The Importance of Reading Books To Children

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We were recently re-united with our children’s extensive book collection. So what, I can hear you saying.

Well, the last time we moved, I couldn’t carry more than a handful on the plane so sadly we had to leave our extensive collection back in Nigeria.

You know the feeling, when you’re looking for things and you know you have it but can’t bring yourself to buy it again, it can drive you nuts. Well, it drove me nuts anyway.

So finally, almost 2 years later after we moved to London, a friend was able to bring the lot. So that’s where I am… reunited with my vast collection of books. And there you are, wondering why this matters…

When I got these back, it was like going through years of memories, moments and experiences my daughters and I had shared reading endless stories every night.

You see, books are not just books to us. They are a way of communicating with my children. With books, we’ve introduced the concept of bullying, sharing, loneliness, and skin colour. With books, we’ve been able to talk about difficult subjects without making it about them.

My daughter’s concept of a bully was defined in a book called “Me and My Dragon” because it featured a bully who was incidentally a chubby boy with a baseball cap on. I remember reading it once and it sparked a conversation about what is a bully. To this day, when we’ve spoken about someone bullying, my daughter protests, “but he isn’t wearing a baseball cap”!

The day identity and my daughter’s skin colour came up after school, I swiftly went online and ordered about 20 books that featured mixed race or brown skinned characters. Some of these included girls who bucked the mould and didn’t conform to ‘princessy’ ways or girls who were just different but were nonetheless proud of who they are.

I was not about to raise a child who is confused or ashamed about who she is.  And with media and the majority of people she encounters donning white skin, we knew we needed to be proactive in discussing this important topic with her. After ordering our first haul that first time, within three weeks we could see a change in how our daughter talked about and discussed her own identity. She’s proud of her curly hair now and recognises the value in being unique and not following the crowd.

Other topics we’ve broached through the use of our books include curly hair, puberty and the changes our bodies go through, anger, gender stereotypes and following the crowd. Every time a topic comes up, it sparks a conversation about their lives and how one girl in their class for example, told her that her red hat was a “boy’s colour”. We discussed why she might say that and how much of what we see and hear might make us think that. Books that challenge our way of thinking are invaluable.

Many of our books now feature brown skin characters- an effort we’ve been intentional about but have sadly realised is way behind. Only 1% of children’s books feature brown skin characters.

But when you do get them and you see your daughter’s eyes light up when she sees the Little Red Riding Hood with brown skin and curly hair, she can’t hide her excitement. “She looks like me!”, she’ll say.

You see, for us, books are instruments. They are windows into important conversations and topics that I know will come up. As our children get older, we’ll inevitably encounter discussions about bodies, sexuality, death, religion, racism, cyber bullying and jealousy, amongst other things.  Without books to turn to, these topics can become abstract. Throw in a protagonist who’s going through it and you have yourself an ‘in’. Then hopefully, the door will be open for further discussion when she actually does go through these things.

Indeed books have already introduced precious memories as our children have grown. We paged through the book “Going on a Bear Hunt” and relived days gone by when our nearly 6 year old was our only child and my hubby and I used to act out the story finishing off with an undercover cave where we’d hide from the bear.

Perhaps it was only through missing them that I realised my missing books’ value. I would encourage every parent, be careful what you’re giving away. I know we can’t keep all the rubbish we collect from our children’s childhoods and by no means am I a hoarder. The day will come when I’ll have to go through their books and give them away but hopefully I’ll know these aren’t just pieces of paper we read every night but memories we’ll want to cherish. I hope they do too.

Visit my Pinterest page for inspiring lists of books for brown skinned or mixed race kids:

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