A visit to a bookstore

Pradita Nambiar

When nine-year-old Ashmitha rushed into the bookstore, picked up a copy of Fantastic Mr. Fox and dashed to the counter loudly announcing to her friends that the copy is hers now, her face lit up with the joy of having discovered a treasure. The eight and nine-year-olds of my class are taken on a visit to a bookstore annually to share the joy of the world of books. The trip had been suspended for the past two years due to the pandemic. This year we revived it.

Preparations for the trip began with a lot of fanfare. The children wrote a letter to their parents giving details of the bookstore and the money they would need to buy the books of their choice. I could hear hectic discussions, huddles along the corridor and whispers in between classes on who would be partners on the bus. There were unending discussions on the interesting snacks they would bring along.

To puff up the excitement, I read aloud a few books – Dog Loves Books by Loiuse Yates, The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr.Morris Lessmore by William Joyce as warm up activities to the trip. This visit was an attempt to incorporate my literary gluttony into the DNA of my class.

More often than not, schools take children on trips to zoos, historical monuments, and museums. But a visit to a bookstore is less frequently in the spotlight. It is here that the child can discover an author, a story, or a life. This is probably what Akash meant when he wrote in his journal, ‘I went inside and felt happy.’ It is the rendezvous point for intimate dialogues and interactions between books and book lovers.

Did my class of nine-year-olds know the pleasure of being in a bookstore? I wondered. The pleasure of being drawn into the magical world of books and then being left to choose treasures from the shelf.

‘Take Your Child to a Bookstore – TYCB’ is a movement in America which encourages mothers to take their children to bookstores. TYCB day is founded by a mother and writer Jenny Milchman, the American novelist. What started as an event for her young children is now being celebrated by more than 1,000 bookstores across America and bookstores in the UK, Canada and Australia also showing interest in this idea. TYCB team believes that this initiative instils a love for books and bookstores as a precious resource for children. This is also a great way to foster childhood literacy and love of reading. She believes that a trip to the bookstore and giving free access to books introduces the child not just to a new book but also a new tomorrow.

Buying books is an intellectual exercise as this means browsing through many books and then finally deciding which ones to take home. Very often, readers, especially young children, consider books for their sensorial appeal like the touch and feel of the cover and pages as also the size of the books. Over a period of time, these textures, smells, and colours make their connections with the readers and become familiar to them like their own skin.

Aarav and Veda wanted to buy books for their mothers. Their request, ‘Teacher, can you help me pick a book for my mother?’ took us to conversations on the kinds of books their parents and siblings liked to read. The children had to make important decisions. On occasions they had to give up on certain choices so that their purchases could fit into their limited budgets. This made them aware of the reading choices of their parents and siblings and also introduced them to the joy of giving a book to their loved ones. A community of readers was being built by these young lovers of books.

As soon as we stepped out of the bookstore and sat around the trees in the shop premises, the children picked up their newly purchased books and started reading them. Many of them were so engrossed in reading that they had to be woken out of the book. It is this dream-state that a book lover goes into at a bookstore.

This trip to a bookstore organized by my school needs to be more than one teacher and her class going for a day in a year. A great way to spread the word is to include a trip to a bookstore as part of the itinerary during family vacations. It will spread the joy of reading books and light up the lives of many children and their families.

The author is a teacher at Vidyaranya High School, Hyderabad. She can be reached at pradita_n@yahoo.com.

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