Books and your Child’s Brain
When I was a kid, I had this book called “The Seven Suras Surprise.” It was about a Muslim girl who really wanted to have a birthday party. Her parents didn’t throw her a party though, and she was disappointed. A few days later, she went to the store to buy something and when she returned, she found her family and friends waiting for her at her house. They threw her a surprise party because she memorized a set of seven surahs from the Quran.
When I think about how to navigate my own daughter’s birthdays, my mind always goes back to this book I read a lifetime ago. I think about how this girl’s mother emphasized achievements as opposed to a sense of entitlement based on an arbitrary cultural idea that birthdays should be celebrated. (In the process of writing this post, I googled left and right trying to find a copy, but the book seems to be out of print.)
I read this book over 20 years ago and yet I vividly remember the moral, the story’s plot, and even the illustration style.
If something I read all those years ago still has such a strong impact on me, it tells me that books read at an early age not only influence young readers, but they directly affect children’s views of themselves, their surroundings, their culture, and their beliefs.
My daughter loves books. She looks forward to visiting our local library and flipping through as many books as she can. Truthfully, though, I’ve been having problems trying to find her good books that are age appropriate and that aren’t downright useless.
There are tons of cute and silly books out there for kids – and they serve their purpose well. Then there are some seriously weird books out there, too. Case in point – I came upon a “What does the Fox Say” book during a recent library visit (for those who don’t know – “What does the Fox Say” is a strange pop song). The entire book was just made up of the song lyrics and very bizarre illustrations.
Research studies about the benefits of exposure to books at an early age are well known. But what kind of books will truly enrich a child’s understanding of herself and her surroundings? I understand that kids want to be entertained, but writing books that pander to the part of a kid’s brain that just wants entertainment without content isn’t the way to truly support your child’s learning. It’s like the cheap, mass-produced novels we guiltily read as adults – sure we enjoy them, but we’re under no illusion that we’re reading actual literature.
This is one of the reasons I started writing children’s books. I wanted my daughter to have books that weren’t always about silly anthropomorphized characters. It seems like books for her age are all about farm animals and bears and mice and cute bunnies doing random things. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that – but how far will the randomness of those books go in developing a child’s persona and teaching her about life? Just because my daughter is three, it doesn’t mean she can’t understand a story (about an actual human child) with a good, simple moral.
If we only feed our kids entertainment (whether in book form or not) without contemplating content, we’re leaving their moral upbringing in the hands of some author or producer.
The downright scary thing is that what your kids are watching and reading now will still be a part of them in 20 years. Now the question is – who do you want them to be in 20 years?