*This post was first published in April 2015.
I think Layla truly discovered the joys of reading last year, and ironically, it began with a set of Enid Blyton books that she received for her birthday. (Ironic because I’ve had an unspoken Blyton ban in the home, meaning that I wouldn’t buy or borrow these books for Layla, but I have no objections to gifts.)
Anyway, the set of books was the Malory Towers series, and just as I’d predicted, she absolutely could not put them down. When she finished the whole series, she began rereading the books, and in just a few months, they had become so well-worn that you would’ve thought she’d owned them for years. It was funny because I started to encourage her to take a break from those books, and she ended up sneaking them to school and looking guilty if I looked through her bag and found them! Mine must be the only home on the planet where you can get caught for reading Enid Blyton.
She did move on from Malory Towers, and it happened unexpectedly. We visit my family every Sunday, and my brother’s an avid gamer who’s been exposing Layla to the joys of gaming. I may be finicky about the books we read but I have no issue with tech used reasonably, and I was more than happy that my 30-year-old brother and daughter now had something to bond over. He downloaded a set of Lego games based on movies because they were on sale, and they began playing Harry Potter, the Lego version. I’ve seen the game and it’s really cute as they’ve recreated the entire story (from Books 1-7) using only Lego-related graphics. So for months, they were at it, and since the game follows the Harry Potter plot, my brother would introduce characters to Layla and explain the story as they went along. After several sessions, Layla asked to read Harry Potter and that was the beginning of a new addiction–she used every spare moment to read and she couldn’t stop. I’d intended only for her to read up to Book 3 or 4, where the storyline is still innocent and upbeat, but she wanted to continue and I gave in. I think there are many things in the story that she won’t fully understand yet, but I love the writing and the ideas in Harry Potter, so I’m happy for her to reread the books or revisit them when she’s older.
Apart from Malory Towers and Harry Potter, she also gave a “10” to a book that I’d borrowed from the library during the holidays–The One And Only Ivan. She’s never given a book a 10-rating before, so it must be special.
For this year, here are the books that I’ve picked up for Layla so far. I think she’ll be more receptive to them now that she knows she can enjoy books that aren’t solely about girls being girls:
And these are books in our collection that I think she’s not ready for yet, in terms of maturity, but I’ve read them and love them for their playfulness and soul. They both involve travel of some sort, as well as a leap away from the ordinary:
Some of the books on our list were from a local bookstore called My Imagination Kingdom. The owner Jaclyn had written to me and offered us a voucher to shop there. I spotted a lot of familiar favourites at her bookstore, and I trust her taste. I’d even mistakenly assumed she was a mom, but no she’s not, she just loves children’s books and is passionate about furthering the cause of reading.
Jaclyn and I chatted over e-mail and here’s what she told me:
My interest actually started with storytelling. I volunteer with the library’s KidsRead programme where we tell stories to children from underprivileged families. After I started doing it, I observed that many of our children today do not get as many opportunities as I did when I was young to read a physical book for fun. It’s likely that they spend more time with screens. I started doing research on this and felt that there’s a lot we can do about this for children, by educating parents on reading aloud to their kids. We started the online store after that [which eventually became a physical store].
On which books to bring in: I go through quite a few different sources. Brainpickings is something I enjoy reading. Her recommendations are often unique and distinct. But apart from that, I also ask children what they read, go through Goodreads and the NYT bestsellers list as well as trade publications. Basically, anywhere and everywhere! I try to align what is out there with what I feel our customers and children will be interested in. But a lot of the time, there’s a fair amount of experimentation as well.