Saturday, November 14, 2015

Read, read, read!

"..don't worry about the bits you can't understand.
Sit back and let the words wash around you, like music."

- Mrs Phelps in Roald Dahl's Mathilda
The best advice the pediatrician gave us when our first child was born was to read to him every day. In addition to being a great way to spend time together, reading builds language and listening skills, teaches facts, and feeds the imagination. Being new parents with zero parenting experience, we latched onto this simple and doable piece of advice from the start. My husband would sit and read New Scientist articles to infant James while I cooked dinner. I would read James textbook accounts of Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration as I prepared for lectures. James would drift off to sleep each night to tales of Thomas the Train, Winnie the Pooh, or Curious George. Then, when James was old enough to sit up and paw through board books, we moved onto those. We read The Gruffalo and Go, Dog. Go! so many times that we eventually knew them by heart! We were thrilled when James was able to follow chapter books, as there were so many wonderful stories from our own childhoods that we wanted to share with him. We started with Enid Blyton, and before we knew it, James was hooked on just about any series we introduced him to -- from Harry Potter to Lemony Snicket. We also used this opportunity to read classics that we'd missed as children, like The Secret Garden  and The Indian in the Cupboard.

Stories transport us to all kinds of interesting places and times and spark great discussions. Just recently, I stumbled across a translation of a book that I read in school in South Africa in the '90s. Fiela se Kind (by Dalene Matthee) is a beautifully written novel set in 19th century rural South Africa, and I was happy to find that the translation (Fiela's Child) is just as captivating. James (who is becoming quite the reader himself, but still loves listening to stories) got swept up in this tale of the Knysna Forest, elephants, and a boy named Benjamin. Apart from being an exquisite story, filled with heartache and humor and phenomenal descriptions of the South African landscape, Fiela's Child paints a rich picture of South Africa's past and sets the stage for important discussions about my homeland.

So, how do you find books that will grip and intrigue your child?

- Think back to the books you enjoyed reading as a child, and see if they're available in your library.
- Exchange names of favorite books and authors with parent friends.
- Chat with your librarian or local book seller for ideas of books that might appeal to your child.
- Read online reviews and search for books that are similar to ones that your child has enjoyed.
- Stop reading if a book doesn't resonate: no matter how "good" a book is, if your child isn't interested in it, put it down and find another. There are plenty of gems out there!

Browsing can be tricky with little ones in tow, so it's helpful if you can reserve library books online, and then just pick them up from the hold shelves when you make it into the library.

Here are some of our favorites:

Picture Books:
A Fish out of Water
Aliens Love Underpants
Beware of the Frog
Hello Tortoise (and other Storytime Africa books by John Bush)
I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean
Meredith, the Witch who wasn't
Mr. Men series
One Fish, Two Fish (or anything by Dr. Suess)
Sheep in a Jeep
Slinky Malinki
Ten Wriggly, Wiggly Caterpillars
The Donut Chef
The Gruffalo
The Snail and the Whale
There's No Such Thing as a Dragon

Chapter Books:
Anne of Green Gables
Artemis Fowl
Charlotte's Web
Counting by Sevens
Famous Five (or any adventure book by Enid Blyton)
Harry Potter
Lemony Snicket
Maniac Magee (or anything by Jerry Spinelli)
My Father's Dragon
Narnia series
The BFG (or any children's book by Roald Dahl)
The Courage of Cat Campbell
The Faraway Tree (or any fantasy book by Enid Blyton)
The Hardy Boys
The Indian in the Cupboard
The Only thing Worse than Witches
The Phantom Tollbooth
The Power of Poppy Pendle (this one comes with delicious teatime recipes!)
The Secret Garden
Treasure Island
Out of my Mind
Percy Jackson

The "You Wouldn’t Want to Be..." series
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words
South African Cooking in the USA (South African fudge is a big hit!)

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