11 Ideas to Make Reading the Centre of Your Universe

As a kid I read a lot and as an adult I still read a lot. No one had to tell me reading was fun. But I think I missed out so many different things that could have enhanced my reading.

Couple of years ago, I started doing school visits, told stories to children and of course met some creative, craft-loving, singing-dancing mums and aunts and grandparents who inspired me to make reading absolutely more fun than anything else.

So here are some ideas on how to make books, stories and reading the centre of your universe.

Idea #1 – Read together. Read with voices, read with noises. Sing songs, dance to the verse and celebrate the words. Reading together doesn’t have to be aloud all the time. It could be as cosy as each person in the family from grandmother to toddler picking a place on the sofa or on the floor or under the dining table (as I used to) and read at the same time. Adults can’t just say reading is fun. Show the kids that reading is fun.

Here are some tips and great examples of reading aloud.



Idea #2 – Don’t judge the reading choice. I used to read newspapers, the Reader’s Digest, English textbooks of older kids with stories in them, comic books and magazines – both children’s and family magazines. Don’t force your children or yourself just to read motivational books, non-fiction, school assessment books or what’s useful for school.

Let them decide what they like. Some kids like non-fiction and some like stories. Some like comics only. All reading is good reading. Perhaps your kid plays cricket, find some books on the sport, find histories and biographies on the internet and print them out for them. Ask them to make a book about the sport.

disapproval_baby_memeDon’t frown upon their choices in bookstores and libraries. Don’t check the price of storybooks and compare it to an encyclopedia. It’s like comparing the price of soap to the price of mangoes. Those two exist for two different reasons and we want them in different measures in our lives. No reading is wasted.

Stories are blueprints for life. Fiction allows children to read about someone else who has a similar problem or a different problem they have never seen before. When the character in the story has the same problem as the reader, the story equips the child to question their situation, shows them how to approach it or how not to. When the character in the story has a different problem than the child, it teaches empathy.

Here is a study by the UK government which emphasizes that reading for pleasure has far-reaching benefits.


Idea #3 – If your child is excited about a book, find songs to go with the book. Whether they are Bollywood tunes or nursery rhymes or pop music – ask them to explore. My storytelling coach used to encourage us to find songs for every story we want to tell. It’s a great way to celebrate the story and integrate it with other aspects of life.

Here is a list of books that have music as an integral part.


Here is a list of songs that encourage reading.


Idea #4 – If you read a book together, draw and paint scenes together. How about mosaic art? P1020969 P1020968 P1020965How about a home exhibition of all paintings all of you have done that are connected to the books you read. Invite aunties and uncles, grandparents and neighbours and create an art gallery visit.

Perhaps you can create a pininterest board of all your drawings and artwork too.


Idea #5 – Crafts. I was always bad at crafts. Correction – I’m still bad at doing crafts. But I still try and attempt. I’m never going to have an art installation in Trafalgar Square – but my family would still think I’m the next Tracy Emin. So, be brave. Try it out.

The Internet and YouTube are filled with arts and crafts activity about every imaginable topic. So when I wanted to create a craft activity for my Farmer Falgu books – I found an ice-cream stick bullock-cart craft video. How cool. One school watched the video and created tens of bullock-carts for World Book Day.


Here are some great videos of craft activities.


Find a craft that matches the book. Be it a kite, a house, perhaps clay modeling of the animals, stickman if you are into Julia Donaldson. True for older kids and teenagers too.

Idea #6 – Movie nights – read great books that have been made into movies and follow it up with a movie night. Whether Bollywood or BBC Films, there is a treasure trove available. Some movies have been made more than once. Imagine the discussion at the dinner table – children would know if the movie justified the book or was better or was nowhere near it. Talk about if the character they had imagined matched the actor on screen.

Timeout has created a of fabulous movies that were adapted from children’s books.


And this is an exhaustive list of all movies made from children’s books.


Idea #7 – Connect current affairs and history to the books you’re reading. If you read Enid Blyton and Tintin now, it would be a bit dated around some things. Some things that people said and did 50 years ago might not be polite now. Bring it up – talk about it.

Check out some hot topics and related books here. http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/topic/books-by-subject/current-affairs

Ask the children if they see today things that happen that might not be polite in the future. Children are wise in an innocent way. They would want a better world if you asked them about it and of course they are the ones who could make it happen. So create leaders of your brood. Show them how to make their own way.

That actually wants me to talk about science fiction – what was science fiction in the 1920s – read them now and see if some of it has become a reality. Similarly read today’s science fiction and think about what’s the probability of these new ideas becoming a reality.

Here is a list of inventions inspired by science fiction.


Here is another less serious list.


Now, historical fiction is a different type of fun. Imagine the stories set during historical times. What an opportunity to get grandparents involved in conversations about when they were young people and the stories they saw and how they relate to the books you’re reading.

I found this amazing list – but I would love to get suggestions on books set in India’s past, for children.


What about the cultural scene when grandparents were kids? How does that measure up now?

Idea #8 – Animation adventures can be borne out of reading fun picture books or even chapter books. How about introducing your children to free tools to animate. They can draw and create animations – whether they write a script for their own book or a book they read or animate a book review – what a wonderful way to learn animation.

Here are some lists of animation ideas and resources.



Are you hooked too? Then here are some grownup tools.


Idea #9 – Blog about the books you read. There are great websites which request children to review books. Of course there are various competitions every year for which long-lists and shortlists are announced. Encourage your children to shadow the awards, review books they read, recommend books to their friends.

Here are some tips to start a book blog.



Of course if you don’t want a blog of your own and want to contribute to a public blog, try this.


Idea #10 – Create a lending library manned by your little ones. Whether you invite neighbours and family to come and borrow or just for the immediate family – it is a great way to teach responsibility too. Children can arrange books, catalog them, review them, post recommendation notes and of course lend books out and chase out delayed returns.

Here is an idea of how to create a home library.


Idea #11 – Take a book like Diary of the Wimpy Kid – and ask your children to create a diary of their lives in the same design. How cool would that be? All they need is a blank notebook or a diary with lots of space to draw and write.

Perhaps they can develop an infographic about the book. Here are some free tools to create an infographic.


I could go on and on and on. Try out all of them or some of them – make books and stories the centre of your family’s universe. Have fun. Come back and tell me which ideas worked and how it worked.

RIP Kanaka Auntie


[Mum in Orange Saree and Auntie in Green] 

My mum was in no way orthodox or deeply religious when we were young, or for that matter now. She is spiritual and devoted to her religion – but she is also a product of her time.

Most of my Mum’s friends were local women who were brought together in social work and she didn’t really mix much with the neighbours. Don’t get me wrong, we were in a colony of bank employees, we all liked each other and the kids like me hung out with other colony kids, but my Mum was not the “Best friend” type. Oh I just realized why I’m like that.

Anyway, this was the time of the Srilankan Civil War at its worst. The Tamils were not only fighting the federal Sinhala government , but were also fighting amongst themselves. Refugees came into India in droves, especially to South India where the political climate was favourable.

We had new neigbours two doors down. We lived in the first floor and someone moved into the first floor flat two doors down. The house in the middle didn’t have a first floor – so I could watch the comings and goings of the new neighbours. Opposite to the new neighbor’s flat was our usual hangout – another bank employee’s house and we sat in their terrace and watched them unpack and move in.

Everyone speculated including us, the kids. Their accent wasn’t local. Were they from Kerala, the south-west of India. They sounded different, dressed different. They were new to this part of the world. And then an old lady with just one arm came out of the car. That was big news and we speculated more.

The next thing that was different, was this bunch was friendly. Not in a “I’m new to your neighbourhood” way. In a genuine way. They invited us to their place and they wanted to talk to us. And this was not the health and safety, don’t talk to strangers time – this was more in the early 80s when we walked around in our pajamas on the streets. (Well, I did and I was sure was being laughed at).

I was drawn to their smiles. It reached their eyes. People tell me I do that too. Maybe I got it from them. Anyway, I digress. I made friends first. I went in to their home and talked to them. Gleaned information. They were from Sri Lanka, my mum still says Ceylon. They were refugees. But not regular refugees – they were political refugees. Because one of the brothers (who wasn’t with them) was a liberation leader. The old lady was shot at by the army. The older brother was in jail for many years for not revealing his brother’s whereabouts. My imagination was ignited. Their Tamil cause was mine too.

But the most important thing that happened was that my Mum was drawn to them too.  Slowly the family became friends. My mum and Kanaka Auntie (we never called her that, we called her Ceylon Aunty and my Mum called her Ceylonee) started doing things together – the temples first and then for coffee and then a  meal. They talked hours on end and they got on like fire and petrol. They both had irreverent humour and they loved making fun of stuck-up people. My mum was impressed with auntie’s knowledge and experience – she understood what it took to leave behind a homestead, a farm and a big house and having to flee for life.


[They must have been making fun of someone else or each other.]


Their kids were friendly and genuinely nice. My mum had a friend for life. Well, she thought she did. We were family – we had broken barriers mentally to be recognized with people who were different from us in more ways than one. My Mum managed to get Auntie approved amongst her sisters and in-laws. Everyone knew Mum’s best friend was Ceylon Auntie. And she in turn became the advisor and listener to many of Mum’s relatives and friends.

When I went home this April. Auntie couldn’t come to see me. She was ill. The first time she hadn’t turned up the day I went home. She called and sent her “freedom-fighter” husband with some home-made rice noodles. I insisted I wanted to visit. They lived a few streets away now. We went for a visit and we had an hour talking about this and that. Auntie was ill – but her husband was talking to my Mum about her recent bout of illness and giving her advice. Every one in their family have always been generous with their warmth, their smiles and their attitude. They had so little, yet they shared. They worked hard and they smiled a lot. No wonder my Mum loved to be part of that fold.

Ceylon Auntie, passed away yesterday, after a month of hospitalization. A coma she wouldn’t come out of. She had braved the Sinhala Army and a foreign country. She had braved her husband’s jail term and her mother-in-laws escape across the fields, being shot at by the army. But she finally gave up.

My mum and Dad have been talking about her for weeks now. They were so worried. My Dad couldn’t contemplate not having her in our lives. He wasn’t normally very involved in things like hospitals and family functions. But he went to the hospital every other day to see her and be with her husband.

Our family has lost a friend, my Mum has lost a sister and we are all somehow a little less than we were yesterday. But the only way I know how to carry on, is be like her –be generous even when you have nothing to give and be happy even if life has not given you reason to.