I was six when my mother decided I was going to be a reader. Under her watch, reading transformed me from a lonely introvert to a more self-assured person.
My school had given me the skill, but not the will to read. They had done little to encourage reading as a hobby.
Until then, the only kid-friendly books at home was a boxed set of ‘Hello, Poldy!‘
The books were a series my parents found at my primary school’s fair. There were picture books, cassettes, VHS tapes and board games about Poldy, a brave scarecrow, plus his plucky bird friends! They went on adventures together and learned lessons about the world. Poldy stretched my parents budget at the time, but they had bought it because my school had promoted it as part of their new ‘Learn at Home’ Program.
Until I was six, this is all I remember ‘reading’. I use the term ‘reading’ a bit loosely here. I would sit with the books, and pore over the pictures on every page- but, unless my mother was around, I did very little to actually read the few lines of text that accompanied the illustrations of Poldy and his friends.
Poldy taught me everything from how to tell time, notice the change in seasons, differentiate between cool and warm colours on the colour wheel, identify different animals and birds from around the world and even how to cross the road.
However, he did not teach me how to make friends.
Growing up, I had been a painfully shy, quiet child. Crowds made me feel awkward and out of place and attention made me panic. At school I was a lonely kid. I kept to myself, speaking only when it was absolutely necessary, and dodging group games in the playground.
Soon, my teachers began complaining to my mother— I was becoming a loner.
My mother was concerned, as any parent would be. But unlike other parents, she did not berate me for my behavior.
Instead, she took me to a bookshop.
We spent hours browsing every shelf at the shop. My mother had only one rule—I wasn’t allowed to buy anything with pictures in it. I finally picked out a yellow, hardbound, Nancy Drew mystery called The Moonstone Castle Mystery (still available on my bookshelf at home). I mainly chose it because of how pretty Nancy looked on the cover, giving very little thought to the story or even the task of reading a book that was so text heavy.
My mother set a routine—every night after she came home from work, as she made dinner in the kitchen, I was to stand by her and read one chapter aloud from the book. As she flipped dosas or cut vegetables, she would track my pronunciation and fluency, stopping me often to explain difficult words, and skillfully smoothing out any stammered ones.
Too many words, not enough pictures!
All the excitement and joy of having bought my first big girl book soon gave way to annoyance and frustration at having to read out loud. These pages looked very different from Poldy. Big blocks of black text had replaced colorful illustrations and I was annoyed with it!
I remember the first few nights I was focused on not stumbling over any words and reading fast. I did not register the plot or understand that a mystery was unfolding on the pages. A week into this exercise, as the words began to flow more easily, I began to finally process the story behind them.
The next day, as I waited impatiently for my mother, time seemed to pass by tortuously slowly. I couldn’t wait to find out what had happened to Nancy and her friends!
Finally, when my mother got home, she found me lost in the book, gripped by the force of my own imagination and the world that it had conjured up. I was no longer lonely when Nancy was around!
That was the start of my journey as a reader. It soon became known that at any large gathering, you would find me in a quiet corner curled up with a book.
My mother didn’t push me to change. The goal was never to transform the awkward little duckling into a socially outgoing swan. Reading did not suddenly make me gregarious. At school, teachers still called me out, but for secretly reading under the desk.
Often alone, but never lonely
I still am a painfully shy, introverted person. Reading did not change that about me, but it armed me with the quiet certitude of knowing my place in the world.
Even now, I seldom leave my house without a book. And so, while I remain a loner, being a reader has meant that I am never lonely.
Introverted children aren’t the only ones who benefit from reading!
Here’s 5 Reasons Why Reading Should Be Your Family’s 2021 New Year Resolution.
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