Come Read with Me on Empathy Day

Empathy Lab UK along with authors, libraries, Patron of Reading, Society of Authors and other like-minded people is launching Empathy Day on 13th June. This is the first such celebration and the hope is to continue to celebrate empathy and promote mutual understanding in communities and schools across the year.

As a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend, I believe empathy starts early and starts at home. How we treat our families on good days and bad days, how we like to be treated when we are down and when we are raring to go is as important as scoring high grades, making money or even winning Gold Medals in competitions.

But how do we build empathy amongst young people? How do we ensure the next generation has a reserve of empathy and shared experiences to tap into? Books are a wonderful way to learn about others, or what we perceive as otherness. We’re often afraid and wary of new and unfamiliar things. By getting to know others – they perhaps are no longer strange to us and hence no longer other.

Who are these others? Where do they live? Why should we care?

In a society like ours, where many politicians are asking us to be afraid of others, defining the other is important. What is this other-ness? Is it a different religion, language or the way we dress? Whether we follow the same religion or not, whether we speak the same language or not, do we all not laugh and cry at similar things? Do we all not want happiness, love, friendships, an ice-cream on a hot day and cute cat pictures on social media?

To celebrate the first Empathy Day, authors are visiting schools and reading books that teach us empathy and to walk in the shoes of others. You can recommend a book, a song, a movie that to you represents empathy, that would show the reader / listener/ viewer what it is to understand the world from another viewpoint. Do you have activities, poems and songs to share? Tell us on twitter with #ReadforEmpathy hashtag.

Want to know more and the science behind Empathy? Check out these resources.

And don’t forget – visit the Empathy Day website on 13th June to get hold of the Read for Empathy Guide.

And to end I want to share this video that was useful to me to understand empathy – do watch if you have a few minutes.

An Irreverent Guide for Patrons of Reading

Originally published on http://www.patronofreading.co.uk/


Don’t worry! This guide will not be serious. This guide is neither full of practical tips nor some amazing ideas. It’s just another writer, avoiding the work-in-progress, hoping to rescue thousands of children from forced learning of subjunctive clauses and modal verbs.

Patron of Reading is a bonkers idea from the three musketeers – Tim Redgrave, Jon Biddle and Helena Pielichaty. And more crazy people like authors, illustrators, school teachers, head-teachers and librarians joined up and made this bonkers idea more brilliant. Who would have thought reading for pleasure was a thing? DoE haven’t heard of it, it seems! But we don’t worry much about them when we have wonderful characters and amazing facts in so many books.

To me, being a Patron of Reading is an adventure. By adventure I mean, I have no idea what I’ve got myself into and I figure out as I go, guided by the children and the teachers who have invited me in.

So how does this adventure start? Like all adventures, it starts with a tall man with a big heart and almost no hair. He checks you out with his twitter thermometer and measures your ability to read for pleasure. You write children’s books? Then don’t worry – most probably you’re already afflicted with this condition.

Then you get listed on the Patron of Reading website. Think Match.com except for matching hibernating authors with super-humans like librarians and teachers. Like in any dating profile, just reveal enough of your reading for pleasure tendencies and the general neighbourhood where this affliction affects you – and I mean more than your own room – like a city where people live and schools are run. (At least for now; if you don’t vote, who knows, all parents might have to home-school compulsorily).

See what I did there!

Then the tall man with a big heart tweets out your patron profile to a legion of followers who re-tweet it as if these are cute cat pictures until an eager school spots you and goes Aha! We’ve would like that one please – yes that author with the yellow shirt, long hair, standing next to a stack of books and a pile of laundry. Is that you? Then you’ve been matched.

Once you’re matched, the above-mentioned tall man will approach you with details of your suitor. Where is the school? Who will be in touch with you? Who is this teacher who on top of everything they do, has agreed to be the Patron of Reading coordinator.

Like in any self-respecting matching situation, you get to talk (and by talk I mean, by email or phone or Skype or telepathy, whatever suits) with the potential school you will be patronising.

 

Here is the thing – this is where you reveal your reading habits – poetry? Ghost stories? Adventures set in abandoned islands? Don’t be shy. You’d be surprised when you listen to their choices.

This is where you find out what does your potential suitor want? What kind of school is it? What motivates the children? Why did they choose you? What could you bring to the table (other than a chair of course)?

You have questions? You are too shy to ask your potential suitor? Shoot it across to the matchmaker. He has weathered every what, why and when.

One too many?

Well – what do you think? Have you agreed the terms and conditions of patronising? Do you have a date setup? Ooh! That’s exciting, isn’t it?

Hold fire! Don’t relax yet. Plan the first visit as you would plan any school visit – except you’re not going to be running creative writing workshops. You’re going to find ways to promote reading for pleasure. The keyword as you might have noticed is PLEASURE!

Like in any first date, take it slow. Don’t overwhelm the school with your enthusiasm. I’ve been there! Both in life and in schools. Figure out what they need from you and in what levels of enthusiasm. You might have time between two book projects and want to run a competition for the children. (Or you just want to procrastinate). Teachers as you might have guessed from teachtwitter, are an overworked bunch. They might not have time to jump into every rabbit-hole the patron wants to. So KEEP CALM and READ FOR PLEASURE.

Then agree frequency of visits. Ask them how they would like to stay in touch when you’ve returned to your cave after inspiring them with the love of reading. Maybe they would want to, maybe they won’t. Maybe the things you initiated on the first visit doesn’t fully pan out. Don’t fret. You get to go back, build relationships and try new things.

That’s it – there is no secret handshake (well, I’m not telling you, if there’s one), there is no heavy manual in all European languages (Brexit means Brexit, didn’t you know?)

And there are no set rules about how you patronise reading. Standing up, sitting down, upside down, reading poetry, non-fiction, stories, picture books, newspapers and cereal boxes – it’s all up for grabs.

Willing to take the plunge? Reach out to the tall man with a big heart (also called @jonnybid) and leave the rest to the universe.


Chitra Soundar is a Patron of Reading at West Earlham Junior School in Norwich, where she brings stories from different countries into the classrooms. She gets on their radio show, teaches them voice modulation and tells them stories from brilliant books. And when she’s not patronising, this is what she’s up to. Find out more here. Have questions, shoot her a tweet at @csoundar.

 

World Poetry Day 2017

Today is World Poetry Day and I’ve been itching all day to come back home and read poetry – Swirl words in my mouth, say it aloud, marvel at the meaning and feel the beat in my blood. What should I read and what am I in the mood for? I could go back to one of my favourite poems – so simple you can memorise in a few minutes.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45032

Or I could read some perfect verse from Ted Hughes – The Thought Fox.

http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/ted-hughes

Or I could read nonsense rhyme (and an alternate legend) from Roald Dahl.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/cinderella-35/

Then I decided I should check out contemporary Indian poets who are writing amazing poetry in both their own language and in English – people who have had similar experiences to mine, poems that have arisen from the crowded streets of an Indian city.

Here is a little taste of the poems I’ve been discovering. So delicious, so full of meaning, like a layered cake full of your favourite flavours and some that are full of bitter truths like a little piece of ginger inside a plum cake.

Here read this by Anamika, translated into English.

Which is the place from where we fall,

become clipped nails,

fallen hair trapped in combs,

fit only to be swept away?

Read the rest here: http://bigbridge.org/BB17/poetry/indianpoetryanthology/Anamika.html#

And read this, my latest favourite poem by Jerry Pinto, who also writes wonderful children’s books.

I want a Poem

I want a poem like thick tropical rain

Dense green spatter of syllables

Drumbeat consonants, fertile with meaning.

Sudden. Short. Unforgettable.

Afterwards, jungle silence. 

And it goes into more beautiful imagery… read the rest here.

And here is a scene from a crowded train in Mumbai – the poem Andheri Local  by Arundhathi Subramaniam evokes emotional and physical proximity so well.

Like metal licked by relentless acetylene

we are welded –

dreams, disasters,

germs, destinies,

flesh and organza,

odours and ovaries.

Find out how the narrator feels when she (or he) gets out of the carriage.

And finally I want to finish one of the greats of Indian poetry – Maharishi Rabindranath Tagore.

This snippet from verse 21 is one of my favourites from Gitanjali – the Nobel Prize winning collection of spiritual poems.

The spring has done its flowering and taken leave. And now with the burden of faded

futile flowers I wait and linger.

The waves have become clamorous, and upon the bank in the shady lane the yellow

leaves flutter and fall.

What emptiness do you gaze upon!

Do you not feel a thrill passing through the air with the notes of the far away song

floating from the other shore?


I can’t let WorldPoetryDay go past me without writing a little snippet myself. Here is my humble attempt

When My Grandmother Came…

Chitra Soundar

When my grandmother came, as an immigrant bride

She brought with her, a box of bronze

Simple, plain and its edges chipped by grandmothers gone.

I opened it to find,

The coolness of cumin,

And the grace of fenugreek,

The confidence of coriander,

The passion of peppercorns.

 

When my grandmother came, naïve and wide-eyed,

The box she brought, the one of bronze

Fragrant and familiar of things left behind.

I opened it to find,

The sliver of joy,

And the reason for love,

The reason to belong,

The attar of HOPE!

 


 

Fabulous February

Where is February, I ask. It has been a whirlwind of activities in London and rest of England, armed with a bag of books and props, often looking like a bag lady on National Rail Service. And it was mostly fun even when rain poured through dark skies and sleep was a rare commodity.

This February has been extra special – having been invited to the prestigious Imagine Festival at Southbank to run workshops and to the Chester festival of half-term fun and to the South London’s favourite bookstore Tales on Moon Lane’s half-term festivities. Half-term ended with wonderful storytelling at Discover Stratford.

World Book Day ran almost back to back with Half-term across England and my story train barely stopped between the two. I was on the move, constantly checking my orange National Rail tickets and printed maps just in case my phone runs out of juice. Between the boroughs of London, I moved from East to West to North to South, testing TFL’s quality of service.

When I was bereft of sleep and missing home-cooked dinners, there is one thing that kept me going. My engine was fully powered by the stories I tell and the stories the children were inspired to write. We made up wonderful stories with the children and in some schools we told them and in some we wrote them down. Either way, there was no limit to their imagination. That’s the primary reason I go into schools and do events – to fire up the imagination of both children and parents alike and at the same time, be absolutely enthralled by the stories the children create.

From Greek gods to aliens, pigs to fishes, our stories were full of adventures, mishaps, journeys and cartloads of fun. Here are a few stories children jotted down during the workshops.

If you want to be part of the next workshop, do sign up to my newsletter so you can find out about an event near you or if you want to invite me to your schools, do get in touch.

Not Yet! – #ReadDiverse2017 Review

Not Yet! is a picture book published by Tulika Books, written by Nandana Sen, and illustrated by Niloufer Wadia. I was not planning to be at this book launch but for the fact that I was at Jaipur Lit Festival, and had met Nandana Sen the previous evening and of course the book was published by Tulika Books who also published two of my stories.

Not Yet! is a classic bedtime picture book where the child and parent tussle for control. In this imaginative story in rhyme, the child brings to life the animals in her imagination and the mother tries to remind her of bedtime. And of course all naughtiness has to end in niceness and it does.

The story has also been translated into Bengali by the author herself, with a little help from her mother, the legendary poet Nabaneeta Dev Sen.

It’s a great book to read aloud and children could of course even act it out – as long as they do get into bed with a little kiss – as weary parents would know. Nandana Sen had invited kids from a local school and from the audience to the stage and they did have a wonderful time acting the animals out.

I’m hoping to read it to my nephews and I’m sure they too would enjoy it given they have a menagerie of animals in their room. Who knows – they might make up new play about their donkey, meerkat and more.