The magic of reading: A mother’s account

Novelist Shaila Abdullah tells how just as her parents cultivated a love of books in her from a young age, she in turn shared this love with her daughter, Aanyah, from the moment she was born. Today, at six-years-old, Aanyah is the one reading to her mother!

The day I found out that my husband and I were expecting our very first child, I was determined to make her into a voracious reader with an insatiable appetite for books.

In Karachi, my childhood home was filled with books. Reading was not only encouraged, but actively demonstrated by my father, who is a deep thinker and a habitual reader. As a child, I needed books like oxygen. A good Enid Blyton book could render my entire day magical and full of promise.

Aanyah Abdullah is mesmerised by Eric Carle's “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Photo: Shaila Abdullah
Aanyah Abdullah is mesmerised by Eric Carle's “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Shaila Abdullah

Before Aanyah was born, I had already built a collection of carefully selected, thoroughly vetted books for young children. Throughout my pregnancy, my daughter was subjected to many recitals of Dr Seuss – although admittedly, I was a bit sceptical of whether reading to her at that stage would make a difference.

As soon as I brought Aanyah from the hospital, our reading journey began. My earliest memory of us is of lying on our backs, a book in front of us, as I read to her and she eagerly batted the pages, mesmerised by what was in front of her.

At the age of seven months, Aanyah already had her favourites. I could cheer her up simply by reciting lines from a favourite book to her (because by then, I had memorised quite a few). I loved watching her crawl over to her stack of books to pick out the one I was reciting from. I owe many victorious motherhood moments to the all time classic Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

Being surrounded by books was such a joy to her, that Aanyah almost missed the boat on walking. For hours, the child would sit with her books, not interested in any other form of activity or toys. She finally walked at the age of 18 months but only to reach her books faster– crawling took way too long. By then, I had updated her collection, and put some of her old favourites away, including Wynken, Blynken and Nod. When she found language, she asked me for that book back. It sealed my belief in the power of books.

Reading is Aanyah's favourite activity, says her mother: “she'll choose it over any TV show or game.”. Photo: Shaila Abdullah
Reading is Aanyah's favourite activity, says her mother: “she'll choose it over any TV show or game.”. Shaila Abdullah

Over the years, Aanyah's love of reading grew from the pen and paintbrush of Eric Carle, the delightfully likable characters of Mo Willems, the humorous army of silly animals of Sandra Boynton, the cumulative songs of Audrey Wood, and the many misadventures of Mister Meddle and Amelia Bedelia.

Aanyah is six now, and we still read together. Sometimes she reads to me, and much to my joy, she reads above her grade level. Reading is still her favourite activity and she'll choose it over any TV show or game. Nowadays, after bringing her home from school, I often make a cup of steaming hot cocoa for her and we'll read chapters from Enid Blyton's Enchanted Woods together. And on the backs of Joe, Beth and Frannie, we climb atop the magical Faraway Tree, eager to see what other reading treasures can be discovered in our journey of books.