Reading for Pleasure in Indian Families – Part 2

I worked with CLPE on their storytelling day celebrations in February. Since then I’ve been fascinated with the work they do and I came across their findings on Reading for Pleasure. The research was of course done in the UK and I wondered how it applied to Indian families – both here and back home in India.

So let’s take each finding and look at it from a South Asian perspective.

  •  Developing an ethos and an environment that excites, enthuses, inspires and values 

Do we do this in Indian families? Do we value reading story books as much as browsing the encyclopedia or doing the times tables?

On Facebook, one of the mums asked a question – can someone recommend assessment books to teach grammar. And an editor replied – story books. You can learn so much from just reading, without even realizing what you’re picking up.

I think reading for pleasure will introduce the child to vocabulary – not just new words but when to use the words (the context). Of course it would improve grammar and spelling and perhaps even learning about places they had never been too.

I learnt all of my sentence construction and grammar from writing and reading stories.

Reading for Pleasure Partnership in Liverpool


  •  High quality texts with depth and interest in story, character, illustration, vocabulary, structure and subject matter

This is good news. Children’s publishing is growing in India at a brilliant pace. When I was a child, there were textbook publishers and a few comics and magazine publishers. Children’s books at least the good stories were not mainstream.

If I didn’t read Amar Chitra Katha, I had to read abridged versions of the classics (never the original), retellings of folktales and moral stories.

Even now, sometimes, people ask me – do you have a moral in your book? No, not really. What you get out of the book would be based on as much as you as much as what I wanted to convey. We don’t need morals – we need to raise questions, challenge status quo, make our main characters decide between difficult choices. Whether that would help a child figure out its own moral compass, it is entirely up to the child.

Beat them hard with a moralistic hammer, children run from reading and reading for pleasure is thus defeated.

  •  A read aloud programme

Do we do this? My parents never read aloud to me. In fact I never read aloud a book until four years ago. I watched someone do a bedtime reading – with voices and noises. With huge drama and I realised I always did this in my head, why couldn’t do I do it for real.

And then I had to do it for Farmer Falgu’s launch and I loved it. Now I never read a book quietly. I read most picture books loudly even to myself. I love reading the books to my nephew with voices. And if they are my books, I don’t read them at all. I tell them.

Reading Tips from Book Trust UK
Reading Tips from Book Trust UK

We need parents to turn into Bollywood and Kollywood actors. Come on, think of yourself as the stalwart of Indian cinema and give some oomph to the reading. Bring in songs and dance. Every Bollywood movie is a musical – why not ever story book you read?

Teachers in schools – do they read aloud? I can’t remember whether my teachers read to me. But I know we were encourage to read aloud – even economics. Perhaps that was to keep the teacher from going to sleep. I’m kidding. I think we need brave teachers to experiment. Especially in kindgarten and 1st and 2nd standard classrooms. Come on, unleash the child’s imagination and he/she will take you to magical places.

  •  Teachers who are knowledgeable about children’s literature

This is a tough one. Are our teachers well-read? I specifically mean in India. But even here in the UK – English teachers and librarians are. Literacy coordinators are. But are all teachers well-read?

Do they think of reading as part of life. I remember someone mentioning an incident as part of the World Book Day Week celebrations in the UK – the science teacher not interested in stories. Science is a story! Science Fiction became science – ask Arthur C Clarke. Gadgets in movies have been invented. Serious Magic and Science are two sides of the same coin, in my world. What you can’t decipher feels like magic and then when you explain it with formulae (not that I’d get it), you feel it was science all along.

Read the diary of a teacher who talks about the power of reading aloud in the classroom
Read the diary of a teacher who talks about the power of reading aloud in the classroom

Are teachers in India aware of the books being published for young children? Do schools in India invite authors to classrooms? Do they bring in illustrators to show their art to the children? Organisations like the Bookaroo are doing wonderful work in bringing books and art closer to the children. Book festivals are slowly turning the corner from mass-made cheap-quality adaptations to celebrating today’s books – there are so many independent publishers in India – Karadi Tales, Tulika Books (both my publishers, I’m proud to say) and Duckbill.

US and UK publishers who have branches in India do publish Indian stories. But primarily they make their money from selling the UK / US books in India – from Wimpy Kid to Harry Potter. Of course Indian kids should have access to every book ever published. I’m never going to contest that.

But Indian publishing has to catch up on content with the UK/US publishing market. We are still a bit more conservative in what we publish – we are less playful and less controversial. I grew up on books from other countries – even if I devoured Ruskin Bond and other Indian writers available to us at that time.

Do teachers attend book fairs? Do they respect reading and writing the same way? Do they appreciate the local books and the imported ones?

  •  Creating a community of readers with opportunities to share responses and opinions

I know this is very difficult for India – could I share what I read with my parents and ask questions? Would they ban me from reading a book about fragmented families and naughty children? Some parents enjoy the fun. They are still childish and I am glad I met many of them on facebook reading groups – these parents put the fun into reading.

But take an average parent in India – are they able to discuss the topics from the books? Do teachers engage like this? Is the English class only for doing the verbs and the adjectives or can we talk about books?book-talk-color

CLPE recommends – Book groups, books shops, interactive displays, reading competitions, reading volunteers and book related fundraising activities are all ways of involving the wider community and helping to create a community of readers

I think India is lagging behind in most of these. There are some book groups. Even some big cities lack in decent bookshops. Schools don’t celebrate books – we don’t do displays, posters, crafts and cooking based on our books.

Now competitions – that’s a good idea for India – we are very competitive. We love winning things. So why not reading competitions that show how many books has someone read? What did they find out? Can they act it out? Can they dress up?

  •  Planning for talking about books and stories, providing structures within which to do this

How do we and where do we talk about books?

I think Indians like technology – so blogs are a better way of bringing children and peer groups together. Look at the Guardian website for children’s books. Maybe we should create something like that where children can come and talk about books they loved. They can review books and the review would be proudly published in the next edition of the books.

Can we do this? Can newspapers allocate time and space for both children and their books?

Where else? How about school assemblies? Can we get a reader to come and talk about a book they liked recently every day? 1 student – 3 minutes – that’s 250 or more recommendations a year in each school.

Can we do dinner table conversations about books? Switch off that TV – life is too short to watch one hero dying for love for his heroine. Can we talk books?

Can we turn some of the Indian books into movies? Perhaps then the books would reach more kids.

I loved this CLPE report and I have been thinking hard about reading for pleasure in India and Indian families. While I’m thinking about reading for pleasure, a voice in my head says many children can’t read at all. We need schools, we need teachers and we need libraries. We need to spread the word.

Here are some reading and school charities that I’ve been supporting and following closely.






Room to Read –

The Book Bus –

Pratham –

Agaram Foundation –

Teach for India –

If you’re reading this – help in some way. You have kids – then read to them. Make them read to you. Foster the love of reading to them. You want to do more – pick a charity from this list and find out how you can participate, contribute and bring books to more children in this world.

India is an ancient civilisation – with literature – be it poetry, drama or fiction dating back thousands of years. Let’s bring that joy back. Life is nothing but a story and you’re the one to tell it.


Here are some additional links on Reading for Pleasure.

My earlier blog post on Reading for Pleasure in Indian Families.

An article from the National Union of Teachers with lots of tips and resources.

Tips for teachers on Reading for Pleasure

A Guardian article with practical tips on how to promote reading for pleasure.

In the end, I leave you with  my favourite poster ever – Daniel Pennac and Quentin Blake’s Rights of the Reader.



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