One warm afternoon, I happened to visit a reputed city school’s vast library. I realised that it may well be a book lover’s paradise. Books, in all colours, shapes and sizes were neatly arranged, magazines, newspapers and journals were sitting quietly, waiting to be picked up, handled, and read by eager children.
I had been brought up on a staple diet of largely British authors. Roald Dahl, for instance, had brought mischief alive inside the pages, and Enid Blyton left us hankering for the taste of warm buttered scones and cool ginger ale in junior school. Today, there are so many new authors in the world of children’s literature. ‘Children these days are a lucky lot’ is my constant refrain!
Twist in the tale
A big picture book titled Goldie and the Three Bears catches my eye. Of course I am familiar with the Goldilocks story, and always thought it weird that after entering an empty cottage in a forest, eating his porridge, sitting on the little bear’s chair, and sleeping on his bed, Goldilocks just ran way – frightened and thankless.
But in this version, the little bear and Goldie become friends. Though it’s a friendship between a girl and a bear, somehow the ending seems perfectly natural and not absurd – and this ending is bound to bring a happy smile to the child reading the story! For me, it is as if a childhood puzzle has been finally solved!
In this world of magical make-believe, while talking animals, marrying princes and slaying dragons are to be expected, meeting an author of children’s books seems far-fetched. And yet it is here that I meet Diane Stanley, the American author who has illustrated and written picture books, biographies and given fairy tales like Goldilocks a delightful twist.
Though she’s thousands of miles away from her New Mexico home, the petite 69-year-old author seems completely at home in this library; perhaps it’s got something to do with the books surrounding her!
Was she too brought up on Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton? I am curious. “Roald Dahl? Yes of course! I love all his books! But sorry what was the other name again?” she asks, half-apologetically.
“Enid Blyton,” I say.
“No, I am sorry I haven’t heard of this writer,” Diane confesses. Apart from Dahl, her favourite children’s authors include Dr Seuss, AA Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame) and EB White.
The fact that she read so many authors doesn’t surprise us as she reveals that her mother was a writer too. And not surprisingly, words held a special place in her mother’s heart.
“My mom would ask me to mark every difficult word I encountered in a book as a child. Then, we would look up the word in the dictionary and explore more books together,” recollects Diane. Their mutual love for books saw them collaborating on a biography of a Hawaiian princess, which her mother wrote and Diane illustrated.
A trained medical illustrator, Diane credits her foray into writing to her love for reading, explaining that reading widely has shaped her life as a writer. “That’s why I strongly believe that children who read a lot, also write well,” she adds.
In the later years, when she had 3 children of her own, Diane visited the library every week, returning home with stacks of books for them.
“I enjoyed reading a variety of books to them, all of us snuggling on the couch. That was great fun!” says Diane.
That veers the conversation to the current reading habits of children.
“With the advances in technology, reading can take a hit. Technology is very seductive; so delay bringing it into your child’s life as much as you can. With older kids, have a period of no technology every day. And parents should read aloud to their child actual books, instead of reading on Kindle,” says Diane. She also stresses on reading as a family, remembering how her older child, already familiar with the stories, would join the younger ones during reading sessions.
This highly successful, versatile and prolific writer has also written fantastical novels like The Silver Bowl. Lives of famous men and women intrigue her, and biographies happened.
“After exploring their lives, I felt the need to share this with my young readers. That’s why I wrote the biographies of Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Cleopatra and the others,” reveals Diane. When she’s not reading, writing or travelling, you are likely to find her outdoors, hiking or gardening, thinking about new ideas for books. There’s no full stop to creativity!
Tips for reading
- Ask older kids to read to the younger ones
- Keep a reading journal with your child
- Schedule a family time for reading
- Encourage your child to read across genres (fiction/non-fiction/classics)
- Choose books keeping in mind your child’s interests.
- Help your child pick books that he wouldn’t otherwise choose