For Some or All?

I write mainly stories that touch upon India in some way. Putting aside why that’s so, my stories bring tales from all parts of India.

Illustrated by Kanika Nair, Farmer Falgu series are great stories about positive thinking and making the most out of difficult situations.

Varsha’s Varanasi introduces the beautiful city of Varanasi.
Pattan’s Pumpkin brings a previously untold story of the Irular tribe. Illustrated by Frané Lessac
Prince Veera stories reimagine ancient trickster tales from India. Illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

These stories are definitely for the Indians who live everywhere in the world. I witness the joy of children from Indian backgrounds in schools across the world when I bring these stories to them. They are undoubtedly a joy to the parents and grandparents who can relate to them and enrich the reading session with their own stories and tales from their own lives.

But is that all? Surely these stories appeal to everyone else? For a child who has no connections to India, these stories are exotic, magical and from a place where they had never been to. Perhaps they’d travel to India, inspired by these books. Perhaps they’d relate to their neighbour from India better.

Stories about someone other than our lived experience is a window to the outside world. It is a door to walk through and make friends, shake hands and embrace someone new. It’s a mirror that reflects how similar we are to others in this world, however far we seem.

“When the only images children see are white ones…as
long as children are brought up on gentle doses of racism
through their books… there seems to be little chance of
developing the humility so urgently needed for world
cooperation.”
-Nancy Larrick, 1965
Sliding Doors for all…

Schools, libraries, parents, grandparents, booksellers, publishers and reviewers must therefore not brand these books as “Great for South Asian Kids”. Because they are universal in their appeal – both to South Asians and to the rest of the world. How else will a child find out about life outside their town, city and country?

Read about why we need public libraries and these must be curated by professionals who understand Equity in the Library.

Schools, libraries, parents, grandparents, booksellers, publishers and reviewers must not only embrace if they want diversity in their reading – but also if they don’t want it. What if your community or school or customer base is monochrome? Then how would you show your world that the universe is a bigger place than what they can see and perceive?

Absolutely make it available in communities where South Asian readers live. But don’t forget it to bring it to readers who have not ventured beyond safe reading choices.

As the fabulous John Burningham once said, 
"Children are not less intelligent, they’re just less experienced."

So let’s give our children a varied, rich and wide experience of things around the world. So they grow up to be citizens of the world embracing people from all backgrounds.

Elli Woollard wrote a poem to go with this post and she has given me permission to reproduce it here.

Diversity by Elli Woolard

Prayag Kumbh Mela 2019

The Kumbh Mela is a confluence of people, beliefs, stories and rivers. The Prayag Kumbh Mela is the special one where people come to seek blessings at the confluence of three rivers.

Find out more about Kumbh Mela here.

This year, on the day of Makara Sankaranthi, 15th Jan 2019, the festival of harvest and the day when the sun enters the next astrological sign, marks a day of charity.

To mark this occasion, and to introduce conversations at home and schools about this festival, get your hands on this story about Farmer Falgu.

Illustrated by Kanika Nair and published by Karadi Tales in India & Red Robin Books in the UK, this is a story about rivers, fortitude and charity. Just like the festival.

 

Harness the potential of a book

As a child in the21st century, there is so much to worry about. From not being able to play outside to dangers on the Internet. They’re hardly left alone and adventures from books in the 70s seem like another world. While some children are able to talk about their fears, many do not have the language or the emotional confidence to voice their anxieties.

There is not a lot of time to sit down and listen, to ourselves, our inner voices and our children’s unspoken fears. Our lives are full of commute, routines, school work and social media. How do we then settle down quietly to talk about such anxieties? Will it even work if you asked a child, if he/she is afraid of something? This is where books come in. Reading books that touch upon anxieties within a story can often help a child reflect on their own anxieties. They might even mention if they had the same question. They might come forward with something they had worried about.

NHS advice says while younger children often have separation anxieties that will slowly go away when they grow older and go to nurseries or sleepovers, other anxieties especially social ones start to manifest. Many anxieties are not serious enough to see the doctor about and can be dealt with one important medication all parents hopefully have access to – books.

A story for a child is never just a story even when it’s full of fun and adventure or fart and poo. Look closely and you will see the gateway into themes that a parent can pull into a discussion.

  When I wrote You’re Safe With Me, at first, my only real goal was to reassure the animals in the forest about the thunderstorm. I approached it as a storyteller first and then as a poet. When the book was written and beautifully illustrated by Poonam Mistry, and published, it created wonderful responses from children. I’ve discussed their fears about natural disasters and they have been able to tell me that they feel reassured after reading the book. Read one of my earlier posts about how children can deal with the fear here.

So when I started writing You’re Snug with Me, a few things were in the back of my mind. The two polar bear cubs born in the snow den, are going to encounter a fierce natural environment they have to cope with. They have never left the warmth of their mother’s embrace for almost nine months, and then when they find this vast region of ice and snow, would they worry?

As a child, growing up must be exciting and worrying in equal measures. What if I sit next to a boy or girl I’m not friends with? What if my new teacher is stricter than the one I had now? What if my new school is too far away? They’ll be picking up on the conversations they overhear in school or at home about teachers, about other children in their class and wonder how it would affect them.

The bear cubs too have similar questions. Who will they meet when they get out of the den? Will Mama leave them alone or would she stay with them? How fierce are the snowstorms and drifts? And more importantly, will all this ice stay frozen?

Of course, at the outset, the story is about polar bear cubs. But then if you use the text to steer the conversation about similar fears children might have – will the giraffe go extinct before my next birthday because I’d like to go and see them in the zoo? Will there be more floods and earthquakes as I grow up and what can I do to stop it?

Then go further – ask them what other things might worry them? Especially if a child is going to the nursery for the first time or transitioning from nursery to reception, talk to them about embarking on that adventure – exciting as well as scary as it might be.

Books are wonderful resources to discuss children’s anxieties. Parents can gently ease into these. Also there is a wide array of books available that either focus or touch topics on the periphery – as a parent you know when you want a big dose of something and when just a pinch is more than enough.

All my books come with activities too – from colouring to solving word puzzles, go further than the book. The more children interact with a subject matter, the deeper their introspection gets. Put your listening hat on and jump into the joys of a book.

How to harness the potential in author visits?

Step 1: Have you found the author you want and agreed a date? Great. Now agree details with them on number of sessions, the classes they would visit. Tell them a bit about why you want them to visit and what would benefit your school.

 

Step 2: At least a month before the author visit, reach out to the author and ask for what activities the class could do before they come. Here are some ideas:

  1. Read the books of the author
  2. Discuss the topics across the curriculum
  3. Inform all teachers, and librarians of the teacher’s visit
  4. Tell the parents about the upcoming visit and encourage them to go to their local libraries and borrow the books.

If the author shares their personalised activities, lesson plans try them out in your classes. For example, I have a website full of activities for my books.

Step 3: Two weeks before the author visit, either for the whole school or for your individual class, set up committees.

  • A welcome committee – two students who are shy and need support to welcome the author on arrival and thank the author when they leave.
  • A research committee – an ICT project team that will find out more about the author from their website and other safe sources.
  • An art committee – a group of children who will either create posters, cards or music (or find songs) to match the books of the author.
  • Logistics committee – a group that’s responsible for author’s lunch, water and other organising
  • Book sales committee – a group that will design and create an order form, agree to man the till and create a sales list when done.
  • Assembly committee – this could be the group of people who normally look after the projector and the assembly computers etc who will assist the author on the day.

Remember the children are improving their literacy, maths, arts and research skills all the while being proud of their committee membership.

Step 4: Order the author’s books for your school library so they arrive before the author arrives. Make sure your librarian is fully aware of the author visit and is part of your organising committee.

 

Step 5: Are you arranging book sales? Do you know how it will happen? If you’re unsure of this, talk to the author. Many will sell their own books and others would refer you to a local indie bookshop. Bookshops work closely with schools to deliver books to the school and take them back after the sales. Click here to find out if there’s a bookseller local to you.

Step 6: Inform parents a week before the author visit. If your school has a website or newsletter, announce it there. Make sure the order forms have reached the parents.

Step 7: Remind the children and parents the night before the author visit and create a buzz. Get the children to prepare questions for the author. Remember, many authors already have a lot of info o

n their website. Encourage the children to ask something different. Authors love it when they have to think about the answer.

Step 8: On the day, do show the author where the toilets are, staff-room is and how they could make a cup of tea. If you’re providing lunch, explain to the author how that will work and who will be their escort.

Step 9: During the assembly and workshops, be present and engaged. Don’t cut into the author’s time or interrupt them for disciplining the children often. If the children are motivated through the above steps, they would be listening to every word the author utters.

Remember to get your library books signed too. Authors would gladly do so even in their lunch hour or as they wait for children to buy books.

Arranging an author visit is a lot of work. The trick is to delegate much of the preparation to the children, thereby empowering them to be leaders, managers, public speakers and volunteers. Spread the responsibility across all classes and ask for help from other teachers, TAs and even your PTA.

 

 

An author visit can bring enormous value not just in reading for pleasure, but in so many ways if you harness its full potential.

A new term will start soon and I wish you and your children many author visits in this brand new year. If you want to find out more about my author visits, please click here.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating International Mother Language Day

United Nations says,

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost.

At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.”
 

My mother language is Tamil and I never learnt it formally. I learnt Tamil at home – to speak, to read and to write. I read every magazine and book my parents were reading and of course Tamil Cinema had wonderful songs that was full of poetry.

Every year in January, during festivals and holidays, we listened to debates and poetry in Tamil and often went to see plays and movies in Tamil.

My first poem was in Tamil when I read a poem by Poet Suratha. Find out more about how Suratha inspired me here.

I continued to write in Tamil and one of the teachers, who was also our vice principal and was a scholar in Tamil helped me in the library outside school hours. I then wrote a puppet show about Economics in Tamil and wrote a long poem about India’s warrior poet Subramania Bharathi.

But we also learnt English right from kindergarten and slowly, by the time I left primary school I had started to think in English. I read both Tamil and English fiction relentlessly, but with more English than Tamil.

Then when I was in my first year at university I entered a state-wide competition on the state of education in our country and I wrote an article in Tamil for this. I was so worried because I had never written anything formal in Tamil and one of my friends, who knew her grammar and spellings, helped me edit it. I won the first prize in that competition. But sadly that was my last published work in Tamil.

Now I write in English and rarely write in my mother tongue and I agree with the statement from United Nations. Forgetting your language is much more than forgetting the language, we lose the culture, literature and even social norms, proverbs, adages and more.

In Nelson Mandela’s words,

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. 
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

As an aunt of mixed race nephews, I’m constantly thinking about how I could show them the beauty of their mother language. They listen to music, and hear us talk but they live here. And they don’t often get to explore the language the same way as we did growing up in India.

And it is possible to forget your mother tongue if you don’t use it. This article at Babbel explains the research behind it.

Here is a beautiful poem Jesus Never Understood My Grandmother’s Prayers by Mikeas Sánchez, who writes in the Zoque language.

My grandmother never learned Spanish

was afraid of forgetting her gods

was afraid of waking up in the morning

without the prodigals of her offspring in her memory

My grandmother believed that you could only

talk to the wind in Zoque

but she kneeled before the saints

and prayed with more fervor than anyone

Jesus never heard her

my grandmother’s tongue

smelled like rose apples

and her eyes lit up when she sang

with the brightness of a star

Saint Michael Archangel never heard her

my grandmother’s prayers were sometimes blasphemies

jukis’tyt she said and the pain stopped

patsoke she yelled and time paused beneath her bed

In that same bed she birthed her seven sons

—Translated from the Zoque by David Shook

Check out my bi-lingual books that help many children read both in English and their mother-tongue.

Are you a young person whose mother language is different from the one you speak most of the time? Go and find out more about your language. Learn about poetry, proverbs and stories from your mother language and find ways to listen to it being spoken. You won’t regret it.