All good things must start with a story. And the National Storytelling Week must of course start with a brilliant one.
This story I’m going to tell you, has stayed with me from when I was six or seven. I was a very fussy eater and one of the vegetables I didn’t like to eat was the purple brinjals (or the white ones for that matter).
Many of the stories in my Prince Veera series are reimagined versions of such stories about Emperor Akbar and Birbal, King Krishnadeva Raya and his trusted friend Tenali Rama.
Listen to the story and enjoy! If you like it, do pass it along. Because a hand-me-down story is the best kind there is!
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.
Don’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.
Idea #4 – If you read a book together, draw and paint scenes together. How about mosaic art? How 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.
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.
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. http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/topic/books-by-subject/current-affairs
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As a kid I grew up a big dose of stories – especially traditional tales, witty stories of tricksters and wise tales of Mulla Nassruddin and Tenali Raman and Raja Birbal.
Stories were like the third chutney served with my hot idlies – stories were in the recipes, at the dinner-table and in the air.
Most proverbs and advice were delivered in parables. For example, whenever my mum or grandmother wanted to advice me on self-help and doing things on my own, I would hear this story.
“There was once a man who was very devoted to God. But he was very poor. So one day he went to God and asked to become the next lottery winner. God appeared before him and granted him the wish. The man returned the next day after the results were announced. He was not the winner. There was no one outside his door offering a lot of money. He accused God of cheating. God appeared promptly and told him that at the least, the man should have bought a lottery ticket if he had wanted to win.”
I have never forgotten that lesson and my friends know that I’m averse to asking for help. I’d rather do it myself than ask for help. As a girl who grew up in 70s India, it was an advice ahead of its time and stood me in good stead.
There are more stories and fables that warned me about greedy people, about the wisdom of honesty and the joy of giving even if you had only little. One such story that stuck to me was the lake of milk. This is a story that transcends time and accurately depicts human behavior at its worst – when we have to survive, would we eat our young?
In a kingdom that used to be rich, famine struck. People lost crops, and their livelihoods and their livestock. Eventually some were really poor. A wise man said the famine has been caused by people who had no good intentions and if the people couldn’t change their ways, the famine would last forever.
The king was troubled by this. He wanted to believe that his people were not selfish and greedy. So he invited his people to donate a jug of milk for the poor people in their town. He cleared out a huge man-made lake and asked people to pour their jug of milk that night.
The milk deposit was planned for the night. People stood in queues with a jug. In the morning, when the king came to inspect he found a full pool. But filled with water. Everyone had assumed his jug of water wouldn’t be noticed in a pond of milk. Alas, no one had brought any milk to share.
The people were ashamed at their own selfishness and they didn’t need the king to emphasise this. The people gathered to share and to donate what they had with others thereby ending the famine of kindness in their hearts.
I never checked if these stories were from India or abroad. I read voraciously, listened to stories and joined in after dinner reminiscing of family stories.
One such story that stuck with me was the story of the camel and its master. Camels are clever animals and I always have a soft spot for them – next only to giraffes and elephants. When I was six and I went to Delhi, I saw my first camel on the street. Coming from the south, used to seeing cows and elephants on the streets, seeing a camel was so different. I loved their shape, their quietness and their angry calls.
I had read so many Mulla Nassurdin stories that camels were part of my staple diet. Couple of years ago, I decided to retell a camel story that demonstrates the cleverness of camel. And then I sent it off to a publisher I work with in the US.
And here it is – the finished product illustrated by Eugene Ruble – the story of Clever Camel right from the deserts of the middle-east.
In this story the camel is a trickster and even though it is the underdog, it turns the table on its master.
If you love stories about animals – especially stories featuring Anansi or the Brer Rabbit, you would love this.
You can buy the book here from my website and all copies would be signed. If you want me to come to your school or library to tell the story, then check out the School & Library Visits page.
If you like retellings of folktale, do check out my story website http://thestorytrain.blogspot.co.uk/.
My first session of the day was at 10:30 am and I had to get to central Delhi from Gurgaon, a neighbouring town where I had gone that morning to meet friends from Duckbill Books and a brilliant breakfast. In spite of the numerous warnings about traffic jams, I got back in plenty of time.
At first, the Amphitheatre was empty – after all, it was Sunday 10:30 am – and I thought most people would have a lie-in, a late breakfast and perhaps some newspaper browsing. But eager readers from New Delhi came in droves just in time for the session.
The first session was IDEA BLASTER – we were going to take off into StoryWorld with things we can find around us.
With the help of the young people in the audience and some grownups who were brave enough to reply, we built three stories out of nothing but our imagination and some prompts from the world around us.
Our first story was about an eagle called Narangi – because it was orange in colour and it was stuck inside the Matti Ghar that was on the premises.
The second story involved Astro-Cat fighting with a superhero to take control of Mars.
The third story involved an Astro-Mutt and a cartoon superhero villain with gadgets.
All in all, we had super-fun.
Then I had some time to make sure I get some selfies with writers and friends I had met during Bookaroo and visiting the illustrator gallery. More on that in tomorrow’s post.
The afternoon session was a wildcard – it was about story shapes – but it was right after lunch. Would people listen? Would children fidget and want to run about?
I was scheduled to start at the Kahani Tree and there was already a big audience seated there. Then as I welcomed them, many opted to stay back, much to my joy (and relief?)
We did long stories, tall stories, never-ending stories and counting stories.As we began the story of the biggest liar, we tested the waters and found out how well the children can imagine.
They made up stories about themselves – being a princess, a fairy, a dragon, a superhero – even the littlest ones had a lie to tell. Then I told them the story of the biggest liar (A Tall Story).
We followed that with the never-ending story – the story about the twins Only and Again.
We talked about stories about going home, journeys and landscapes with Where is Gola’s Home? which was a big hit with all ages – they were busy trying to spot the various characteristics of riversides, beaches, deserts and jungles.
I like counting like every other 7-year old. So I told them the story of the 11 travellers. But we didn’t just tell the story – we played it out. We had 11 eager volunteers up front who were being counted. We had a wise girl solve their counting problems.
The crowd was hungry for more – so we did another counting story with Birbal and the crows in Delhi – an apt story for a Delhi Bookaroo!
That was my last session at 2014 Bookaroo and I hope to come back again and meet more readers and budding writers.
What a wonderful venue – the old library transformed into a cultural space. Drama classes for kids, poetry, music and a café/bar too.
CWISL setup the stall on Friday and even had one of our team-meetings at the wonderful café.
Then on Saturday, we came bright and early while the skies rumbled and rained. And then it was time for the drama classes to begin – and the hall was filled with young boys and girls running around, talking, preparing for their young-theatre class.
CWISL members got to meet with parents, children and the drama teacher who was trying to convince his students that he wrote Jack and the Beanstalk. We also told everyone about the creative writing workshop for kids that was at noon.
Learning #1 – How to unlock a story
I learnt from Margaret and the beautiful treasure box she shared with Beverley, how to unlock a story. As a writer, storyteller and as a creative writing mentor – it was fun to watch her unlock the story with our workshop attendees.
Learning #2 – Making connections
I lead a double-life. I have a corporate persona when I am at my day-job and then my creative side when I am writing, telling stories and selling my books. Here time is of value, but not as valuable as it is at the day-job. Here it is always about finding creative connections, meeting interesting people and connecting with one reader – if that’s all we get throughout the day.
We spent the whole day, explaining our mission at CWISL to visitors to the Omnibus. We chatted about the workshops and the new postcards. And we met librarians, bookshop people, festival organisers and that’s valuable. You don’t get that by selling books just on the internet.
I met the librarian from Clapham Library who not only bought Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip, much to my joy, he invited me to tell the story at his library. We shook hands on a date and time. Check out the Events Page for more details.
I met the festival organisers of Omnibus along with other CWISL members and we talked about how we could collaborate.
I even walked into Clapham Books on my way back to the station, to look at their shop and ask if I could do an event there. That was brave of me. I am usually very very anxious to do things like that. I almost walked out without making contact. But I realized the worst that could happen was they would say No. Well they didn’t. I would be writing to them for sure.
Learning #3 – Be Specific
This one is a writing tip. Courtesy of Sam Osman and Paul Bryers. I attended their adult creative writing workshop – I had time on my hands, remember. This is what I don’t get to do when I am in meetings and conference calls at work.
We learnt how to bring a scene to life, how to make the reader feel the same thing as the narrator.
When Sam said, “Don’t be general. If you say I went on a roller-coaster ride, each reader is going to imagine their own roller-coaster ride experience. It might be scary or fun for them. But you need to make the reader feel what your narrator is feeling, not what their own experience was.”
Aha! Now I have an anchor for my descriptions. I always knew descriptions have to be specific. I always knew “show not tell.” I was taught to write descriptions with all five senses. But Sam gave me a reason for it. A damn good one.
Learning #4 – Start with a small object that has big impact
And when I thought that was the most important tip I’ve ever got from an award-winning writer, Sam gave me another gift.
In each of the scenes we all described in the workshop, we were asked to find a single object that can anchor the scene. That object could also be the starting point of the story.
While one person brilliantly chose a pencil shaving, another chose an abandoned shoe, there was a sharp knife and of course mine was a screw.
A screw that my narrator was focused on, as she went up the roller-coaster.
Sam told us to start our stories with an object – focus , zero-in, pan-in the shot, don’t do a wide angle. Both Paul and Sam have backgrounds in film-making and I could see how that has enriched their writing as well.
Paul then showed us how “show not tell” can be brought to your writing by highlighting some of the descriptions we had used in this exercise.
Signing books, unlocking imaginary worlds, zooming in the camera, having wonderful soup and corn bread at the cafe, all in all, it was a fantastic day in when the skies rumbled and rain tumbled outside.
I was tired at the end of the day. I needed chilled white wine and a couch. But it was all worth it. Time needs to be measured in terms of what you got out of it, not how much money you made out of it. At least for me, that’s the motto I hope to live by.