If there is magic, it has to be in books. Right? I mean, what else can whisk us off to new worlds in an instant, let us hobnob with interesting people and outwit nasty villains, and in general immerse ourselves in great adventures? Heck, what else can pull down a curtain—albeit temporary—on the intense ordinariness of our lives? Especially as kids.
Let’s face it, despite what they tell you, childhood is mostly boring. For me, it was a litany of being told what to do, visiting boring people, school, eating things I hated, having to “behave”, wearing things I felt like a clod in, various other bad things, and, oh, did we mention school? All this was, of course, interspersed with bouts of fun stuff once in a blue moon.
And then there were the books. The one thing that I could always completely depend on. They were my instant wonderland.
So, when I wrote this in the story “Mirror-Self” (Spooky Stories, Scholastic, 2009), I was speaking from experience:
Those two hours that Paati slept was when Jiya lived many adventures—she saved lives, fought aliens, walked on the moon, trawled the oceans for treasure.
The underneath of the gigantic dining table… functioned variously as a secret tunnel, an underground den, the deep seas, a swimming pool, a clearing in a forest, a hut in a rainstorm. A sheet draped over two chairs was her alpine tent where she huddled on cold treacherous night when the wind screamed outside and wild animals roamed. The heavy bulky furniture formed a dangerous route through enemy territory…
The opportunities were endless. She could be an adventurer, a spy, a detective. She conquered mountains, battled wild beasts and hoodwinked dastardly criminals. A new idea was only a book away, and there were plenty of those about.
Having grown up on a diet of Blyton (and her messed up politics, which were a slight blot on the landscape, to be honest), long summer afternoons were spent solving mysteries with Fatty and the gang, or going camping with the Famous Five. Houses were built, rivers bridged, secret passages discovered, even outer spaced visited. I had a sibling I could co-opt as an accomplice, for what fun is a tent unless you have two of them? What’s the point of swimming races (the underneath of the bed was our pool) without a co-contestant (a conveniently smaller one who could be easily beaten)? And where’s the adventure in running off to a secret island without having a minion to order about? Later on there was also a dog, who unfortunately refused steadfastly to cooperate.
I’m flabbergasted when I hear people saying that books are passive and that children need stimulation in the form of audio-visual media or responsive/touch-based apps. In fact, it’s the other way around: when you watch, it’s someone else’s imagination you’re looking at; when you read, it’s your own imagination being fired up. It’s the watching that’s passive, idiot!
Someone said that if you don’t enjoy reading, you’re doing it wrong. I’m not sure who it was, but they might have been right.