Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Bedside Story

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Reading Time: 5 minutes

I think I love children’s books as much as I hate textbooks. As in, I love kids’ books as a rule but occasionally some of them tick me off (and hate textbooks as a rule but occasionally some of them impress me).

There was a time when our bedtime routine was reading one particular book, and times when we read no books at all. Times when we were reading a book of nursery rhymes (my thinking being that my kid loved music and singing so connecting those with books would be cool; and it was). There was the one with cutout shapes at the time she was obsessed with putting her fingers through any holes she could find.

Anyway, I am unsure how we ended up with this bedtime routine, but my 4yo currently wants me to read something like 10 books in bed each night. I know it’s a little too much, but it’s a good way to spend time together and make her look forward to bedtime. The thing is, we keep adding to the repertoire, the latest book being one that Whitney Kilgore sent her as a gift (more on that one later).


flickr photo shared by ma_bali under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

So this blogpost is for me to reflect on the different kinds of books we are reading. There are two piles of books in two different rooms she sleeps in (occasionally she will read a bunch of books in one room then ask to go tothe  other room to read the other books!)

Many of the books we read are ones she received as gifts. There’s the touchy-feely alphabet animals book my friend Caroline got her as a baby. I actually sing the book to her as we touch the different textures and flip the flaps, because when she was a baby the singing kept her engaged,and she just got used to this as a signing book. There’s the “My First Numbers” book my friend Gihan got her as a baby. It goes through some animals and numbers. When she was younger, to engage her, I would make animal gestures and sounds with each one, and she got used to that and does it with me now. There’s the Baby Faces Peekaboo which I bought for her. All these three are relatively active books, so reading them is great when she isn’t completely ready to wind down completely.

Other books she likes to interact with but are slightly less active, are “On the Farm” – a gift from my friend Amina.  It’s the kind of book with great visuals and shiny parts, and it tells a story but also asks the child some questions,so they aren’t reading passively.

There are the Jane Fischer books of the Garden Gang. Those were mine as a kid and have my name on them and my school year still. I was fascinated that a girl started writing these books and illustrating them at age 9. As I read them now, I find there is not always a clear moral to the stories, then I realize how old the author might have been when she wrote them. The active part of the book is that there pics of the different fruits and vegetables at the front and back flaps of the book, and somehow, what we do is each of us holds a flap and we compare vegetables we have on each side. It’s a way to recognize and name vegetables and find similarities (though I actually think it’s a game the kid herself started, I can’t be sure). We play similar games if “compare” with other books, especially Arabic ones (e.g. One at teaches the colors from my friend Gihan also) so that she gets to hear and speak more Arabic while playing like “I have a blue thing, do you have a blue thing?” (And we compare different pages of the book, usually using Arabic to name things and colors).

There are a couple of Arabic books we read that are written by a friend of mine, Hadil Ghoneim. I got them for her when I realized she had an aversion to Arabic text because she couldn’t read it, and I wanted her to get used to seeing and liking it. These books worked. One of them also helped prepare her for the move to school from nursery.

There are books I got her coz they remind me of my childhood, like the Mr. men series, but I don,t like all of them. For example, we read Little Miss Bossy, coz my kid needs a lesson in being less bossy, but not Little Miss Helpful, because that book actually frustrated me by how it made it such that the person trying to help always messed things up for other people. Why on earth would you wanna teach kids NOT to help others? Weird

We also read an Usborne book that teaches vocabulary (Arabic) over a scene. So you have a scene of a garden, zoo, park, whatever, then also each word with its picture on the side. We play the finding game here too. I used to have something like this as a kid (the same illustrations but a smaller book and teaches both English and Arabic) and we still have that book, but I use this one with her coz it’s got more in it, the Arabic isn’t Egyptian though.


flickr photo shared by ma_bali under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

There is a book that was a gift from my Canadian friend Ashley (whose story I was reading more into than apparently I was supposed to). There are Peppa Pig books her dad got her recently (beautifully illustrated). There are a couple of Thomas the Train books I got her myself which annoy the heck out of me because all the characters are male (I know it’s targeting boys, but you don’t see girlie books missing male characters altogether!!!)

And there is one of her favorites, a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse thing that’s got 3 stories in one book and cube building blocks puzzle thingies to fill in parts of the story. She loves them, I love them, and it’s cool if she’s in the mood to do a simple puzzle thing before finishing reading all the books. It’s one of the stories about baking in that book that initiated our frequent baking in the past month or so. She wanted to make cookies like Minnie Mouse was making cookies; I don’t actually make cookies, so we make southern biscuits and all kinds of cakes and I tried my hand at flatbread and shortbread biscuits. And then last week came a gift from Whitney Kilgore.

The Book with No Pictures

You think you know all there is to know about reading books to kids until you see this one that Whitney sent. I was already singing books that aren’t supposed to be sung, and skimming through stories instead of reading them verbatim (because, you know, 10 books. 10!) and doing all kinds of activities unrelated to what the book is supposed to be about (because, you know, whoever said you’re supposed to just read a book from start to finish, right? and there are so many interesting pictures all the time not necessarily related to what’s written out).

And then this book comes along.

And it literally has no pictures. Zero.

And yet. It reminded me that my child is not just obsessed with pictures. She is also obsessed with letters and numbers. She is actually obsessed with supermarket receipts and the tickets off of new clothes. She calls them lists. Yes, 4 years old and she’s already obsessed with lists. She also likes graphs and excel sheets (this fetish she got when she looked over my shoulder when I was grading last semester and later when I was looking up some data and making graphs). So this book? It’s full of text. In different sizes and colors and fonts. And that’s actually interesting for her. It might make her feel that she’s reading a big-people book or something.

The other interesting thing about the book is that it’s…silly… the words are silly and the person reading them is supposed to make funny sounds and such… it made me realize that when we read to kids, it’s not just about reading what is on the page, but about how we dramatize it.

I also like that it’s challenging kids into knowing that, you know, books can be silly, they can say really silly things. It sort of makes the authority of the book challengeable. And the authority of the word, because the book is full of words that aren’t even words.

So I just wanted to record those thoughts… thank you everyone for all the books you gave Hoda – and there are many more she reads outside of bed as well!

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