Thursday, November 12, 2009

A British and South African Perspective on Our Books - Part 1

Our hardworking interns Naomi and Amani have become master reviewers during their internship with us. They have actually managed to review 170 of our books. Yes, yes... you read that right.. 170 titles! Phew!! So, we decided to share their perspectives (Naomi's British perspective and Amani's South African perspective) on our books.

The book being reviewed today is one of our popular titles - City of Stories


Amani writes....
City of stories is a good tale about a child’s quest to find the perfect storyteller and when she does find it, the storyteller ends up telling a host of stories to the city. The story is imaginative and captures the hearts of children everywhere. There are many fun-loving characters within the story that emphasis the dialogue between characters very well. The story itself captivates the interest the world should hold for story telling and how it plays an important role within society.

The illustrations are beautifully portrayed and well presented. The colors, tones and shapes suit the city. The use of color crayons work well with the figures and the environment it inhabits. Though at times a bit rough around the edges the characters themselves are realistic and are very identifiable for the human eye.

The language is well formatted and the emphasis on educational learning is shown within the use of the language. There is a lot of dialogue but it is never vague and is well constructed. The grammar is excellent and no errors were found.

Within a contextual frame the story is at times not in accord with South African traditions. The South African perspective would find it at times hard to relate with the cultural basis shown in the story. Words like “Didi”, “Bhajiwale” are Indian oriented. However, the content of the story is easily identifiable for all African cultures and is in fact beneficial. Due to the lack of interest many South Africans find in reading, this will enhance the intrigue in reading stories, on the basis of what stories can do shown within the book. Within a South African society the appropriate age would be 12-14 due to the content and vocabulary used. A well formulated story, with great characters that convey the importance of storytelling.
Naomi's take on this book is as follows...
However not all of the stories work when taken out of their Indian cultural contexts. One example of this is a story about stories named “City of Stories”, which was one of my favourite books from the entire Pratham Books range. The book encourages creativity and imagination among children by stressing the importance of stories, by telling an elaborate tale of how they can be so captivating that a whole city stops functioning just to listen to them. This will also draw children’s attention to how fascinating stories can be, hopefully encouraging them to read more. One of the highlights of the book is the language. Although there are only a few longer, more complicated words in the book, the book uses certain words in a way that children may not be familiar with, most evident in the description of how “they learned how to build stories, how to spin stories, how to weave stories, how to embroider stories, how to cook stories and how to fly stories like kites in a big blue sky.” Such comparisons not only further emphasize the magical nature of stories but also show children how things can be described in many different ways, and often the most obvious or simplest is not the most effective. The metaphor in “these two had flooded the city with an ocean of stories” creates a powerful image of stories rushing all around the city whilst also introducing children to the use of comparisons. This would be equally useful for educating British children as it is for educating Indian children, however there are many references in the book that make it unsuitable for a British audience. One such example is the passage “The bhajiwala stopped selling bhaji. The doodhwala stopped delivering milk. The paanwala put aside all the paan and supari.” None of these references would make sense to a British audience, nor would the mention of “pau-bhaji”, “bhelwala” and “bhel-puri”. Although it may seem a shame that such a good book would not be relevant to a British audience purely because of a few select phrases, I think they are important in making the book seem authentic and realistic. The illustrations are also an important element of the book, as though there is no magic in the story they help create a magical atmosphere, drawing attention to the magical nature of stories. The illustrations are varied and change throughout the stories, which is appropriate in representing how stories are transforming the city, and how the stories themselves are varied.
Readers, please pitch in with your perspective on any of our books and your review may be featured on our blog. You can mail us at web (at) prathambooks (dot) org. And if your child loves writing, ask him/her to send in his/her book review too.

And you will be seeing more of Naomi's and Amani's reviews on our blog. Stay tuned!

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