight Moon. D and I had the words down pat and could recite it in an insipid manner as Bobo began to chew the cloth book, began to learn how to grab it and then eventually learnt how to turn the pages.

Then one fine day, he yawned and turned his attention to other things. So we had to begin the ritual of reading different books to him every night.

While Bobo was bored with Goodnight Moon, he was by no means a keen reader in the day time. He steadily chewed his supply of books. Then he began to stand on them and break their spines. They were one of his toys.

I let it be, figuring out that a love for books could only begin with a close association with them. Even if it meant being physically aggressive with them. (Though I am happy to report that once he passed that phase, he has never torn a page deliberately. His mom has given him sufficient warnings about getting a tight one if he attempted that).

The first book that fascinated Bobo sufficiently for him to actually look at the pages and turn them one by one was Hug. The book has absolutely lovely and colourful drawings that fill out the pages, with not a sign of blank space. It tells the story of a little gorilla (coincidentally also called ‘Bobo’), trying to find his mummy and get a hug. Unfortunately Mummy is nowhere to be seen and instead he comes across various mother-child pairs in the forest – elephants, giraffes, snakes, chameleons and so on – hugging each other.  As an increasingly despondent Bobo bursts into tears, Mummy bursts through the trees and hugs him. All is well that ends well. While the book moved me when I read it (Thank you, Mummy hormones), Bobo (the boy, not the gorilla) loved the pictures.

It was a proud moment for me, watching him sit down and ‘read’ a book.

We kept reading all his other books to him.

The next big step happened when reading the classic Moo ba la la, a book on various farmyard animals. It follows the usual patterns of children’s books – the cow says moo, the sheep says ba etc etc. Except there is a twist and in one page ‘three singing pigs say la la la’. When you turn the page, the universe returns to order with a ‘no no, you say. The pigs say oink’. Our little boy, in love with the word ‘no’, surprised us by saying ‘no no’ one day when we turned to the right page.

He was absorbing what we were reading out to him.

Bobo has rapidly learnt to point at things from his books and makes the link in other situations. One day, he pointed at my night shirt and said ‘cow’ (pronounced ‘kau’). Yes, there was my night shirt with a picture of a cow! (and saying ‘grumpy cow’ below it, but Bobo does not have to know that).

Bobo has recently started to slowly comprehend ‘stories’. His books are fairly simple and are oriented towards teaching him things. The plainer ones merely state the facts. Pictures of butterflies, bugs, spider etc would be labelled ‘butterfly’, ‘bug’, ‘spider’. The smarter ones try to build a story.

One of the best is The Hungry Caterpillar

A tiny and very hungry caterpillar pops out of an egg on a Sunday (lesson – day of the week) and eats a leaf. Then he proceeds to eat one apple (lesson – number, fruit) on Monday, two pears on Tuesday and so on till he has consumed five oranges on Friday but is still hungry. So then he goes berserk. On Saturday he has one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one piece of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage and one slice of watermelon.

As the concerned parent, you palpitate a bit about why this binge eating is happening (Have the authors been spying on me? Do they know that I deny Bobo all sugary and salty treats while tucking them in myself once he goes to sleep? What is going on here?

Luckily it turns out the caterpillar ends up with a stomach ache (lesson – no snacking. Whew). So he goes back to eating leaves, builds a cocoon and emerges a beautiful butterfly.

The first bedtime that Bobo began paying attention to what I was reading to him (instead of randomly turning the pages and sticking his finger at only familiar pictures), he listened fascinated. I must say, I was also doing a rather good job. I patted Bobo’s stomach to show the caterpillar was still hungry. I counted out each of the fruits. And I salivated when I began to read the list of Saturday snacks.

This, in retrospect, was not a good idea.

Bobo made me read the book again. And then again. By the third reading, I had become considerably low key, a bit worried that we may be up all night hearing the story of the hungry caterpillar. The repeated readings were making me a bit hungry too. 

We have since been reading this book many times during the day and in the night. 

It turns out Bobo’s favourite page is the one with all those snacks. We now seem to skip the fruits and just read about the snacks. I have been also trying to dramatise the caterpillar’s stomach ache by holding my stomach, doubling over and groaning. Bobo ignores me.

Well, the kid has to learn. And books are meant to teach. And if he wants to reread his favourite bits, who am I to stop him?

It is fun reading with Bobo. His book collection has grown tremendously. We made the initial purchases but friends and grandparents have generously contributed. His room has a book shelf now with two racks and he has a shelf in the TV stand to hold his books. He likes to pull out the books from his shelf and flip through the pages. I like to look out for recommendations and buy more.He does have a few duds. And he has a few gems which parents of other younger readers have picked out for us.

Last weekend, we also borrowed a book for him from the library for the first time.

So Bobo turns into a little reader.

I hope when he grows up, he will be a big reader too.


Bharathis said...

So cute the way he loves reading the Hungry Caterpillar's Saturday menu!But he obviously loves reading. We are sure he will also write book reviews in a few years just like his mom☺

Priyanthi said...

Ha ha ha.... I'm pretty sure he knows you are scarfing down all those treats when he's asleep. The lovely part is - another reader is born! And if it takes food to make him read, so be it.