Reading to my Grandson

You don’t actually admit to anyone you have been collecting books for your first grandchild for a decade. But they are there on the shelf, none the less, the prize winners bought at every CBC conference, signed by the authors; little known gems discovered in bookshops; others suggested by friends. When you’re part of the community of children’s literature, you end up with glorious books indeed.

  This Christmas, for the first time, I sat with my 18 month old grandson on my lap, and read to him. Or tried to.

         He wriggled, he jiggled, he giggled and squirmed. Book and after book, in all styles and colours- he’d have none of them. Instead, he pointed out the window.’’Bird!’ he said.

Which might be why, when I carried him past the book shelf, he pointed to  The Complete Guide to Birds of Australia. ‘Bird!’ he demanded.

         So we read it, not just the photos but the text too. ‘Nest?’ he asked. ‘Worms? Baby birds? Bird outside!’ he announced, as we came to the page with the eastern spinebill he’d seen half an hour before.

         We read it for half an hour that time, and many times after that, moving on to Mammals of Australia, where he was interested only in the different species of wallabies and kangaroos. But kids’ books? According to Jack, they are strictly for the birds.

         Which is hard, when you’re a grandma and an author of children’s books But Jack isn’t alone. When ewe surveyed the books Canberra kids were taking out of public libraries, we found that the selections of adolescents and teenagers was the same as adult’s, apart from a few favourite authors they stayed loyal to, when any new book appeared.  When I ask kids about the books they find fascinating, about one in four like non fiction- and it is mainly non fiction written for adults.

         Why not? The ‘adult’ books are often larger, with more information to absorb, and a larger budget to produce.   Kids – even toddlers, like jack-  are capable of understanding the text that accompanies  any of the natural history ‘guides’. We don’t tell kids ‘no you can’t watch that adult movie because you won’t understand it.’ We know they will understand it, but the themes are too challenging for them emotionally, not intellectually.

         If we are to entice kids to be readers, we need to  accept that they have  a right to choose the books they love.

         Even if they aren’t Grandma’s.

© Jackie French