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The Joy of Reading with My Child (And Necessity of it)

Easier will be steepest of
the paths
if you whisper to them,
to the trees, and the rocks
like a friend. : Me with Sanskriti (Nonu)
I finished reading The Book Thief to my seven year old, though in bits and pieces, and then closed it with watching the magnificent movie adaptation today afternoon. The weather was kind, her interest was up, having read the book and it was almost ethereal, in a happy way. I kept on thinking why did I watch this movie with Nonu. I thought about it and wanted to share.

Not that I do not watch movies often with her. I am a movie freak and the weekend with no new releases leaves me uneasy. Between me and my daughter, we keep on watching all the animation movies, much to the chagrin of her mother. But watching The Book Thief was different.

It struck me when I read another “All The Life We cannot See” right after I read “The Book Thief”. These two books are about World War II, these two books are about death. Should I expose a seven year old to the depressing sadness of the war?

But no, war is not only about death. War is also about hope, about survival, about coming out of war. These two stories are glorious stories about love, and hope and innocence of the children in the war-zones. The two books are also about one underlying theme which runs common to two stories, apart from deaths, childhood and war- that is books.

Books make even the wars survivable. Books will not erect a protective shed over your head that will protect you from the death falling from the skies. As Anne Lamott writes in her book Bird by bird: “It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. 

 They create a world of hope even in the most hopeless of the scenario. In words, we understand the world around us. We are able to bear its harshness and forgive it.

When death is around us, intimidating, gnashing its white ominous teeth through the hopeless darkness, words fall like snowflakes, and dance in the stardust, spreading its forgiving silken shelter, giving us a hope for tomorrow. The bombs exploding are suddenly not loud enough. In "All The Light We Cannot See" We find that the days turns into years as Marie-Laurie LeBlanc wades through the pounding of German warships in the sleepy French village, hopelessly waiting for her father, who unfortunately never returns. It is reading Jules Verne and Charles Darwin which saves her sanity.

In The Book Thief, Liesel Meminger spends nights in the basements watching over the Jewish fugitive, Max, struggling with sickness and impending arrest and subsequent possible death and reading stolen books to him. They hold each other through words which float between the two souls, aggrieved, punished and still their inherent kindness intact. Liesel is the book thief. She struggles with words and learns them with difficulty having missed out on initial schooling. But Hans Hubermann, with inherent father characteristics of ‘Thereness’ – of being there whenever the child might need it,  of as the writer says, appearing there mid-scream and not leaving, who is himself poor reader, she learns to read. She discovers words. In words, she finds solace. She is an orphan, she lives with foster parents, the war is looming, intolerance floats in the air with the smell of explosives and.. death. But she makes it, through all that. Her only hope is words. When being poor, she cannot get books in the society in the midst of book-burning frenzy, she is steals them. She terms it borrowing and Death - the narrator, names her -The book thief. Max gives her a Mein Kampf, with pages colored white and transformed into a notebook. Hans teaches her to read and Max teaches her to write and she earns two most important companions for all her life. Liesel finds comfort in words, which protects her from the tragic death of her foster parents, and her only friend, Rudy Steiner, shielding like a mother’s womb. She writes and as death tells us, writes stories for all her ninety three years.

I had to watch this movie with Nonu. She needs to find a father’s embrace and a mother’s womb which will never leave her. She needs to discover the comfort that words offer. Words do not change the reality. They make them bearable. They don’t help you avoid life, they help you smile at life even when the dust of death flows into your eyes. In words, we understand our largeness and our smallness. The libraries are fading, words are shrinking with internet. But we must love words, caress them with tenderness. I hope, long after I am gone, Nonu will be able to survive her loneliest nights without bitterness, in company of words- her eternal companions. I am doing this to get her ready for life. I teach her words so that like Matilda of Roald Dahl, she could go on olden day sailing with Joseph Conrad..to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India, with Rudyard Kipling,  and so that in her loneliest of nights, and there will be some, she, like Matilda, she gets the message: You are not alone.

I feel, we all must do it. Introduce our kids to words, not so that they do well in schools and bring us glory but to equip them to handle life better. Rest will anyways follow. We might think they will not understand these stories. But human mind is very adaptive, it rises up to the challenge we throw at it. It will pick things which it finds good. I was pleasantly surprised with the interest with which my daughter watched this movie and read this book. Could be the impact of this movie, today, she was reminding me to take her to the library. The books will make them dream and also believe in dreams. As Carl Sagan wrote, “ A book is the proof that humans are capable of magic.

From my Poem- We, The Word Catcher, from my book Rescued Poems I share an excerpt

Lovely words, brutal words
daring, demanding and casual
Forgiving, kind and killing words
Off-beat, eternal and usual.

Damaging and deadly,
Healing and life-giving.
Kinder and harsh,
Like childhood friend, in truth, unforgiving.


Book Review: The Book Thief
Book Review:  All The Light We Cannot See

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