Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Reading Bug

Old habits die hard, or not at all. 

As young children, my parents made sure that my sisters and I never got addicted to television simply by giving us more interesting things to do than sit in front of a black box frying our brain cells. Don't get me wrong, we had regular viewing times for Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Electric Company and Saturday Fun Machine, but television was just something to look at if there was nothing better to do. Of course, it helped that there were only 5 channels and not many children's programs in English at the time. 

In recent years, with the advent of cable tv bringing dozens of channels and more interesting programs, I've been watching much more television than I used to. But since Little A was born, I never get to watch tv anymore, mostly because he's never in one place long enough for me to pay attention to a particular program. 

Today, countless children are obese and/or intellectually-challenged because they sit in front of the box watching all-day cable cartoon channels instead of playing outdoors and reading books. What a shame. Naturally every new parent wants to make sure their child doesn't grow up this way, and I am one of them. I think Little A will have a good chance, with two parents who enjoy reading.

I was taught to love the written word at a very young age. I am currently searching the bookstores for a copy of Wynken, Blynken and Nod, a book I remember my mom reading to me at bedtime as a very little girl. She made sure we had the complete sets of children's classics, nursery rhymes, Little House books, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and many more. She introduced me to Enid Blyton, who in turn opened up my literary world to the wonderful side of English writers. 

Sundays when we were kids consisted of church, lunch, and then a trip to the bookstore, where we were each allowed to buy one title. If we'd gotten good reports at school, we were allowed to buy more books. When my parents travelled to London as my dad often did for business, he would bring back more books by authors that were locally unavailable at the time. As we got older and started choosing our own reading material, my dad always made sure that these purchases were subsidised by him and didn't need to come from our own pockets. College meant each daughter got an extension of his credit card to be used only for groceries, petrol and books. 

By the time I was a teenager, our house was like a public library, with friends trooping in regularly to borrow titles that they couldn't find in the bookstores. When I moved out of my parents' house, most of my books came with me, and to this day there are always a dozen or so books out on loan at any given time. I've mastered the art of finding out-of-print titles in secondhand bookstores and adding them to my collection or giving them as gifts. 

Books were truly a treasure, and continue to be so to me. While I read most types of books nowadays, children's books still hold a special place in my heart, and I hope one day to get a degree in Children's Literature and maybe write my own.

My sisters and I in turn try to provide our own kids with the same well-stocked home libraries that our parents gave us. For other parents out there, here's a list of must-haves for your children's shelves:

Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes
Aesop's Fables
The Fairy Tale Classics - Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, The Gingerbread Man, The Little Red Hen, The Billy Goats Gruff etc.
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
The Complete Stories of Beatrix Potter
The Winnie the Pooh stories by E.E. Milne
Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit

The Children's Classics - Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, Pollyanna, The Five Little Peppers etc.
C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia
Everything by Roald Dahl
Enid Blyton's Fantastic Four or Secret Seven series
Enid Blyton's Enchanted Wood/Magic Faraway Tree series
The Bobbsey Twins
Judy Blume's children's titles - the Fudge series, in particular
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series
Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series
E.B. White's children's books - Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, The Trumpet of the Swan

For Girls -
Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series
Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik series
The Nancy Drew series

For Boys-
The Hardy Boys series

Older readers may enjoy these:
Isabelle Allende's children's trilogy - City of the Beasts, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, Forest of the Pygmies
Zizou Corder's Lionboy trilogy
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy

With thousands of new titles being published each year, there are so many books and authors out there to discover. May all parents teach there children that the world is much bigger than what the flat screen tv shows, and that reading feeds the imagination the way nothing else can.

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