When I see my sons curled up with a Harry Potter for the umpteenth time, I invariably ask them how many times they have read these books. They call these their ‘comfort food’ and the books do cheer them up. We have the complete series at home. I have read each of them four times too but my sons must have reread them a few hundreds or thousands of times! One of their friends can lay similar claims too. His mother left the series behind at her home in Germany but he still found a way to read the books, by borrowing from the library at school!
I have always wondered what the effect of re-reading a book would be on children and then I chanced upon an article by Emma Court in The Atlantic magazine (https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/07/what-rereading-childhood-books-teaches-adults-about-themselves/566261/), which said that rereading is a form of therapeutic activity. Court has written
‘Knecht, the writer and therapist, says of rereading that “when you’re feeling stagnant, like you’ve made no progress, it gives a shape to that experience and suggests it will pass.” In that way, it can be therapeutic because “therapy is about telling your story and having someone challenge you sometimes about the way you’re telling that story,” she says, “until you get it into a shape that you can live with and move forward with.”’
Keeping this in mind, I can perhaps stop worrying. Maybe what happens to the adult psyche, happens to that of youngsters’ too… Harry Potter is their therapy to whatever it is they are facing. And as such is not a bad source for therapy. Court also finds that rereading books give ‘refuge’ to the reader, what perhaps my sons call ‘comfort food’. To me Harry Potter is a good alternative because it imbibes survival instincts, positive values, strength and happy outcomes in a clean, decent story written with a sense of humor and perfect for ages eight to eighty. I had my comfort books too long before the advent of Harry Potter… Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did, Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice( in fact almost all the Jane Austens). The commonality I see among all these books that I have reread at different junctures of my life and what my sons reread is that all these are about survivors and are laced with positive values.
Early this year in a panel discussion, I heard a writer say that children do not like to read a lot of text nowadays. And another educator refuted her by saying that it depends on how you bring up your child. To me both the statements held truths that are a modern day reality. Many children prefer other forms of entertainment than books. But then, often, so do their parents. Some see books as redundant in today’s multimedia world. Some feel it is better to read from a kindle or online because books occupy a lot of space and we all live in homes that are shrinking to the exigencies of an ever-expanding population and limited space. Also multi media is a far more attractive way of learning for many.
But is it?
What takes two hours to show in a movie often takes more time to read in a book. I am not referring to lecture notes or a video of the lecture here but to something closer to a novel. A movie can be based on a story or its summation but it cannot replace the whole process of reading the book. Also, books create images with words. We use our mind, our imagination to interpret and understand the book. A movie is the director’s interpretation and understanding of the book… We just absorb what he has shown us, even if it is interactive.
I often review books for an online website, have more than a couple of thousand books at home and cannot stop myself from feeling the rush of adrenalin as I sift through the pages of a new book. Growing up in such an environment, my boys cannot but enjoy reading.
They learnt to choose their own books as they did their toys. I remember my elder son used to love a book called Trucks when he was four. I had to read it to him morning, noon and at night with sound effects of trucks of different kinds. The first entry was on fire trucks and he had the page by heart. Once a visitor to my home told me, my son was an excellent reader because he read the first page without a flaw. Then I enlightened her that he recited it from memory… his reading skills were that of a normal four year old.
Now, I wonder if my kids can recite portions of Harry Potter!
The other thing, which I feel a book does for you, is to help define your values, your principles and your outlook in life. That is why a friend of mine tried to read almost every book her kids were reading… I cannot lay such lofty claims but I did try to read a few books from each of the series they read. Some of the books, I must say, I enjoyed very much myself. J.K Rowling’s Harry Potters, few of C.S Lewis’s Narnia, Madeleine l’ Engle’s series of Wrinkle in Time (I enjoyed them more than my sons did), Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson… These books had the same values that I found in classics that I read during my childhood. Whereas a book from the series by Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, left me feeling that though it was incredibly funny and well written, a child would have to be guided to imbibe the right values from it!
It is not enough to be able to read and write to have a career. That is merely literacy. But it is also necessary to have the right values, principles and the spirit to live with ones passion, to create and achieve ones dreams, which is ideally what most parents would want to see their children do. These are skills that can be developed by reading the right books… and perhaps by re-reading them and imbibing their good values and principles.
“ I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.”
— JK Rowling.