Children’s literature Posts

Storyweaver, Pratham Books

final-logo-pratham-booksWelcome to StoryWeaver from Pratham Books : http://www.storyweaver.org.inbanner-2-fc6332eba5193186348e9c5190fee65b

A whole new world of children’s stories. It is a platform that hosts stories in languages across India and beyond. So that every child can have an endless stream of stories in her mother tongue to read and enjoy. StoryWeaver is an open platform designed to be innovative and interactive. It invites both, the weaver of stories and the reader to connect and share the fascinating world of words and illustrations. This then, marks a new chapter in children’s literature and publishing. Come discover the magic of stories and the joy of reading – a cornucopia that will delight endlessly.

Medianama has a wonderful article on Pratham Books and Storyweaver. It is available at: http://www.medianama.com/2015/09/223-pratham-books-open-source/ But I am also copy-pasting the text in case it is not easily available sometimes.

Non profit trust Pratham Books has launched StoryWeaver, an open source digital platform, which features 800 stories in 24 languages (14 Indian and 12 international languages), with an image repository of over 2,000 images. These will be openly licensed and free of cost; content creators and other users will be able to read, download, translate, version-ise and print through the platform. Users will also be able to create and publish new stories, using the Creative Commons licensed content on the site.

The stories are available in Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi and Odiya, along with English translations to all these languages (and Tamil and Telugu, excepting Assamese and Malayalam). It lists publishers like itself, African StoryBook Initiative and World Konkani Centre. The stories can be filtered by reading levels as well. The platform provides DIY videos for creating and translating stories. ( https://storyweaver.org.in/tutorials )

Anyone can translate stories by clicking on the ‘translate’ option under the selected story, which redirects you to login via Pratham Books, Facebook or Google+ and provides a host of Indian and African languages, along with French, German and Spanish to translate to. It displays the original text for reference and once done translating it lets users put in a new title, creator details and publish. Pratham Books says that it has generated more work opportunities for illustrators through their CC work. It also states that its primary users are teachers, librarians, writers and parents.

The trust hopes that this move will not only encourage more content creation but also address the scarcity of multilingual story resources in India and multiply it. With the launch of the platform, the trust has also created a “Weave a story” campaign where it has roped in children’s books writers Anushka Ravishankar, Soumya Rajendran, Rohini Nilekani and Rukmini Banerjee to write a special story for children. StoryWeaver will invite users to translate these stories and the trust expects that 100 new versions will spawn out of the 3 original stories. The first story to be launched on the platform is Ravishankar’s “Its All the Cat’s Fault”, which is expected to get 5 derivative versions today.

Google Impact Challenge shortlist
In August 2013, Google had shortlisted 10 non-profit organisations in India as finalists for its Google Impact Challenge intended to support a technology based social project with an award of Rs 3 crores. Among these was Pratham Books which intended to develop an open source platform to create and translate 20,000 e-books in minimum 25 languages to enable 20 million book reads by 2015.

Launch of books crowdsourcing platform
In June, Pratham Books launched a crowdsourcing platform called DonateABook which let nonprofits and schools raise funding for books in order to provide them to Indian children. It connected book seekers with people who wanted to give books away. Then, there were 30 campaigns on the website, looking to raise between Rs 3,500- Rs 110,000 for multiple cities and towns in India.

The projects have been assigned for underprivileged kids, kids from government schools in villages, immigrant construction workers’ children and more, and sought books across Indian and English languages. Individuals as well as organisations who wanted to get books for the children they work with could also start campaigns on the platform. The platform sought to get 50,000 books for children by this Children’s Day, which falls on 14 November every year.

The Bangalore-based trust publishes cost effective books across Indian languages. It publishes books across genres like fiction, science, history, maths and nature among others. It claims to have published over 300 original titles in 18 languages, totalling up to 2,000 books across genres of fiction, nonfiction, and story books on science, history, mathematics and nature

 

8 Sept 2015

Literati – “Storytelling” ( 6 Dec 2014, The Hindu)


Jaya Bhattacharji Rose( My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 6 December 2014) and will be in print ( 7 December 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-a-look-at-the-world-of-books-publishing-and-writers/article6667631.ece . I am also c&p the text below. )

Watching Ameen Haque of The Storywallahs perform at the Kahani Tree, Bookaroo, was a treat. He wove stories, poetry and music together and had the audience singing and laughing along with him. In the short interaction, the children were introduced to the radical idea that crying is perfectly normal for boys and grown men.

Telling tales

Even when adults communicate, it is inevitably through stories. We call it conversation. Break up the conversation and analyse it. It is anecdotal, replete with stories and vignettes. The impact of a well-told story is immeasurable. Similarly a book allows a quiet engagement between the author and a reader. Books make you see the world afresh. It works for all age groups.

This relationship between books and young readers was apparent at an event organised by SCWBI India in partnership with Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan and the Bookaroo Childrens’ Literature Festival. The topic was “LSD: Love, Sex and Darkness in Books for Children” and the participants were educationist Dr. Shalini Advani, author Samina Mishra, illustrator Priya Kuriyan, and publisher Sayoni Basu.

“Should children’s books only deal with happy things? What about death, violence and sexuality? What about darkness and ugliness?” These were some of the questions raised.

Dr. Advani pointed out that adults tend to be more uncomfortable than children. “For adults, our role is to drag these issues out into the clear light of day. To normalise them as a part of the circle of life so that children — who think about them anyway — learn healthy ways of talking about them and thinking about them. It’s not happy worlds that young people seek. So it is not about whether a book has death or perfidious adults or parental divorce or pain. But more about how it is done — young people don’t like to be lectured to or even gently educated.”

Some recently YA books — Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar about a teen who may be a lesbian;Smitten by Ranjit Lal about a teen who is molested by a family member and Jobless Clueless Reckless by Revathi Suresh about a pregnant teen — have tackled these tricky topics.

***

Fiction relies upon storytelling to represent experiences, although its impact depends on the author’s magic with words. At times the storytelling has visible weaknesses but the reader persists, usually out of curiosity about a new topic. For instance, Sonora Jha’s Foreign (farmer suicides in Vidarbha); Pia Padukone’s Where Earth Meets Water (9/11 and the 2004 tsumani), Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman(indentured labourers on sugar plantations in British Guiana), Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing (Syrian Christian family in New Mexico), and Robert Allison’s The Letter Bearer (WWII, amnesia).

Inclusive fiction

Exquisite storytelling and its impact is apparent by the recent online conversation between Amitav Ghosh and Raghu Karnad regarding Flanagan’s 2014 ManBooker Prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The two Indian writers discussed the inclusive capacity of historical fiction and the “duty” of a novelist but also gave insightful comments about a moment in history that had been made accessible through contemporary fiction.

The legendary publisher Gordon Graham puts it prophetically in a 1980 essay reprinted in As I was Saying: Essays on the International Book Business, “Creative composition in the electronic age will not happen at the moment when the author and the publisher decide it is releasable.” It will happen with the active participation of the reader. A statement that holds true 35 years later.

Irrespective of age groups and formats, the importance of storytelling can never be negated since it is an important module of communication and transmission of information, requiring the active participation of all stakeholders.

Update ( 6 December 2014):

In the paragraph listing the debut writers I should have clarified that it is not only fiction, but also nonfiction by relies upon the art of storytelling. Hence I have included Gaiutra Bahadur. My original list was much longer than was finally published.

6 December 2014 

Children and books on Art

Children and books on Art

Olivia, Jackson PollackI am an artist logoA stress on learning the 3R’s is insufficient. Teaching children other sensibilities too by making their environment come alive. It could be strewing pictures about, taking them for walkabouts through museums, or introduce them to books with plenty of pictures of paintings, photographs etc. This was wise advice given to me by an artist when my daughter was a newborn. I treasure it especially since I recall the happiest moments in my childhood were to pore over books about museums, photos and browse through old issues of Post, LIFE, National Geographic, etc. But it is not merely about learning of older artists and schools of art or what constitutes great art. It is about imbuing children with a love for art, aesthetics and appreciating creativity. It is about giving them the confidence of exploring with colours and not necessarily being straitjacketed into certain academic disciplines.

But try sourcing books for children, especially in the picture book category and it is nearly impossible!

Over a period of time some of the books I have come across are:

I Spy, Numbers in Art1. Lucky Micklethwait’s “I Spy” series uses well-known paintings to introduce children to colours, numbers and alphabets. ( http://www.harpercollins.com/cr-102246/lucy-micklethwait ). Even Ian Falconer’s Caldecott Honor picture book, Olivia, introduces the young readers to the art of Jackson Pollock. ( Olivia is so inspired by her museum visit she attempts to recreate a Jackson Pollack painting on the walls at home, much to her mother’s horror! )

2. Marta Altes  I am an Artist (http://www.martaltes.com/I-am-an-Artist ) picture book is about aI-am-an-artist-cover delightful young fellow who cannot stop creating. He is an artist “but I don’t think mum sees it”. There is sense of freedom with colour, allowing the child to express himself, all though the cleaning up promises to be a nightmare.

3. Sophie Benini Pietromarchi’s The Colour Book and The Book Book or even Herve Tullet’s fabulous books ( http://www.herve-tullet.com/en/boite-20/Biography.html ) also introduce children to experimentation with light, colours, different mediums …basically to let the creative juices flow. It is incredible to see how children respond.

4. Scholastic India has launched a new series called “I am An Artist” with the inaugural title Raza's BinduRaza’s Bindu. It is about the well-known painter, S. H. Raza’s signature style of painting only the bindu/dot. It is a fascinating book that is part-biography, part-explanation of the evolution of the artist with images from his paintings. The book includes flaps that can be opened and explored by the 3-6-year-olds it is meant for. There are a couple of worksheets in it too. Tina Narang, Editor, Scholastic India wrote saying, “The ‘I am An Artist’ series seeks to make art and the artist accessible to children. The series has been launched with S.H. Raza’s Bindu. The books are meant to be participative in nature, so children can explore and experiment with their own creativity in relation to that of the artist. This book includes many interesting operations like gatefolds, and envelope folds to make it a fascinating journey for the child exploring the art of the artist.” The logo for the series is the first image on this blog post. Here is an interview with the painter from 2011 that explores his fascination with the dot. ( http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report-i-am-yet-to-tire-of-bindu-artist-sh-raza-1618538 ) . In fact he will be present at the book launch on 29 Nov 2014, Delhi.

5. Previously Tulika Books had launched a series called “Looking at Art” but only two artists were featured  — Amrita Sher Gil and M. F. The Color BookHusain. ( http://www.tulikabooks.com/our-books/non-fiction/looking-at-art/my-name-is-amrita-born-to-be-an-artist ) No more were added, a great pity. Tara Books specialises in creating illustrated books for children using traditional art such as Kalamkari, Gond, and Patachitra mural art, another way of familiarising young readers to different art forms.  Now it seems another publishing house in India will be launching a series meant for children, introducing them to Indian Art/ Artists.

katie-and-the-impressionists6. A couple of other picture book writers who have created marvellous “introductions” to art for young children are Anthony Browne ( Willy’s Pictures) and James Mayhew’s series with Katie, a little girl who visits museums and steps into great paintings ( http://www.jamesmayhew.co.uk/books/katie ).

The joy of reading must also be accompanied by the pleasure of poring over illustrations, familiarising with colours and immersing oneself in the experience. For children everything in the world is new. To have text matching illustrations makes the little child’s face light up. If along the way they can be introduced to art and painters too, well, why not?!

 

28 Nov 2014

Literati: Happy readers ( 2 Nov 2014)

Literati: Happy readers ( 2 Nov 2014)

Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column in the Hindu Literary Review was published online on 1 November 2014 and in print on 2 November 2014. Here is the url  http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-happy-readers/article6555142.ece . I am also c&p the text below. 

A recent article, “The Percy Jackson problem”, argued that Rick Riordan’s rewriting of Greek myths for a contemporary audience is unacceptable since it lures young readers away from the “classics”. The journalist also did not subscribe to the view that kids should be allowed to read whatever they are reading as long as they are reading! Apparently the huge crowds of youngsters (outnumbering the adults) filling synagogues, theatres, and basketball stadiums to attend the interactions with Riordan, a former middle-school English and history teacher — who is currently on a tour to promote the last book in the Olympians series, The Blood of Olympus — was insufficient evidence that children were happy reading. A publishing colleague sent me a furious response to the article saying that it was mean spirited and unfair given that Riordan has touched thousands of kids’ lives in a positive way and reached many reluctant readers.

New generations of readers are crucial for the survival of publishing. While delivering his acceptance speech at the PEN/Pinter Prize 2014, Salman Rushdie said, “I always believed that the book is completed by the reader that out of the intimacy of strangers created by the act of reading emerges the book as it exists for that reader; and that out of that private act of union comes love, the love of literature, of reading, of that particular book …”

The powerful impact an author can have on a reader, even in a large group, was demonstrated at a literary evening that I curated at the Embassy of Ireland. To commemorate the centenary of World War I, three Indian authors were invited to a panel discussion on “Conflict and Literature”, moderated by the ambassador H.E. Feilim McLaughlin. The authors spoke powerfully of their engagement with conflict and how it has influenced their writing. The audience sat in pin-drop silence. Some wept. Most had lumps in their throat. The topics or narrated experiences touched a raw nerve in many, especially those with direct links with Partition, the 1984 riots and communal conflicts.

Of late there has been a growing debate on how the Internet is cutting into the time of readers. It is estimated that, by 2018, 3.9 billion people will be online; many on smartphones. It is not surprising to discover that Adobe has been collecting data about its customers’ reading pattern. Last week, Nielsen announced that it was expanding its ratings to include all kinds of digital content. The writer-reader relationship is evolving rapidly with the growth of technology. People are operating these devices not just to communicate with each other but also to read articles and books online. Consequently word-of-mouth recommendations will only grow. The relatively new ReadMyStori.com “is a platform that helps authors get readers to read, appreciate and popularise their work”. Authors say that at least 40 per cent of downloads are converted into book sales.

As Tim Parks points out in an NYRB article (June 10, 2014), “The conditions in which we read today are not those of 50 or even 30 years ago, and the big question is how contemporary fiction will adapt to these changes, because in the end adapt it will. No art form exists independently of the conditions in which it is enjoyed.”

An excellent example of such a response to the changing reading environment is Samanvay: IHC Indian Languages’ Festival (November 6-11, 2014), comprising 90 speakers and performers in 20 languages and dialects. The theme is “Translations Transnations” with focus on Indian languages that have a transnational presence like Bangla, Bhojpuri, Chhattisgarhi, English, Hindi, Konkani, Malayalam, Punjabi and Sanskrit.

The effect of storytelling sessions and stress on reading books other than textbooks is also evident in the crowds of happy children that attend Bookaroo: Festival of Children’s Literature (IGNCA, New Delhi, November 29-30, 2014). The youngsters can be seen mobbing authors and illustrators, seeking autographs, asking a zillion questions, offering authors manuscripts to read, listening in rapt attention to the writers, participating in workshops and buying piles of book at the temporary bookstore.

This year, 83 speakers such as Jamila Gavin, Natasha Sharma, The Storywallahs, Vivek Menon, Rui Sousa and Prayag Shukla will participate.

These children are accessing e-books and books in print, but it does not matter as long as they are reading!

2 November 2014

 

Literati: “Catch them young”

Literati: “Catch them young”

From this month  I begin a new column in the Hindu Literary Review called “Literati”. It will be about the world of books, publishing and writers from around the world. Here is the url to the first column. http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/catch-them-young/article5969576.ece It was published online on 3 May 2014 and will be in the print edition on 4 May 2014. I am c&p the text below. 

Ghost BrideA friend called this morning expressing her delight that her 11-year-old son had finished the pile of books I had lent him. Now he was back to reading Calvin and Hobbes. A father worried about his tennis- and cricket-mad 10-year-old son says the kid only wants to buy sports almanacs.

The parents’ bewilderment is incomprehensible given the explosion of children and young adult literature. The focus is so intense that it has generated a lively intense debate along gendered lines. Should books meant for girls have pink covers? Dame Jacqueline Wilson says it is ‘pigeonholing’ and it is putting boys off reading. Of late, there have been articles wondering whether boys are not reading because they are simply unable to discover books that appeal to them.

An international imprint I have become quite fond of is Hot Keys, established by Sarah Odedin, formerly J.K. Rowling’s editor. Hot Keys is synonymous with variety, fresh and sensitively told stories and is not afraid of experimenting nor can it be accused of gender biases in content and design. Sally Gardner’s award-winning Maggot Moon, Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride and Tom Easton’s hilariousBoys Don’t Knit belong to this list.

Other recently released YA titles available in India are Andaleeb Wajid’s No Time for Goodbyes, which uses the time travel formula to contrast contemporary life with that of the previous generation; Ranjit Lal’s blog Tall Stories, a collection of 100 stories about 10-year-old Sudha and 12 1/2-year-old Lalit, being uploaded weekly; and Joy Bhattacharjya’s delightful Junior Premier League ( co-authored with his son, Vivek) about a bunch of 12-year-olds eager to join the Delhi team of the first ever Junior Premier League tournament.

Some imprints that publish books for children and young adults in India are Puffin, Red Turtle, Duckbill, Pratham, Walker Books, Macmillan and Hachette.

Creating cultural wealth for children ensures there is little or no loss of cultural confidence, and creates a reading community in the long term. Pratham Books in partnership with Ignus ERG with funding support from Bernard van Leer Foundation is launching a new imprint called Adhikani. These books for young children will be published in four tribal languages of Odisha-Munda, Saura, Kui and Juang.

The idea is to make literature in print available in an otherwise oral culture whose stories are not normally visible in “mainstream” publications. They have already brought out 10 books and four song cards with Saura mural art based illustrations. Bi-lingual editions are also being considered in English with Marathi, Kannada, Telugu, Urdu and Tamil.

The Pratham-IGNUS ERG experiment is not uncommon. The Good Books Guide: How to Select a Good Book for Children (published by NBT and PAG-E) cites other examples and introduces 800 titles from English, in translation and available in other Indian languages.

Today there are so many choices/distractions and readers are increasingly used to personalising their environment to their tastes and interests. Increasingly it is being done in classrooms, so why not in trade literature as well?

Readers versus writers?

Eighty per cent of readers ‘discover’ a book through word of mouth and 20 per cent through social media. The Malayalam edition of Benyamin’s award-winning novel Aadujeevitham (Goat Days) has gone into the 75th edition (it was first published in 2008) and Anurag Mathur’s Inscrutable Americans has gone into the 50th edition (first published in 1991).

Internationally, India is a dream destination for publishers. The overall market in physical books was up 11 per cent by volume and 23 per cent by value in 2013 over 2012 (Nielsen, London Book Fair, 2014). Production of books is increasing, but is there a corresponding increase in readers too?

Rahul Saini — whose Paperback Dreams is a tongue-in-cheek fictional account of publishing in India — discovered to his dismay that an author friend wanted the synopsis told. Apparently he did not have the time to go through the whole book.Rahul Saini

Saini says, “Everyone wants to write but no one wants to read. I think this is a dangerous phenomenon. If we don’t want to read then is it really fair to write and expect others to read our books?” Writing takes time and effort and for it to be recognised it has to be of high calibre.

Translation award

The inaugural V. Abdulla Award for translation from Malayalam into English will be given on May 10, 2014 in Kozhikode by writer M.T. Vasudevan Nair. V. Abdulla was the first translator of Basheer.

@JBhattacharji

jayabhattacharjirose@gmail.com

3 May 2014 

 

RIP Bindia Thapar

RIP Bindia Thapar

Bindia Thapar 2The first time I met Bindia was when I was curating Poster Women for Zubaan.  It was a visual mapping of the women’s movement in India. ( http://www.posterwomen.org/Posterwomen/?page_id=2) We had collected over 1500 posters from around the country, in different languages and different formats. Some were in a pretty rotten condition too. In order to make it easier to create an archive, every single document was catalogued and professionally photographed in a studio. After the exercise was completed, large postcard size photographs were printed and filed for easy reference. At this point Bindia was invited to spend the day with us at office. She has been involved for many years in making posters for different organisations, various campaigns etc.

Bindia Thapar, literacyWith a twinkle in her eye, Bindia gurgled with delight at spotting how her posters had been adapted, adopted, translated and sometimes only a visual imagery “borrowed” into a new poster. It was a fascinating insight into how the women’s movement gained momentum in India, as people become more aware of issues concerning women, but also the need to develop and create communication tools that would be easily understood across the spectrum — languages, regions, socio-economic classes, literate and illiterate alike. Some of her posters on domestic violence were used as non-text communication material in other regions too. Bindia was one of the first artists to make trilingual posters, in Hindi, Urdu and English. These were part of Jagori’s literacy campaign. Later her posters became more elaborate and sumptuous. A favourite poster of mine is a blue and gold illustration she created for a Jagori poster in the 1990s. Unfortunately I am unable to locate an image of it online.

Bindia 3Bindia was also known for her work in children’s literature. She was a fantastic illustrator. There was always a burst of colours in every frame she drew. When I took four-month-old Sarah to meet Bindia, she told me to always ensure the child is exposed to visual imagery. It is equally important as learning a language or any other skill. Slowly as the child grows she will learn to react, respond, and grow. She was insistent that the immediate environment of the child should be filled with colour, tickle the child’s senses and let them blossom.

20140419_224846Bindia worked upon many children’s books. One of the first books she created was for Tulika Books. It was introducing the Hindi alphabet or the letters of the Devnagari script. Each page is a delight. Every letter or akshar is embedded in a drawing that tells a story. More importantly, the child is able to discover images tucked into the drawing beginning with the relevant letter on the page. I love it. Sarah loves it. She is as yet to learn the Devnagari script but she firmly believes that it is a storybook. Bindia wrote this book when her own daughter was in primary school and discovering alphabets.

Bindia Thapar will be missed. A rare human being. Full of warmth and generosity. Ever willing to share her knowledge, extremely humble and always alive to new experiences.

Rest in peace.

21 April 2014 

 

Tara Dairman “All Four Stars”

Tara Dairman “All Four Stars”

allfourstars_finalGladys Gatsby is an eleven year old who has been cooking gourmet dishes since she was five. Her parents have not a clue even when she nearly burns the kitchen down while making creme brulee using a discarded blow torch found in the garage. Instead her parents ban her from the kitchen urging her to engage in activities more appropriate for her age like playing on the tablet and surfing the internet. Soon she finds an opportunity to pay for the damages and indulge in her passion by becoming a freelance restaurant critic for a well known New York newspaper.

All Four Stars is well-written, light and funny. The excitement that Gladys has at spotting a Larousse Gastronomique at her neighbour’s or savouring samosas and gajjar ka halwa at her friend Parminder Singh’s home are palpable. ( All though Sikh women are only referred to as ‘Kaur’ not ‘Singh’ which is reserved for men.) The novel does not get weary with adults interfering or sermonising too much. They are not monsters. The other characters in the books like Mr Eng and his wonderful store of exotic food ingredients, Miss Quincy the new teacher, the friendly neighbour Sandy Anderson,  the obnoxious and spoilt rich girl Charissa Bentley with a soft corner for delicious desserts, and her two girlfriends — Rolanda Royce and Marti Astin are equally entertaining.

All Four Stars is Tara Dairman’s debut novel. It has been brewing for ten years. It is due to be released in July 2014 with the sequel scheduled for 2015. It is book that will be enjoyed by young and older readers. It will be published by G. B. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group, USA.

 

Cancer and literature for children and young adults

Cancer and literature for children and young adults

Seeing a child, even a teenager, ill has to be one of the most unpleasant experiences of life. Somehow the big C or cancer gets The Yellow World by Albert Espinosawritten about more than other diseases. In 2012, The Yellow World by Albert Espinosa was published and became an NYT bestseller. It charts the experiences of the young boy developing cancer and then battling the disease through much of his “young adult” life. It has been translated from Spanish into English. The first half of the book is far more readable as it documents his getting cancer, the treatment, the jokes shared with other patients, the friends who pass away etc. But this is a memoir. Quite unlike John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, another NYT bestseller and soon to be made in a Hollywood film. This is fiction but based on meticulous research done by Green. ( An example of his knowledge is evident in this YouTube where Green discusses the costs of American healthcare: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSjGouBmo0M )  Fault in our starsThe Fault in Our Stars is a story about teenagers affected by cancer. To put it simplistically it is told through the friendships Hazel makes with Augustus Waters and Isaac and the other kids at Cancer Kid Support Group. The matter-of-fact manner in which the young cancer patients manage themselves and help each other is an eye opener. John Green also manages to get the nervousness, concern, worry of the adults very well too. The tone adopted by the writer is not surprising given that he spent a long time with Esther Earl, to whom the book is dedicated to as well. Esther Earl developed cancer at a very young age. Along with the support of her family and friends like John Green. As John Green says in the introduction to Esther’s book/memoir/diary This Star Won’t Go Out that she was EstherEarlterminally ill with cancer but she made the treatment for it seem “very standard and casual”. For instance one day they were  typing to each other when John Green realised Esther Earl was actually in the ICU with tubes coming out of her chest to drain fluid that had accumulated in her lungs. 

And then there is Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls. A powerful novel with three short stories A Monster Callsembedded in it about a young boy who is worried about his very sick mother and is unable to utter the truth to anyone. This is a novel about loss, fear and courage. It is a story told with sensitivity, compassion and powerful storytelling. Ness wrote the novel based on an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd ( who died of cancer), he and illustrator Jim Kay won Britain’s prestigious Carnegie Medal and Greenaway Medal in 2012, presented to the year’s best children’s literature in the UK.  (Unfortunately the edition I read did not have a single illustration in it.) Recently it was announced that Ness is adapting the screenplay from his novel. The film is slated for released in 2016 and will be directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

Every one of these books has been selling exceptionally well. The two books of fiction by John Green and Patrick Ness are being converted into films as well. Every time one reads books like these the power of literature to share, describe, comment, analyse or just present a situation is confirmed. It is as if the words on the page speak to the reader quietly, taking them into confidence and exploring a world that is otherwise frightening.

27 March 2014 

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

The Good Books Guide, 1Ever so often I am asked by parents, educators and schools to recommend books that are age-appropriate for children. Every time I put together a list based upon the sensibilities of the people asking. It has been a long time since I began working in publishing and engaging with children’s literature. For many years I guest-edited a special issue of The Book Review on children’s and young adult literature. Last year I was on the jury for the Crossword Book Awards for children’s literature. But in all these years of working in the publishing industry I have rarely come across catalogues of children’s literature that could be easily recommended. Apart from compilations of titles available in English and other Indian languages, it is also crucial to understand how to select a book for a child. Introduction to literature after all is part of the nurturing and grooming process of a child into a independent, informed and literate individual. From the basic picture books, hardboard books for toddlers to picture books, chapter books and novels and non-fiction for older kids, it is not always easy to come by information. Having said that, in the last one year, there have been three titles published in India — 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love ( Young Zubaan), Children’s Books 2014 ( NBT) and The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children ( NBT and PAG-E) that are a beginning. They introduce titles from English, in translation and available in other Indian languages. Children’s Books 2014  was launched during the New Delhi World Book Fair 2014 as the theme was Kathasagar- Celebrating Children’s Literature. This catalogue includes details of around 800 titles from all Indian languages and National Book Trust has decided to make it an annual 20140226_122508publication. Fortunately a list of publishers with all their contact details have been included in the book. Next year, I hope ebooks will be included in the selection as well. Zubaan

The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children is a slim manual that was created by Subir Shukla, after a national consultation between National Book Trust and PAG-E ( Publishers’ Action Group) held at Sonapani, Nainital from 26-29 September 2012. It focuses primarily on the criteria necessary for selecting a book. Details such as illustrations match the text; do the theme and contents have any bias; is the plot weak or illogical?; is the language used appropriate for children; is the typescript and type-size inappropriate; are the illustrations and design unsuitable or of poor quality?; how to identify ‘desirable’ books; does it stimulate curiosity and engagement?; if it is a non-fiction title is it correct and factual? and so on. There is a table given towards the end that helps in classifying books according to classes and ages. This manual is a beginning. It will open a debate but at least such a publication has come into existence!

101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! is a collection of short reviews of children’s and young adult titles that have been published in India recently. The books were selected by Anita Roy and Samina Mishra; then authors, reviewers and publishing professionals were asked to contribute short notes on the titles. It gives a sense of gravitas since as a reader you are assured that the titles have been assessed by experts. Years ago, the Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children was published, with a preface by Ruskin Bond; it focused on English-language books from India and rest of the world. All these books are useful in their own way, but for the first time with the NBT publication we have now access to titles from other Indian languages as well!

Report draft by Subir Shukla; Editorial co-ordinators – Manas Ranjan Mahapatra and Dwijendra Kumar The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 40 Rs. 130

Ed. Rubin D’Cruz; Editorial team – Meenakshi Behl, Ritu Krishna Children’s Books 2014: An annotated catalogue of select children’s books in India National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 290 Rs. 100

Eds. Anita Roy and Samina Mishra 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! Young Zubaan, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 168. Rs. 195

Ruskin Bond Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children Penguin Books India, Delhi, 2006. Pb. pp. 260. Rs. 250

26 Feb 2014

Puffin

Citation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books

Citation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books

I was on the jury for the Crossword Book Prize for children’s and young adult literature in 2013. We read over 90+ books to decide the winner. The award was split between two authors — Payal Kapadia and Uma Krishnaswami. Here is the citation read out at the ceremony on 6 Dec 2013 in Mumbai.) 

Wisha WozzariterCitation by the Jury for the Crossword Award 2013 for Children’s Books
7 December 2013 at 07:46
The Crossword Book Award 2013 for Children’s Books goes to:

Wisha Wozzawriter by Payal Kapadia

And

Book Uncle & Me by Uma KrishnaswamiBookUncle and Me
As seasoned readers who pore through books on a routine basis, it isn’t often that we sit up and gasp and exclaim, WOW! This year while perusing the collection submitted to us by the Crossword team it was the books ‘Wisha Wozzariter‘ & ‘Book Uncle and Me’ that triggered this rare flash of exuberant surprise.

Wisha Wozzawriter

The drudgery, complexity and rigour of creative writing are not exactly the ingredients of a story. Rather than the basis of a storybook, and a children’s book at that, this material belongs squarely in the realm of textbooks. The genius of author Payal Kapadia and her pocket-sized creative writing storybook, Wisha Wozzariter, is the manner in which she has transformed such a drab subject into a wonderful, colourful, absorbing book.

Payal’s book is imaginative, creative and witty. It is one of those uncommon books that work at multiple levels. Unfolding as it does at a captivating pace, it weaves in sentences and references that open up myriad worlds of books and ideas. It is a book that a young reader can enjoy for its wackiness and inventiveness, and constantly return to over the years, growing old with it. Not only is it technically sound but above all it is a good, enjoyable read.

Book Uncle & Me

One of the continuing struggles in Indian writing in English is the quest for a self-confident voice writing in a language given to us by colonialism. Indian children’s books are still finding a voice that reflects our particularities and yet transcends those to speak of universal ideas, a voice that is neither didactic nor exotic, a voice that can both spark the child’s imagination and lead it towards action. Book Uncle and Me is that rare book.

It weaves a simple story in a voice that is strongly rooted in an Indian context and yet speaks of childhood experiences that cross cultural borders. A broken pavement, a library and a girl who has decided to read one book a day come together in an inspirational story about forging a community to create change. Uma Krishnaswami’s skill in experimenting with form by telling the story entirely in free verse is matched with her nuanced understanding of the child’s world. She recognises that children are capable of negotiating complexity in their everyday lives and refuses to talk down to them. Priya Kurien’s illustrations add another layer of resonance, making Book Uncle and Me a truly unforgettable book.

 Samina Mishra, Deepak Dalal, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

 12 Feb 2014

UPDATE

I uploaded this note on my Facebook page last week. Since then the authors and other jury members have also commented on the post.I am reproducing their comments below.

Uma Krishnaswami I was unable to make it for the awards ceremony last year, so I missed the reading of the citation. Jaya, I’m getting misty-eyed reading it now. So much of a writer’s life and heart goes into a book, and sometimes (OK, I’ll say it–often) it can seem as if no one is paying any attention at all. I’ll treasure what you had to say about my book. It will bolster me when the writing on the next book gets tough (which it will) or the reviews and sales iffy (things I have no control over). Thank you again to Samina Mishra, Deepak Dalal, and you, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, for your perfect and instinctive understanding of both intention and craft in Book Uncle and Me.

Samina Mishra Uma, I’m delighted that you think the citation reflects a “perfect and instinctive understanding of both intention and craft in Book Uncle and Me

Deepak Dalal Speaking about misty eyes, that’s what happens to me when I read great books. ‘Book Uncle & me’ did all kinds of things to my eyes. It was a pleasure and a privilege selecting your book, Uma.

Payal Kapadia Dear Jaya, Deepak and Samina: Wisha had something weighty and worthwhile to say in the face of such a generous tribute! Does a thank-you sufficiently express the gratitude I feel for the warm welcome I’ve received when I’m just the new kid on the block? I was at the awards and I don’t remember the citation being read out — probably because my heart was thumping so fast I could barely think (and still is). Haven’t gotten over the flush of the award, and I’m sure that “the drudgery, complexity and rigor of creative writing” will not appear to be so with your kind words ringing in my ears. I wrote “Wisha Wozzariter” to see if I had it in me to be a writer. Thank you for believing in me — and for showing me that I can take life one book at a time.

Deepak Dalal What a wonderful book, Payal! Deserves all its plaudits and more. Now you have to keep those creative juices flowing…

20 Feb 2014 

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