How to make reading to your children an enriching experience: 8 tips by award-winning writer and illustrator Niki Daly

"I think there's no harm in children enjoying books that are regarded as junk." (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)
"I think there's no harm in children enjoying books that are regarded as junk." (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

After 41 years of creating best-selling storybooks, and raising two sons, you can bet Niki Daly knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to ignite a love of reading in children. 

Easily one of the most beloved authors both locally and abroad, Daly's body of work includes the Jamela Series, The Herd Boy, Pretty Salma and many more, earning the story-teller a string of awards, from the Katrine Harries Award in South Africa to the New York Times Book Review's Best Illustrated Book of the Year in the USA. 

Parent24 spoke with the award-winning writer and illustrator about his career and the storyteller also shared his tips for making reading easier for children. 

So what are his secrets to reading success? Here are the gems Daly shared with us. 

Also see: 50% of children have never read a book with their parents – here's why we need to encourage reading early on

Base book selection on your child's interests 

"Most booksellers these days are not equipped to offer advice... Old booksellers used to engage parents; they used to find out what their children's interests are, what is pertinent to the child's life and age."

Do your research 

"If a parent educated themselves in children's literature, then you have something you can use as a gauge to help you select books that matter to introduce to your child. " 

Don't be a purist

"I think there's no harm in children enjoying books that are regarded as junk. The memory I have of books comes from my sister who would read to me books that wouldn't be regarded as 'good books' for children, but I poured my own imagination into those books."

"Children do that... their interpretation of what's in a book is often richer and more rewarding than what the book intends." 

Don't be afraid of 'scary books'

"My take on a perfect children's book - it has to be personal - Where the Wild Things Are. It was criticised at the time for being too scary for children.

"If Maurice Sendak was alive and submitted that book to a publisher nowadays, I don't think it would've been readily published. We are now living in a time where there's an overprotection of children I feel - and its a mistake because children can sense there's more to life than just the happily ever after ending.

"They can sense there's another side - strong emotions that they experience in their own selves - anger, jealousy, justice, violence and I think all these emotions can be handled in a children's books. 

"I think I've covered very deep topics like love, being kind, forgiveness, tolerance, hurt and that we can overcome our fears and difficulties and very often with help from an ally or friend." 

See books as an extension of parenting

"Parents might also consider books as a complement to their parenting; not as something that you just give to the child and you don't have any connection with." 

Understand the power of shared reading

"Shared reading is like sharing a journey with your child, where you become travel companions. You're experiencing adventures, emotions, responses, and all that a story offers that I believe endure in the same way as when you've been on an adventure or journey with a friend."

"You remember that - and that binds you and gives you a closeness.  Certainly, I owe the closeness between myself and my now two grown-up sons to the closeness cemented by our shared journeys that we had through books." 

Reading creates an unbreakable bond between parent and child

"I thank the experience of shared reading for keeping the lines of communication open between my boys and me even through the private years of adolescence where children can become very, very distant.

"I never felt that distance, and I always thought it was because we were travel companions when they were very young." 

Make time for a reading routine

"We've come to believe that life is fast-paced and that there is too little time to read bedtime stories. I think much of this panic is self-induced by rushing through the day without thinking about what is chasing us.

"My tip is to stop rushing, to stop spending too much time swiping your smartphone, and switching on the TV.

"When you come home, take off your shoes, lie down with your child and a book, and leave behind the clutter and noise of your busy life. Parents should know that when they're doing this that they are giving a priceless gift to their child." 

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