Frontlist | At nearly 60, this grandmother followed her passion to get more children to read

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For Hemangini Babla, who spent her career in education, the lack of a dedicated children’s bookstore in Mumbai led to the establishment of Spellbound Kids Bookstore in 2005. With the pandemic and the focus on technology, Babla has pivoted her business digitally, but with no less of a personal focus. Through curated and personalised selections, she tells us why the future of books is looking brighter than ever. Plus, the titles that should make it to every parent’s list.

What led you to start a bookstore at nearly 60? Was there an aha moment?

My father, a banker by profession, was an avid collector of Indian antiquities and a complete bibliophile. He inculcated a reading habit in all of us early on. Every corner of our home was filled with books. When you grow up surrounded by books, you learn to love books. After doing my master’s in ancient Indian history and culture, I took to teaching. Initially, it was to start earning some extra money to fund my travel, but I grew to enjoy it and knew it was my true calling. I have now been in the education space for over 40 years, teaching children, parents and teachers, helping schools design their curriculum, and growing along the way. When I was raising my children, and later my grandchildren, I realised there was a need for a dedicated children’s bookstore, a space with a carefully curated selection of books.

Owning a bookstore in a pandemic, and in the age of technology, can’t be easy.

Running a bookstore has been challenging in these unprecedented times, especially at my age. We have pivoted to an online model and are doing our best to replicate the physical experience of the joy of discovering books in a virtual world. I am looking at setting up a system through which I can personally and virtually interact with parents and children and custom-curate a selection best suited to them. I think that is the essence of what we are, what we do, and what differentiates us from other more mainstream retailers. The future for books and reading looks more promising than ever. With more parents working from home, they are spending more time with their children. I am hopeful that a lot of this time will be dedicated to books. If anything, the pandemic has taught us just how important it is to keep children motivated and find ways to engage them.

As the saying goes, children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate. If you want to raise a reader, be a reader. Make reading a part of your daily life. The time you spend reading to your young child is the best predictor of later reading success. Set aside a regular read-aloud time. Talk, read, sing, pretend and play with your child. It’s never too early to start and although it may seem like babies are not listening, they are in fact absorbing the experience. Reading out loud helps your toddler connect books with the familiar sound of your voice and the physical closeness that reading together brings.

Tell us some of your favourites.

The Letterland Series by Lyn Wendon: Created in the late 1960s as a way to help students who struggled with learning to read. Wendon invented a phonics programme that incorporated human-like characters within the abstract of alphabet shapes, so young children have fun while learning to read, write and spell.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: One of the greatest childhood classics of all time. Carle’s books are curious and filled with subtle lessons. They deserve a place on every book lover’s shelf, no matter how old they are.

Think About series by Harriet Ziefert: Humorous and insightful books about topics young kids are naturally curious about. Silly questions tickle children’s funny bones while clever answers educate them.

The Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems: These beautifully illustrated books are written in a conversational style and address issues of friendship.

Genius Gymnasium by Ivan Moscovich: A selection of tricky conundrums to enhance every muscle of the mind by Moscovich, an internationally acclaimed inventor, puzzler and artist.

Babla’s picks by age

Ages 1-3

The Toddler’s Big Book Of Everything: The wonderful thing about this book is that it is multi-sensory, allowing your child to learn letter shapes, letter sounds and develop a real awareness of words in a way that best suits them.

Letterland: My Alphabet Storybooks: This imaginatively designed series of 26 books is perfect for a read-aloud for toddlers, as well as later on for beginner readers, with simple decodable words and sentences.

Ages 3-5

Letterland ABC Trilogy: ABC, Beyond ABC & Far Beyond ABCThe ABC Trilogy is an essential addition to every child’s bookshelf.

Way To Be! Character counts!: Charming illustrations and delightful text show kids what it means to do the right thing. From being honest to being responsible, readers will understand the way to be.

Ages 5-7

One Minute Quiz: Animals: The quiz book every child should have. Test your knowledge with this amazing fact-packed trivia book and answer as many questions as you can before the time in the hourglass runs out.

Recycle! A Handbook For Kids: This lively and informative book explains the process of recycling.

Ages 7-9

My Fold-out Atlas Of Inventions: Discover the fascinating creations of great inventors like Alfred Nobel, Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison in this exceptional fold-out book, jam-packed with fun and educational facts.

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