Ask the Expert, Children's Literature, Parenting

Ask The Expert – Raghuram Ashok

Hello there, I am back with the second (and long due) post of the series and this one is a personal favorite.

This week, we get to meet Raghuram Ashok, a father of 2 lovely cubs Yuga (3yo) & Kalki (8mo) and we are going to be discussing – Children’s Literature. Yay!

I started reading books only after I turned ten or so but I have always wanted to bring up my kid(s) to love to read from a very young age. I used to read aloud whatever I was reading to my tummy and B thought I was nuts. I am no expert in children’s books (due to the reason stated earlier) and I have been buying books for Aadhvik mostly based on reviews I read online, recommendations from friends or what I like when I go shopping for books.

So when I chanced upon Raghu’s profile on Instagram randomly, it was no surprise that i fell in love with his feed. So much so that I messaged him like a creepy stalker asking if he would be interested to do a post for a new series on my blog. Raghu being the kind person that he is agreed to do it and here we are.

Here’s a little bit more about him – “I grew up in Bangalore, went to college, met Priya at college, married her and eventually moved to California. Staying in Bangalore made me a foodie. Surrounded by great breakfast joints, Iyengar food at home, I’ve been inspired by hands that cook great food and that has made me spend more time experimenting in the kitchen. Baking is a new found passion and I am on my way to become the single largest cause of diabetes at home. Photography has been my creative outlet with documentary stories and weddings. While raising kids both of got introduced to the world of children’s books and we’d like to hit 1000 books before our kids step into kindergarten. We’ve been trying to catalog every single book we’ve enjoyed reading to our kids.”


It’s not often that you come across people like Raghu. Not only did he agree to help me out in spite of not knowing much about me but he also went out of the way to give me elaborate answers to everything I asked. So, here’s what he has to say about reading to and with your mini(s).

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1. Why do you think reading to/with children is important?

Reading books lays the foundation of children’s cognitive development and helps grasp languages. Children develop the best cognitive skills through parental care in their early years. Priya and I are excited to see Yuga converse fluently in Tamil and switch to English on other occasions. We make it a point to read books both in English and explain the story in Tamil (mother tongue).

Kids learn how to focus and pay attention to what we read out. Some story books are simple enough for kids to repeat what they listen. It’s essential to follow up after reading the book. Help them recall the story when you happen to be outside and have noticed something that’s related. We’ve noticed how Yuga recalls books after some real life experiences like visiting the zoo, going on trains etc. Books open up a whole world of opportunities for kids to discover things even before experiencing them in real life

After reading a sufficient number of books, you begin to notice patterns of things that your kids like reading about. There sure will be some hits and misses, but that’s okay. Your child is getting more independent and begins to develop a choice. Let them pick their own books and they’d love to have it be read over and over again.

2. A lot of people seem to think it doesn’t make sense to read to babies or buy books for them, what is your advice to them?

It’s a natural feeling. While reading a large book with lots of words to a baby, you being to question the necessity as there’s no behavioral feedback from the baby. You begin to wonder if she’s even listening? Or If she even got what you just said. Kids need a lot of social interaction and such experiences to be able to mimic and respond back with cues that we can read. But all the time during this process, your child is listening and neural connections are being made in their brains as you read.

If you speak multiple languages, it’s great to do so while reading books too. We recite stories in Tamil too and this has definitely helped him grasp the language.

Expecting a new baby sibling for your first born? Introduce them to the experience by reading a book on the topic! Books give you the ability to boost their imagination. You’ll notice how some characters jump out and become their ‘invisible’ buddies during pretend play. If not anything, this is simply a great bonding activity with your kids without having to spend too much energy. After running around and messing up your house, there could be no better way to calm them down.

3. In case the child isn’t showing interest towards books or reading, is there a way he/she can be encouraged to do it? Could you share some tips?

To get our son’s attention and focus, we constantly switch names and characters to his cousins or classmates. Most of the times, he is the sole hero of all the stories. There’s no better imagination if your child feels that he is in the story with all his best friends.

Take note on the things your child likes and help read books on the same topic. This will help you draw their attention. Eventually they’ll grow out of those topics and move on to something new. We went through a whole season of trains, buses, animals, dump trucks. Currently Yuga is hooked to princesses like characters. Ladybug Girl is his favorite character now.

Still not interested in the book? Stop reading the story and ask them to locate point out at colors and shapes in the book.

There are other activities that you do with your child revolving around story books. Drama! Play act the stories you’ve read to your child.  Yuga’s granny has been training him in small dramas of mythological incidents like Yashoda fainting after discovering the opulence of the universe in baby Krishna’s mouth. Our playact is simple – As Yashoda, his granny catches him eating mud. After looking at the cosmos in his mouth, she faints. Krishna revives her with kisses! Yuga can now play the role of Krishna, Vamana & Prahlada.

For some reason, he fancies playing the role of Yashoda instead of Krishna. He simply does not get the point! 🙂

4. Is there a particular book that you think works great as a child’s first book? Which one is it?

Kalki is now 8 months old and loves to bite pages more than listening to us read. For her, we flip pages from large, colorful books with lots of colors and pictures. At this age, they like the visual stimulation more than anything. Activity books with pages to flip, touch and feel textures etc. is a great thing to introduce to curious kids.

For a toddler, I’d love to recommend The Very Hungry Caterpillar. A very easy story and simple story explaining the beautiful life process of a butterfly. This was an award winning book and is over 40 years old. A must have in your home library.

5. What are some *must read* books for toddlers?

Here are some books we’ve recently discovered and loved by Yuga.

6. Which is your favorite children’s book and why?  

Yuga was really excited with these 2 books and we read them over and over again. Kids don’t need to try too hard to enjoy humor and silliness.

  • Brontorinafunny story of a huge dinosaur named Brontorina who signs up for ballet dancing classes along with toddlers.
  • It’s only Stanley  – A sleepy family is woken up by strange sounds and smells in the middle of the night. Stanley, their dog is doing unusual things but they don’t suspect him. But Stanley has grand plans of interplanetary travel. Guess whom all he’s taking along.

7. Could you share some tips for building a library for kid(s) without breaking the bank account? How can one go about it?

Kids interests evolve in a very short span of time and they constantly like to seek and discover newer toys, activities, stories and things to engage with. While there are some books that can delight a toddler for a long time, it’s hard to buy and stack up every single book you come across.

We did store a lot of books at home. Most of them were either gifts or things we bought. I’d highly recommend up a membership with your local library for a better experience.  Yuga loves the library we go to here in Alameda, California. They do have weekly storytelling nights and weekend art events etc.  There are some wonderful books from 1980s-1990s that are hard to find these days. A library is a best place to discover books of various languages and topics for kids.

We regularly visit used bookstores to find pre-loved books. That’s a great way to buy some books at the fraction of the cost. Our library does have an annual sale of all surplus books. Books for kids can never break a bank account as long as you visit the library close to you!

Our library has put up this beautiful quote and I can’t help but think of the awesome impact this institution has had on us.

What is more important in a library than anything else? – than everything else? – Is the fact that it exists.”

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I hope this post was as helpful and informative to you all as it was for me. I can’t wait to get some of these books for Aadhvik and also to find a decent library near to us (a hunt I have been on for a while now) and hopefully we will have a lovely little library of our own someday.

Thank you, Raghu for doing this. I absolutely loved working with you and you can be rest assured that I will continue stalking and liking all your pictures on Instagram for a long while to come. To keep yourself updated on all the lovely books Raghu and Priya read to their cubs – follow him on Instagram here.

1 thought on “Ask The Expert – Raghuram Ashok”

  1. It’s a simply superb post and made an interesting reading. Wish we get a chance to read many more such posts. The topic selected by you evokes interest.

    Like

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