Summer Holidays are Here

Summer break just started in the UK and I’ve been thinking about my own summer vacation when I was a kid. Our summer vacations were perhaps not that big a deal because we lived in joint families. Dads went to work as usual and Mum and grandparents looked after us. I’m sure we drove our mums mad whatever we did.

We didn’t have the pressure of planning a holiday. Those days people rarely took time off and went away somewhere. If they did, it would be to visit family in another part of the country. There was no hint of camping or theme parks or seaside holidays.

My typical summer holiday before I was turned ten would have consisted of – holiday homework, Hindi class, play Trade (or what the rest of the world calls Monopoly), play Indian board games – hand-drawn Ludo, traditional snake and ladder, Carrom and other traditional games. Everyone participated – uncle, aunts, visiting relatives, friends.

Then a mandatory nap in the afternoon followed by a snack. We used to hover around the kitchen bothering our grandma for something special. I picked raw mangoes from our tree and ate it in the garden so I won’t be spotted.

We had chores to do too. Garden the plants, sweep the front yard, sort out your old school books and holiday homework. If we had run out of home work, she would ask me to copy out the newspaper or the dictionary – to learn new words, to get a better handwriting or generally keep busy so you won’t bother the grownups.

When the evening sun starts to set, it would have been cooler to get out. Every week (I think Tuesday or Wednesday) Mum took me on the bus to a lending library where she spent her personal savings on getting me books to read. I brought back bound copies of comics and lots of different books.

This is 1/10 the size now compared to what it was in the 80s

What time I didn’t spend time outside in the garden or running from one friend’s house to another, I spent reading. Especially from noon to four pm there was absolutely nothing to do except read as the summer sun scorched outside.

Later when I was older, I put together a team of friends and we create a newsletter. I wrote more in my early and late teens. But as a 9 year old, I read a lot. That was what summers were for.

I wish we had libraries and summer reading challenges. I wish we had the ability to borrow 16 books at a time that we could return and get more. We didn’t. But the reading I did during those years – transported me to another world – be it behind in history or forward in science fiction. Sometimes I wouldn’t understand a word or a sentence or even a cultural reference – but that didn’t stop us having fun.

How much of P G Wodehouse can a 9-year old lower middle class, south Indian girl get? How many of the jokes worked and how many didn’t? Who cares? I read P G Wodehouse, enjoyed it immensely and chuckled away in the corner of the room.

Summer holidays to me are full of

Books

In reading nooks.

Board games

And card games.

Random snacks

Chill and relax.

Summer holidays to me are full of

Dictionaries

and lending libraries.

Pickles

And drying papadums.

Homework

And more housework.

 

What was your summer holiday like? How does it compare to today? What do your kids enjoy?

 

 

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!

 


 

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.

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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.

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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.