Into the World of Books: From One Mamma to Another

Hi Menaka, tell us about yourself and your family. 

Thank you so much for having me here. It’s a pleasure to meet like-minded people and share ideas. I am from Chennai, staying with my husband and our son Pranav. He is 6 years. My journey with the Montessori Method started in 2015 when my son was 2 years and there has been a lot of learning and unlearning happening since then. My husband and I strongly believe that a child’s formative years impacts their entire life and together we guide our son in this journey.

What do you think is the role of books in the lives of children under 6?

To me, one of the best things ever created is books. With books that relate to real life, children connect with the world and enjoy being a part of it. For example, reading a book on insects to a very young child changes the way the child looks at the insects. When my son was younger, I used to read a wonderful book on ladybirds and whenever he noticed an insect he used to call it a ladybird. Though many of them were not ladybirds, we were glad that he noticed the insect and related the story to it.

Are there some aspects you consider before choosing a book? 

Yes, there are! I am a very picky reader. To choose a book for an adult seems a lot easier. When I chose my son’s first book, I did go to the bookstore to understand what sort of age appropriate books they had available. There were many things running through my mind -paperback or board books, content and presentation, illustrations and most importantly the plot. After searching a lot, we resorted to books that had real images, art, collage and hand-drawn illustrations, and content presented with simplicity and humour. We went for books that blended facts with a story. I have realised that things like paperback or board do not matter as we make sure all books are treated with respect in our house and they always stay in the same condition.

How did you ‘read’ with your son when he was under 3 years? How has it changed since then? 

Reading books together is the best memory we both share. Initially, we had one box collection of books and 2 individual books that we placed on a table close to the sofa. We made sure we read at least 2 books a day. Initially, after reading the books to him regularly and observing his depth of listening, we would ask him to bring his choice of book and read that also to him. We also made sure that we were available whenever he wanted us to read to him.  Now that he is older, we set aside a reading time and decide based on our availability. If we aren’t available, he will just go through the books himself, looking at the pictures. We noticed how he gradually tried to read phonetically.  Now that he has started reading, he reads a book and then I read one.

Regardless of how we read now, we have always begun our sessions by  listening to the storyline and gradually, as he started talking, we began to comprehend the character’s emotions, humour and other aspects.

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Are there any specific ways in which you store and display the books? 

When he was younger, we used a DIY cardboard holder and placed it close to where we spent our family time. As our book reading gained momentum, we chose a place by the window to display the books so that he can make choices. There were days when he didn’t show interest in reading any book and, on those days, we would just pick out his favourite book and casually leave it lying in different ‘noticeable’ corners of the house. This usually caught his attention and he would grab them and then we would ask him if he would like to listen to a story. 

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How do you collaborate with your son in maintaining the books? 

As parents, we are particular in making him realise that there is responsibility in the choices he makes. Initially, we bought all the books for him. As he grew, we started taking him to a bookstore/lending library to choose books, find a place in the bookshelf and decide when to read. We both spent a lot of quality time at home reading books in the early days. It is always not just about reading, but we look at the details on the cover picture, the front page, the summary/collection items, the way the books are bound and how the author has  illustrated them. I think bringing his attention to all these tiny details has made him feel a deeper connection with the books. He would never take any book, fold or flip the front page or scribble things on them. 

Do you think it is just as important for adults around children to read? Why? 

It is absolutely important for adults to inspire children to read. Children look up to the adults in their family and learn habits. There is so much to learn and enjoy in this world and sometimes we could never experience them in real life but the joy of experiencing them by picturing the images in our mind is what books help us achieve. When a child sees somebody close to them enjoying and cherishing a book, they are naturally drawn to it. My son always wonders how I read big books with no pictures and lots of words. I hope that wonder changes into a joyous interest in the future.

What are some unique themes you have explored with your son in your readings? 

We are not particular about themes but I just realised that most of our books are about nature – plants, animals, insects and everything under the sky. We spend most of our evenings gardening, watching the sky and talking about stars. So, he got into choosing books about these topics and even when we are not around he looks at the pictures and refers them to us in our conversations. We continue to encourage him to choose books based on simple and real things so that  we can talk more about it.

Do you think there are enough libraries and reading groups for young children in India?

That’s a good question! There are very few libraries and reading groups. We recently shifted to a more central place in the city hoping that there would be more libraries, but we managed to find only two libraries and no reading groups. And those two had very limited collection for young children.

Schools and parents role in encouraging children to read are vanishing. More libraries and reading groups should come up in India. Parents and schools should give more importance to reading and help children blossom into young readers. I feel the awareness among parents to nurture reading is less and most schools are sidelining reading as a hobby. Reading is so much more than a hobby; it is a deep need for children! There is so much that children get from books. When we look at where the world is going now, what we want is more empathetic people who can understand others’ feelings and be there for them. Books don’t just help us imagine but make us feel what each character is going through.

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With the current pandemic situation, how have you been accessing books? 

My son who had recently got into independent reading was actually shocked when he came to know his ordered books won’t be delivered. Since we had a few extra new books, thanks to our book collection habit, he managed well for a while. We additionally got him into watching others reading books online which has helped tremendously.

Inspired by watching people read books online, he got interested in reading his old books  for other children and now we have a YouTube channel featuring his videos which really helps keep his reading habit alive. I continue to read my books to him, few pages a day and let him listen, as I feel it will be a smooth transition for him to enter the world of non-fiction and improve his listening skills as well.

What are some ways in which you talk to Pranav about the situation we are in? Do you read books around that? If so, can you recommend?

Firstly, we stopped watching sensational news about the current situation and made sure he learns about the crisis from us. He took to the changes gradually as we spoke about COVID-19 and the importance of staying indoors. Surely, books have been of immense help; many across the world have created e-books for children making it easier to explain things that’s happening around while also instilling hope. 

Ignorance is the key to fear; when children know what’s going on and see people act with courage and caution, they develop responsibility, problem handling skills and care for people. This is a learning opportunity for everybody. 

Savi Paaty Series : The Squirrel & its Three Stripes

Savi Paaty Series is a tribute to oral stories. I have created this in memory of my beloved grandmother – Savi Paaty. Each story in the series is a story within a story. Although oral stories are becoming a lost art, it is time we revive and bring them back to life, into our homes and schools, back into our children’s lives. 


Here is a story of Apoo, Abi and Janu – three siblings who live in Coimbatore, India and love listening to Savi Paaty’s stories. Savitri Paaty, whom the children fondly call Savi Paaty, always parted her hair in the centre, wore bright silk sarees and used the pallu of the sarees to repeatedly polish her already sparkling diamond nose-pin. Apoo, the eldest of the three siblings at 8 years, loves playing basketball, spends most of her time out in the open, climbing trees, and sporting new scars on her knees every day. Abi, at 7 years is Apoo’s closest confidant. He loves his cars and precious mechanic set. He never fails to bring the set out, screw, un-screw and explore the parts of his dashing wheels collection. Janu, the youngest at 5 years, tries hard to join in with her siblings in climbing trees and fixing cars, but secretly loves playing with her kitchen set and making ‘green-medicine’ with the fallen leaves on the porch.

It was a bright and sunny morning in April; the three siblings had made plans to go swimming later in the day. Apoo was the first of the three to wake up; she came and sat on the திண்ணை (stone bench in the porch) with a glass of Boost in her hand, watching some squirrels chase up and down the neem tree. She was still groggy and waking up, while the squirrels were briskly and busily playing run and catch! Savi Paaty was sitting on the easy-chair, her morning spot, with a ஜெபமாலை (prayer beads), busily chanting away “Asaadhya Saadhagam”, a sloka of her beloved monkey-god – Hanuman. She sometimes participated in the children’s conversation and then went back to chanting. Paaty had already clocked around 400 chants since she was up from 4 in the morning. Right now, she was waiting for her second dose of filter coffee.

Apoo was just finishing up her glass of Boost and using her fingers to lick away the last of the chocolate paste, when Abi and Janu entered the porch. Abi came running down and joined Apoo on the திண்ணை, while Janu who was rubbing her eyes and yawning, sat on Paaty’s lap. Apoo quickly updated Abi on the squirrels and now, they were chatting away. 

Apoo said, “Look at these squirrels Abi! Look how fast they are running on the tree.” Abi ran up to the neem tree to inspect the squirrels closely. He wanted to tell Apoo that even he can run as fast as the squirrels, in fact faster! As he was craning his neck to get a closer view, he saw a squirrel jump up to a higher branch. Abi was now ready to climb the tree, when Paaty suddenly said, “Do you know why squirrels have 3 white stripes on their body?” Janu, who was until now slouching on Paaty’s lap, sat up straight and turned towards Paaty. Abi came running back to the திண்ணை and Apoo wiped the sticky Boost paste on her dress – washing hands had to wait! The children became attentive. They knew their beloved Savi Paaty always had lovely stories up her sleeve. 

Paaty, with her expressive eyes and hand gestures, began, “Long, long ago, there lived a brave and beautiful princess called Sita. She was married to Prince Rama of Ayodhya. Once, when they were in the forest, Ravana of Lanka came in his pushpaka vimana, and took Sita away to Lanka.” Apoo and Janu gasped. It was Abi who broke the silence by asking, “pushkapa vimam?” Paaty immediately said “It’s push-pa-ka vi-maa-nam, Abi – Ravana’s mighty aeroplane” and continued “Rama and his brother Lakshmana were distraught and sought the help of the vanara senai.” Apoo, now asked, “Paaty, what is vanara senai?” and Paaty clarified that they are an army of monkeys and bears. She said “Rama and Lakshmana needed a lot of help to reach Lanka because they needed a bridge to get across the sea.” 

Abi was puzzled, confused even! He wanted to know how monkeys and bears can build bridges. He said, “Paaty, but monkeys and bears cannot build bridges, only big people can!” Apoo, promptly said, “Abi, you keep quiet, this is just a story!” Paaty went on, “… So the monkeys and bears were lifting heavy stones and carrying them to the water. It was difficult, manual labour that required a lot of strength. Suddenly, they noticed a small squirrel on the side. It was carrying small pebbles with a lot of effort and dropping them in the water. This little squirrel went about its work in full earnest. The monkeys and bears found this very amusing and started mocking the squirrel.” The silence was palpable in the air, with the three children listening to Paaty with rapt attention.

Paaty continued the story, “… One bear went straight to the squirrel and said, “Ai Anile (squirrel in Tamil), you think you can build a mighty bridge for Rama with these tiny pebbles? Look how small and tiny you and your pebbles are! You need to be big and strong like us. Your tiny pebbles will drown in the water. Now clear this place up and go from here!!” She said, “The little squirrel was upset and hurt by the bear’s statement. It really wanted to help Rama find Sita. Rama, on hearing this, went and lifted the squirrel up and ran his finger on the body of the squirrel to acknowledge its contribution.” Paaty showed her three fingers and drew the stripes in the air to describe to the children Rama’s action. “The little squirrel proudly wore its honour of stripes and went back to collecting more pebbles.” Paaty concluded her story by telling her grandchildren that we must never mock at people, however small their contribution. She said, “Like Rama, we must be humble and acknowledge everyone for their effort and good intentions.” 

As she was finishing, her second dose of coffee came right up and Paaty said, “Now, you three go in and help Amma. Apoo, you can peel the carrots, Abi you can help set the table” and she looked at Janu and said “You must eat on your own today without Amma having to feed you and then see how your work is acknowledged.” Saying thus, Paaty went back to her ஜெபமாலை and filter coffee. 

The three children stood up and went inside – they had their contributions to make!