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Books: A must for toddlers’ complete growth

Salma Prabhu


There‟s no definite answer to when is the best time to start reading to the young, except that it‟s never too early. According to clinical psychologist Salma Prabhu, don‟t rationalise by saying, „oh, but (s)he can‟t even see the book‟. “Even in the foetal stage, the child can hear and sense things. In the second trimester itself the mother can start reading to the child with interesting sounds and expressions. At two months, the baby has sharp auditory and visual faculties. (S)he can not only hear but respond. That‟s all you need,” says Salma. All reading does not only have to be in English. Salma recommends reading in your primary language.

Deepali Shah, an architect, began reading to her daughter Neha when she was four months old. “She was hyper-active and reading in a monotonous tone calmed her.”

Usha Venkatraman, a teacher and puppeteer, began reading to her children when they were one month old. “I started with chewable books that they could explore and feel. The child can recognise the print of the word before they understand the concept of letters or phonetics. This helps them correlate when they begin to learn reading.”

Reeta Gupta, a PR executive, began reading to her daughter Neeha when she was one year old. “I began with colourful pictures and a single word per page. This helped her associate the sound for the picture long before she learned to read.”

Subject Matter

Most parents will tell you that it doesn‟t matter what you read to the child in the early stages. It‟s the sound of your voice that makes the story.

Usha relied on the Time-Life books, while Reeta used the Candlewick series. “As long as there is an element of fun and a logical progression of the plot, the child will enjoy it,” says Reeta.

Deepali bought pocketbooks of stories from the Mahabharata and Ramayana, along with illustrated version of the Jungle books, Aesop‟s Fables and nursery rhymes. By the time she was 11 months old, Neha would grab a book from her elder brother‟s hand and try to “read” it.

Salma says, “Parents need not stick to stories with morals; the reading could revolve around all the topics. Put in a little effort, enjoy the act and make reading a pleasure.”

Character development

Just because you have been reading to your children, don‟t expect them to grow up to be a celebrated person of letters. Development will happen in many varied ways.

Reeta‟s seven-year-old reads 100-page novels on her own and loves writing essays. “She has also picked up the first few stanzas of the Bhagwad Gita effortlessly,” says Reeta. “Unconscious learning happens when the child does not see reading as an effort but as something natural.”

Usha says her daughter Radha, now 17, did not grow up to be a voracious reader, which doesn‟t surprise her. “I believe readers are born and not made,” she says, “But her writing is very expressive.”

Neha was asking for books as birthday presents by the time she was 10 and she grasped the concept of numbers better as Deepali counted the pages of the book she was reading to her. “She‟s also very good at spellings and even if she doesn‟t know the spelling, she can tell that the word does not look right,” says Deepali. “She is also curious about the meaning of lyrics.”

Salma shares the example of a couple who consulted her for their child who had difficulty reading. “I asked them to read to child on a daily basis before bedtime. Within six months, the child developed a love not only for books but also for studies. Earlier, he had difficulty clearing his papers, but passed with 70 per cent in his final exams.”

Binding benefits

Like all rituals, reading too has the power of bonding. Reeta devised the Reading Day, when she and her daughter would head out to a bookstore and spend two to three hours reading whatever caught their fancy. “Even if this meant she would cast aside books after reading the first page,” says Reeta. Usha and Radha share a love of story-telling which manifests in their puppet show collaborations.

“Reading to a child is the best way of bonding,” says Salma, “It need not be limited to mother only. I recommend that mothers and fathers take turns to read to the child before bedtime for five to 10 minutes on a daily basis and see the change in the respect level that the child has for parents.”


Broadly speaking, stories which are pleasant, have moral values, are very clear and interesting fit the bill for babies. You can even read factual information like names of biggest mountains of the world, or names of animals, birds, etc. After the age of four, let the child select the books.

Ages 1-3: Books with big words and colourful pictures. The Ladybird books, Karadi Tales, Noddy, colourful classics such as Cinderella, Goldilocks, Lion King, Pochahontas, etc.

Ages 3-5: Bedtime stories, Panchatantra and Aesop’s Fables.

Ages 5-8: Tinkle, Chacha Choudhary, Karadi Tales as well as the Akbar and Birbal series, Tenali Rama and Malgudi Days.

Ages 8-11: Sherlock Holmes series, the Nancy Drew series, the Harry Potter series, books by Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and Ruskin Bond, and the Famous Five series.