An Irreverent Guide for Patrons of Reading

Originally published on

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 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.

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

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

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:

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!



A Celebration of Jars and Pumpkins

Throw a giant pumpkin, a jar of mango pickles and a storyteller together into a bookshop, sprinkle some cake, mix some friends and family, garnish with praise from the publisher and editor and what you get is one amazing book launch and a chuffed author who is busy writing more stories.

Maybe you missed the noisy chatter on Twitter or my invite in the newsletter or perhaps you had AJOP_9781406364675_PC_UK_circrelocapattan_coverted to Mars to escape the pollution on Earth -but if you have not heard, I celebrated the launch of two new books last Saturday (8th Oct 2016) at Pickled Pepper Books, London with storytelling, orange and yellow mini cupcakes and a room full of people who had come from far to celebrate with me.


I’ve gone to many book launches in the past few years and I was worried that I p1030032wouldn’t know what to do when it was my turn. I was worried there won’t be any photos. I was worried that I’ll forget my words during the storytelling. I was worried. It was like your baby being sent to nursery or the big school for the first day. Shiny and new into the hands of others. Would they love the stories as much as I do?

p1030050I watched the door as people trickled in. I watched as people on the street walked past and it wasn’t a familiar face. As friends started coming in, I slowly relaxed. As the time came to tell the stories, my story genie took over. She knew the stories, she loved them, she grew up with them. And I hope those who were there liked the stories.

So the books have left the docks and floated away into the hands of readers. A story lives again when it is told and it grows and changes and lives over and over again when retold many times. And I hope these stories live those many lives through the readers and the listeners they read to.



Happy Birthday Mr Dahl

Yesterday was Roald Dahl’s 100th birth anniversary. His estate is celebrating it worldwide with movies, jars with hedgehogs and such and hopefully more reading too.


I came to Dahl’s books much later in life after I moved to England in 2006 – and I wish I had known about his books when I was growing up. I grew up with Enid Blyton’s books. The Magic Faraway tree made me imagine and inspired my first made up oral story. But in many ways they were still not as subversive as Dahl’s books. I wish I could have read the wacky and crazy anti-establishment books like The Twits or Matilda or Fantastic Mr Fox or even The Enormous Crocodile.

As a kid I flew under the radar mostly, unnoticed and invisible, except for a few verbal outbursts and once in a while doing some unexpected things that I must admit my mum let me do and my dad never knew about. Before you go imagining anything wild like crawling under the neighbour’s fence (we had a wall) or exploring ancient caves (we lived in a city), it wasn’t anything like that.


At 6 I switched my choice of 2nd language at school. We had to study at least two Indian languages in school – one main and one like an elective but at Y1. I went into my Y1 class for the first day and switched my languages to opposite of what was filled in my admission form. I wrote a radio song at 8; wrote poems and essays and went on stage along with our neighbours until we were 15. We didn’t know it was anything unusual.

Apart from these approved extra curricular all I did was read and follow rules. I didn’t want to break rules or crockery if I can manage it although I was thin as a blade of grass and clumsy like a clown. Who knew in the future I would be fat and go to clown classes.

But I was a serious kid – worried about orphans in the SOS village, wrote passionate (but bad) poetry, raised money for my mum’s charity, gathered friends to publish a neighbourhood newspaper and didn’t get jokes that people made about me all the time. My coping mechanism was reading and writing. What I read expanded my imagination. I dreamt up elaborate situations in my head and had an entirely new family in my head (Ssh! My real family doesn’t know still). I was shy, easily intimidated and in awe of style and fashion and girls who could be confident. I am still like that – I just have learnt how to hide it better.

So the Enid Blyton books and Nancy Drew stories were all about following rules anyway and my stories were like that – should I say – are like that. I wrote quiet and serious stories and even if I have managed to put some funny bits, my stories are not yet wild and absurd. When I met Andy Stanton a few years ago to join the course he was going to teach at Faber – that’s what I told him – I want to learn to let loose – make my stories jump out of bins and tins, sing loudly at traffic lights and hop around the tube station with a mask. He just smiled. Perhaps he wondered if that could ever be taught or learnt. But he was immensely supportive during the course.

When I read amazingly absurd stories I wonder – would reading Dahl as a kid have helped? I think it would have. It would have made me a different person in the head and in real life too. Since 2006, I have managed to read all of Dahl mostly including his short stories and biography and I wish I could have immersed in his world as a kid. Today with my nephew I am getting the reputation of CRAZY AUNT – he is a serious 4 year old who asks me not to be silly when I dance like a clown and make faces. I am going to put Dahl into his hands as soon as he can read on his own and get him to soak up the crazy wacky subversive world. Life is too serious for us to take it seriously. I’ve changed over the years; I know I can be whatever I want to be. But I wish I could have known that when I was 6 or 7 or 8.

I’ve changed since writing for children and still changing. Every children’s book I read, opens up my imagination and shows me more possibilities and I forget I’m a grownup. I still read children’s books for pleasure and I would rather be inside the pages of a funny Roald Dahl than look up and see President Trump (or our PM for that matter) on the telly. Sometimes I wonder what he would happen if we let some of Dahl’s characters loose on him. That’d make a great movie.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Mr Dahl. Your books are needed for every child to take refuge in, forget whatever the dire situation they are in and revel in the anarchy. Thank you to everyone who edited and published the books, to Quentin Blake who gave us the pictures. I’m off to find a crazy villain for my own stories.

11 Ideas to Make Reading the Centre of Your Universe

As a kid I read a lot and as an adult I still read a lot. No one had to tell me reading was fun. But I think I missed out so many different things that could have enhanced my reading.

Couple of years ago, I started doing school visits, told stories to children and of course met some creative, craft-loving, singing-dancing mums and aunts and grandparents who inspired me to make reading absolutely more fun than anything else.

So here are some ideas on how to make books, stories and reading the centre of your universe.

Idea #1 – Read together. Read with voices, read with noises. Sing songs, dance to the verse and celebrate the words. Reading together doesn’t have to be aloud all the time. It could be as cosy as each person in the family from grandmother to toddler picking a place on the sofa or on the floor or under the dining table (as I used to) and read at the same time. Adults can’t just say reading is fun. Show the kids that reading is fun.

Here are some tips and great examples of reading aloud.

Idea #2 – Don’t judge the reading choice. I used to read newspapers, the Reader’s Digest, English textbooks of older kids with stories in them, comic books and magazines – both children’s and family magazines. Don’t force your children or yourself just to read motivational books, non-fiction, school assessment books or what’s useful for school.

Let them decide what they like. Some kids like non-fiction and some like stories. Some like comics only. All reading is good reading. Perhaps your kid plays cricket, find some books on the sport, find histories and biographies on the internet and print them out for them. Ask them to make a book about the sport.

disapproval_baby_memeDon’t frown upon their choices in bookstores and libraries. Don’t check the price of storybooks and compare it to an encyclopedia. It’s like comparing the price of soap to the price of mangoes. Those two exist for two different reasons and we want them in different measures in our lives. No reading is wasted.

Stories are blueprints for life. Fiction allows children to read about someone else who has a similar problem or a different problem they have never seen before. When the character in the story has the same problem as the reader, the story equips the child to question their situation, shows them how to approach it or how not to. When the character in the story has a different problem than the child, it teaches empathy.

Here is a study by the UK government which emphasizes that reading for pleasure has far-reaching benefits.

Idea #3 – If your child is excited about a book, find songs to go with the book. Whether they are Bollywood tunes or nursery rhymes or pop music – ask them to explore. My storytelling coach used to encourage us to find songs for every story we want to tell. It’s a great way to celebrate the story and integrate it with other aspects of life.

Here is a list of books that have music as an integral part.

Here is a list of songs that encourage reading.

Idea #4 – If you read a book together, draw and paint scenes together. How about mosaic art? P1020969 P1020968 P1020965How about a home exhibition of all paintings all of you have done that are connected to the books you read. Invite aunties and uncles, grandparents and neighbours and create an art gallery visit.

Perhaps you can create a pininterest board of all your drawings and artwork too.


Idea #5 – Crafts. I was always bad at crafts. Correction – I’m still bad at doing crafts. But I still try and attempt. I’m never going to have an art installation in Trafalgar Square – but my family would still think I’m the next Tracy Emin. So, be brave. Try it out.

The Internet and YouTube are filled with arts and crafts activity about every imaginable topic. So when I wanted to create a craft activity for my Farmer Falgu books – I found an ice-cream stick bullock-cart craft video. How cool. One school watched the video and created tens of bullock-carts for World Book Day.


Here are some great videos of craft activities.

Find a craft that matches the book. Be it a kite, a house, perhaps clay modeling of the animals, stickman if you are into Julia Donaldson. True for older kids and teenagers too.

Idea #6 – Movie nights – read great books that have been made into movies and follow it up with a movie night. Whether Bollywood or BBC Films, there is a treasure trove available. Some movies have been made more than once. Imagine the discussion at the dinner table – children would know if the movie justified the book or was better or was nowhere near it. Talk about if the character they had imagined matched the actor on screen.

Timeout has created a of fabulous movies that were adapted from children’s books.

And this is an exhaustive list of all movies made from children’s books.’s_books_made_into_feature_films

Idea #7 – Connect current affairs and history to the books you’re reading. If you read Enid Blyton and Tintin now, it would be a bit dated around some things. Some things that people said and did 50 years ago might not be polite now. Bring it up – talk about it.

Check out some hot topics and related books here.

Ask the children if they see today things that happen that might not be polite in the future. Children are wise in an innocent way. They would want a better world if you asked them about it and of course they are the ones who could make it happen. So create leaders of your brood. Show them how to make their own way.

That actually wants me to talk about science fiction – what was science fiction in the 1920s – read them now and see if some of it has become a reality. Similarly read today’s science fiction and think about what’s the probability of these new ideas becoming a reality.

Here is a list of inventions inspired by science fiction.

Here is another less serious list.

Now, historical fiction is a different type of fun. Imagine the stories set during historical times. What an opportunity to get grandparents involved in conversations about when they were young people and the stories they saw and how they relate to the books you’re reading.

I found this amazing list – but I would love to get suggestions on books set in India’s past, for children.

What about the cultural scene when grandparents were kids? How does that measure up now?

Idea #8 – Animation adventures can be borne out of reading fun picture books or even chapter books. How about introducing your children to free tools to animate. They can draw and create animations – whether they write a script for their own book or a book they read or animate a book review – what a wonderful way to learn animation.

Here are some lists of animation ideas and resources.

Are you hooked too? Then here are some grownup tools.

Idea #9 – Blog about the books you read. There are great websites which request children to review books. Of course there are various competitions every year for which long-lists and shortlists are announced. Encourage your children to shadow the awards, review books they read, recommend books to their friends.

Here are some tips to start a book blog.

Of course if you don’t want a blog of your own and want to contribute to a public blog, try this.

Idea #10 – Create a lending library manned by your little ones. Whether you invite neighbours and family to come and borrow or just for the immediate family – it is a great way to teach responsibility too. Children can arrange books, catalog them, review them, post recommendation notes and of course lend books out and chase out delayed returns.

Here is an idea of how to create a home library.

Idea #11 – Take a book like Diary of the Wimpy Kid – and ask your children to create a diary of their lives in the same design. How cool would that be? All they need is a blank notebook or a diary with lots of space to draw and write.

Perhaps they can develop an infographic about the book. Here are some free tools to create an infographic.

I could go on and on and on. Try out all of them or some of them – make books and stories the centre of your family’s universe. Have fun. Come back and tell me which ideas worked and how it worked.