Rashmi Sirdeshpande on the comfort, curiosity, and wonder of children's books
Published on: 12 October 2020
We're living through uncertain and extraordinary times. For Never Show a T-Rex a Book author Rashmi Sirdeshpande, returning to children's books and sharing stories is a source of comfort and curiosity - and a way to explore the world without leaving your chair...
What a world we live in and how quickly things change. I mean, the past couple of years have been a LOT. And I know I’m not alone when I say that they have brought up ALL the feelings. These are confusing, complicated, and overwhelming times. But amidst all of this I’ve found children’s books to be such a big comfort. They also spark curiosity and are an endless source of joy and wonder. They give us a way of learning about a world we can’t explore the way we used to. Not just yet anyway…
Diane Ewen has captured that sense of comfort and curiosity and wonder so beautifully in our new picture book Never Show a T-Rex a Book. In this book, when T-Rex learns how to read, it opens up whole new worlds. She’s an excitable thing and once she gets started, she wants to read EVERYTHING - from cosy classics and poetry to comics and cookbooks and books about things like maths, mindfulness, and chess. Frankly, she could have written this post. She knows the trick: it’s about finding just the right book at just the right time.
Books as a comfort
A good book can be like a warm hug or a big creamy mug of hot chocolate. It’s a comfort thing. We all have something we go back to because of how it makes us feel. It works with books too. I know so many people who find comfort in the classics, in fairytales, or their childhood reads. Others find comfort in comics or wordless picture books like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. Returning to our favourites can be so restful when our brains are too frazzled for something new.
I know some people have really struggled to read lately. I had this for a while too. And when that happened, I turned to verse novels because they were just the right size and format for my tired brain and heavy heart. From my YA shelf, for example, I burned through Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew and Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann. They’re both so powerful and uplifting.
Illustration: Erika Meza
There’s also something about children’s books that makes them such a safe space.
I think it’s because no matter what happens - and some are really quite hard-hitting - they end with a note of hope. Ultimately, a book wraps its arms around you and says, “it will all be okay”. Funny, big-hearted books do this x 1 ZILLION. When I’ve been overwhelmed, I’ve curled up with my two little people and a funny book at story-time and it’s been just the thing I needed. Rob Biddulph is always a winner for us and so is this new one - This Book has Alpacas (and Bears) by Emma Perry and Rikin Parekh. I hope T-Rex will do that for someone somewhere too.
Children’s books are an absolute gift for curious minds. They stretch across everything from nature and the stars to extraordinary people and movements in history, all kinds of life skills, and…look, I’m never going to be able to write an exhaustible list! You can find a book on every topic under the sun (especially if you have a LIBRARIAN to help you find it - there’s a reason why I dedicated this book to librarians). And if there’s something that hasn’t been written yet, you could bet your last biscuit there’s a writer out there working on it.
The range of books is something I was always amazed by as a child stepping into a library. I still feel that way today when I think about what’s out there.
You can see some of that in T-Rex’s book choices. She’s got quite the collection. And this is the thing about books. It’s like leaping across lily pads. You might find one you like and from there you discover another and then maybe something in that leads you to one that’s a bit different. A journey of discovery without even setting foot outside your house. There’s just so much to learn and it’s all made so accessible by the clear, punchy writing and stunning artwork that we’re very much spoiled by when it comes to children’s books. Though I should add - not yet accessible enough in a world where not every child owns a book or has access to a library. Imagine if they did - imagine the great equalisers that books could one day be.
Transporting us to other places
Books are the cheapest around-the-world tickets out there (real world and fantasy too). I’ve explored every inch of our beautiful planet through illustrated nonfiction. I’ve walked through 19th century Amsterdam through Hana Tooke’s The Unadoptables and I’ve visited multiverses through L.D. Lapinksi’s The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. I’ve solved mysteries in The Bigwoof Conspiracy by Dashe Roberts. I’ve even seen airships and mechanical dragons through Sky Pirates by Alex English and lost cities and storms in jars through Maria Kuzniar’s The Ship of Shadows. All while snuggled up on my sofa.
For some, that escapist element of reading is so valuable. When everything is too much, to be able to lose yourself in the pages of a book is a kind of rest.
And as for the factual books - they’re a special kind of delight today. Such a treat to travel across continents with the turn of a page. Who knows when we’ll be able to travel so far and wide again in real life. Or whether we’d even want to travel as much given the climate crisis. Books let us explore from wherever we are - zooming up into space and sweeping down to look at the tiniest, most fascinating details.
Books are basically magic. They’re as rich and varied as life on this planet and they’re a big comfort, a mini-education, and a portal into whole new worlds. They’re a safe space where everything is possible and nothing is out of reach. Diane and I did our best to celebrate that in our book and I hope young readers will feel some of that joy and wonder too.
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