Friday, July 30, 2010

Poetry Across Borders

Via Jaaga's Facebook Group

"Poetry Across Borders explores, through poetry, the voices within and without our imagined boundaries. By creating spaces for poetry and encouraging participation from many communities, we hope to create a literary landscape that challenges those boundaries and encourages dialogue."

Bangalore poets share their platform with poets from Melbourne at the next Poetry Across Borders event on the 31st of July at 5pm at Jaaga. Featured... poets include Gopal S, Khushrav J. Writer and Joshua Muyiwa.

Date : 31st July, 2010
Time : 5:00pm - 7:00pm

For The Love of Reading : Hippocampus Reading Foundation

Via Forbes India

The Malhotras were a typical IT couple and had just moved back to Bangalore in 1999 with their four-year-old son Tarutr, after nearly eight years at Infosys in California. But little Tarutr was bored. What he and his mother missed the most was a good library. Vimala says, “We used to go to the library for my son, and it had so many activities; back in India, the lack of a good library where children could have their space, where no one tells them to keep quiet, and it is their hangout zone was lacking.”

That got her thinking about setting up a library.

Meanwhile, Umesh Malhotra had started an IT company of his own, called Bangalore Labs, along with four other promoters. But he too was soon weary of it and sold his stake in 2002. After he quit, there were many job offers but this time he wanted to make sure he was heading in the right direction.

“I waited nine months. I thought, let me think through what I want to do in life. My wife wanted to start a library and I said okay, I think I can be the project manager, and that began in March, 2003.”

Their brainchild was called Hippocampus, named after the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. It was set up in Koramangala, Bangalore.

Hippocampus is not just a library. It is, as Vimala imagined it, a kids’ hangout zone. Children can sit in corners reading a book; they can sign up for various activities like painting, aero modelling, carpentry or sign up for a science club. In fact, it is these activities that engage the child’s interest that has made the library a success.

Umesh Malhotra wanted to do more. “We created a great space for urban kids, but what is happening in the slums of Bangalore?” he says.

He started meeting government schools and development sector workers to understand why they did not have or even think of having a library. “In many ways I started advocating it.”

His initial response though, was to give money to people to help buy books and run libraries in the slums. Big mistake!

“The two or three people we had given money to, their libraries never worked because they were always giving us excuses, ‘you know children are not interested; I can’t find someone to run a library’, and I thought, come on, I just spent Rs. 40,000 on a library and you are giving me these excuses,” says Malhotra.

He knew he could not do this on his own, and he knew the model had to be tested. What worked for a city library may not work for a government school library. For one, reading abilities were different and an English books-based library may not work. So he partnered with the Akshara Foundation, which was internally discussing the same issue: The need for libraries in government schools.

In their trial-and-error testing period between 2004 and 2006, they built 52 libraries around Bangalore. And in the process, found a model that could work for government schools.

This model has three arms: Hippocampus, the parent library, runs for profit; Hippocampus Reading Foundation (HRF) focusses on government schools in cities and the rural areas; and a Book Council sorts through content from various publishers and drafts catalogues for urban poor, and rural children.

HRF sets up libraries by partnering with local NGOs, who finance and maintain these libraries.

For Hippocampus, the Malhotras had gone through a list of 20,000 titles to choose 3,000 which they ordered from the US. But for HRF, they needed to localise the content.

The books are matched to the children’s reading levels which are graded under a colour coding system called GROW BY Reading (GBR). The acronym GROW BY stands for green, red, orange, white, blue, and yellow — green is the lowest level and yellow the highest. GBR also creates activities around the books that take the children beyond the content in the book. For example, they make animal masks based on a book they read on animals or discuss issues raised in the books.

In the urban poor areas, these libraries are already making a difference. Children’s reading levels are up between 30 and 70 percent.

Now, Malhotra wants to expand the library network to rural areas.
Read the entire article here.

Back to A, B, C... for Gulbarga SSLC students

Via Deccan Herald

After racking their brains on a strategy to improve the abysmal results of SSLC examination in the district, managers of secondary education in Gulbarga division have finally found the answer: teaching alphabets to high school students!

The alphabet and formation of words and sentences would be taught both in Kannada and English to students from VIII to X standard during the current academic year.

Teachers in both government and aided private schools have been asked to conduct a few special classes every day to make the students ‘literate’ and enhance their learning skills. Students will also be taught the tables to make them efficient in mathematics.
According to Additional Commissioner of Public Instructions Syed Abdul Rub, about 25 per cent students in high schools in the districts of the Commissionerate don’t know reading and writing. Students not able to read and write in the three classes of high school will be identified and clubbed together to impart rudimentary education.

The government policy not to fail any student in primary classes is said to be the primary reason for students remaining ignorant even after coming to high school. Schemes such as Chinnara Angala, Nali Kali, etc. launched to enhance learning ability do not seem to have delivered the desired results. Even opening a separate Directorate/Commissionerate exclusively for the region a decade ago has made no impact on the SSLC results that continue to be abysmally low.

To arrest the absenteeism among students, each teacher has been directed to adopt three to 10 frequently absent students and their responsibility will be to make them attend classes using persuasive skills. The Administrative Training Institute, Mysore, has been roped in to train teachers to bring in qualitative changes in teaching. The ATI is spending Rs 10,000 on each government school which have registered poor results under the Backward Region Area Development Fund. Headmasters of schools have been made accountable by constantly interacting with teachers and students. Teachers are asked to use teaching aids.

Rub said 20 model question papers have been drafted for each subject to conduct periodical tests by releasing questions four days in advance. By the time the syllabus is completed by December, all the model question papers would have been tried out. Rub would be interacting with 10 headmasters and 10 students every day and his officers would be in touch with 330 HMs and as many students every day to ensure that the reforms are implemented in letter and spirit.
Read the entire article here.

Symposium on Education in Rural India

The IIT Madras Symposium is an annually held conference that, to put it simply, aims to introduce and excite students about current pressing problems that Indian society faces and how its solutions might be approached, in a multi-disciplinary and holistic fashion. Last year, the Symposium brought together 50 of the brightest minds across the country; from engineering, arts, and humanities backgrounds; to explore issues such as urban planning, finance and energy under the theme of sustainable development.

This year, the Symposium looks to tackle the multi-faceted theme of Education in Rural India. We believe that rural education is critical to the progress of a country like India. Improvements in rural education will cascade into practically everything else - unemployment, poverty, and health and nutrition for instance. The Symposium hopes to explore different angles to the issue such as the curriculum and infrastructure, lack of skilled teachers, and the use of technology.

The Symposium also aims to make a lasting difference by creating a viable solution which it then aims to use as a case study to further the authority and prove the feasibility of the proposed solution. The team will propose policy recommendations and critique existing policy. Further, the team will propose and implement a technology based intervention to solve the issue.

Given the magnitude of the proposal, the team is to be composed of highly motivated and brilliant people. Participants will have a unique opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary problem, while at the same time working with skilled people from different fields to create a tangible solution to a real life problem.


Participants will be shortlisted on the basis of a written preliminary round and their curricula vitae. The top entry in the preliminary round will receive up front prize money of Rs. 5000.

Selected participants will work collaboratively through internet based tools and software. At the end of six weeks, a series of meetings will be organized across the country to further the team's progress and ensure that all participants have adequate opportunities to contribute as much as they can to the team.

At the Symposium

The team will explore the issue at hand through various field visits, and interaction between the team and experts in the field of education and rural development. Participants will have opportunities to work with various individuals and organizations to further their work. In addition, participants will also have select internship opportunities. We hope that the IIT Madras Symposium will gain significant experience in using technology to solve administrative and governance issues.

Of course, the end of the Symposium will be marked by the End of Symposium Party. The contributions of the participants will be rewarded with total prize money of Rs. 150,000. Work done at the IIT Madras Symposium will be compiled into a policy document and a comprehensive report that will be distributed to the participants, governmental organizations, and various other organizations working in the field.

Read more here.

The schedule is as follows:

  • 15th August 2010 - Deadline for participant entries
  • 29th August 2010 - Regional meetings.
  • 29th September 2010 - IIT Madras Symposium at Shaastra 2010

(Thanks Chintan for sending us an email about this event.)

Creating DC Superheroes : The Ultimate Popup Book

Matthew Reinhart, paper engineer behind the DC Superheroes: The Ultimate Popup Book, discusses creating favorite DC superheroes out of paper.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Books Reach Indonesia .. and a Library in Dharamshala

We have a few rituals that we follow at Pratham Books.

Ritual #1 : If anyone goes out of town, they must come back with sweets or some goodies. Anything..but something!

Ritual #2: If anyone is going out of town on holiday, they should try carrying a few books to distribute to kids they may meet on their holiday.

These rituals are not written in a Pratham books rulebook, but they surely are rules/rituals that everyone follows rather happily :).

Last month was no different when I decided to take off on a holiday to Bali and then had to attend a workshop in Dharamshala.

The first recipient of our books was Mr.Gusti - our courteous and pleasant cab driver. Amidst teaching Gusti English in exchange for Bahasa language lessons, we realized that there are so many words in Bahasa that are quite similar to Hindi. While meandering through the streets of Ubud, one will almost always chance upon a big religious procession parading down the street. While driving us around to see quaint and beautiful temples, giving us a good deal on a volcanic trek and teaching us a lot about Balinese culture, we even got to meet Gusti's family for a brief time. After spending the entire day in Gusti's company, there was no doubt that his 5 year old son was going to get a few books from us. Just as Gusti dropped us off at our homestay, we ran in and fetched the books we wanted to gift his son. His son was going to meet Sringeri Srinivas (Yes, the same cute man from our books Annual Haircut Day and Too Many Bananas). What was more exciting was that Too Many Bananas mentions a puja too...and I was sure that the kid would be able to draw a parallel with the religious ceremonies that one sees so often in Bali. I happened to bump into Gusti the next day and he mentioned that when he reached home the previous night, there was no electricity, but his son really wanted to read the books. So, they both lit a candle and read the books by the candlelight..the son reading to his father. As much as his son loved the books, Gusti seemed to love them too! Yayyyy!

The second recipient of our books was a 7 year old girl called Putri. After watching a traditional shadow puppet performance, my friend and I set out to find a place that could serve us dinner. Surprisingly at 9.30pm, the town of Ubud was almost shut. As we walked down the lane, every restaurant seemed to be shut. Finally, we came to a restaurant which was almost shutting down and we stepped in to see if they would serve us some food. Thankfully, they decided to feed us with some delicious Mei Goreng. Being the last customers there, the manager and waitresses started chatting with us. Everyone gets so excited when you say you are from India and wants to utter the few hindi words they know (Nahi nahi..and Acha acha). And suddenly the 7 year old girl bursts into a song - Kuch kuch hota haiiiiiii. Her grandfather appears from somewhere and starts singing a Balinese song and Putri and her sister try to do a Balinese dance. It almost felt like we were part of their family and the kids were showing off some new dance moves they had learnt from their dance class. The next day, just as we were leaving Ubud, we stopped by the restaurant and gave Putri a few books (one of them being Yakity Yak..which truly reminds me of her :)). Putri's expression was priceless when she held the books and jumped with joy and ran inside to show them to her mother.

When I was leaving for Dharamshala, I took a few copies of the book Chuskit Goes to School since the main protagonist is a Tibetan girl. (Mcleod Ganj, a village within Dharamshala municipality, is the home of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government -via wikipedia). Initially I had thought that I would donate the books to the Tibetan Children's Village, but when I heard about the Dharamshala Community Library, the books were then donated to the library. Apart from our books, I also spotted the wonderful books by Lama Mani books at the library. Read this article about the Dharamshala Community library to learn more about the project. The librarian(Pema Tso) told me that when Tenzin Tsundue (activist/poet) saw the Chuskit book in the library, he exclaimed, 'Wow, these are such nice illustrations!' and later when I bumped into Tsundue on the road, he mentioned seeing the books and that the quality of the books was great! So yayyyyy again!

If you have a story of how you have spread the joy of reading amongst children (with our books or other books), do send us a mail at web(at)prathambooks(dot)org.

Also read:
Our Books Reach Cambodia
Pratham Books Reaches Nepal Through the OLPC Project
Pratham Books Reach Pennsylvania

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Last official post sitting in office and type typing away

Today is my last official working day at Pratham Books. Before I leave, I want to thank everyone here. Thanks to the Pratham Books team, I got to try my hand at different things had loads of fun along the way! So what did I learn during my two months here (apart from internship things)?

  • When Arathi says “5 minutes” when we call her for lunch, it could mean anything from 5 minutes to 1 hour.
  • If you come to the Pratham Books office, you had better bring goodies. Compulsory if you work here, not so compulsory but still appreciated if you are just visiting.
  • The chai-walla speaks Tamil. There is no need to struggle to come up with grammatically wrong Hindi sentences to convey what you want because he doesn't understand Hindi anyway.
  •  If you want to intern at Pratham Books, come in June – July. This way, you’ll be able to celebrate one wedding anniversary AND one birthday. Spend August here and you can add three more birthdays (read cakes) to the list.
  •  Maya and Arathi deserve a special blog/website JUST for their lunches. Arathi’s green rice and sambhar rice, Maya’s mom’s vegetables... YUM!
  •  Blogger doesn’t like me. EVEN if I type everything out painstakingly, and edit it some 4 times, Maya will still have to come and set it right. L   
  • If you are going to Mumbai, please take BK along. Desperately in need of a haircut (and won’t get one anywhere else).
  • Maya and BK give Yakity Yak a complex :D 
  • There is an ongoing competition between Puttu's ringtone and Murali's. Hard to say which one everybody wants to change first!
Thank you, Pratham Books (Mala in particular) for having me here! Hope to see you soon! 

Image Source: Maya 

The Katha Chitrakala Workshop for Writers and Illustrators!

Via an email sent by @induviduality

Katha invites writers and illustrators for The Katha Chitrakala Workshop from the 9th to 11th of August, 2010, at India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Road. The three-day workshop aims at providing a common platform for word and image storytellers for creative dialogue, to explore new kinds of art in Indian children’s literature, ways of seeing from a child’s eye, share best practices and learn from each other’s experiences. With editorial and design inputs from Katha, and distinguished experts in the field, the workshop will help illustrators and writers to excite and engage a child reader visually and otherwise, and, we hope, be the first step in the creation of storybooks that we all want our children to read.

Date – 9th—11th August, 2010
Venue – India Islamic Cultural Centre, 87-88, Lodhi Road, New Delhi -110 003
Registration Fees – Rs. 3000/- Student discount – 40%
For registrations, contact Mamta – 011-41416621, or email –,

Anyone with a genuine interest and passion for illustration and children’s storybooks can participate.

Pass it on :)

THIS is what kids of today need! :)

This video is via The Foundation for a Better Life, which is a not-for-profit organisation.

Cooked Books - Real Food From Fictional Recipes :P


This is an article I chanced upon on one of my timepass reads, which I found absolutely fascinating. Dedicated to Gautam, the resident foodie :D

Recently, there was an exchange in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement about the presence, and the propriety, of recipes in novels, and we intend to settle the questions that have arisen there in the American way, right now, and for good. There are four kinds of food in books: food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.
Most books that have food in them, including the classic nineteenth-century novels, have the first kind of food. In one Trollope novel after another, three meals a day, the parsons and politicians eat chops or steaks or mutton, but the dishes are essentially interchangeable, mere stops on the ribbon of narrative, signs of life and social transactions rather than specific pleasures: “Mr. Peregrine greatly enjoyed his chop” or “For Dr. Patterson, even the usual satisfaction he took in his beefsteak and porter was somewhat diminished by this thought”—such food provides space for a moment of reflection. The dishes are the Styrofoam peanuts in the packaging of classic narrative. There are moments in Trollope when what a character drinks matters—claret good or bad, porter or port—but his food is, in every sense, at the service of his story.
Next come the writers who dish up very particular food to their characters to show who they are. Proust is this kind of writer, and Henry James is, too. Proust seems so full of food—crushed strawberries and madeleines, tisanes and champagne—that entire recipe books have been extracted from his texts. But he’s not a greedy writer; that his people are eating lobster or veal matters to how they feel about who they are, but we are not meant to leave the page hungry. Proust will say that someone is eating a meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise, but he seldom says that the character had a delicious meal of gigot with sauce béarnaise—although he will extend his adjectives to the weather, or the view. He uses food as a sign of something else. (It’s what social novelists, even mystically minded ones, always do: J. D. Salinger doesn’t like food, either, but the fact that his characters are eating snails or Swiss-cheese sandwiches tells so much about them that it must be noted, and felt, like every other detail.)
Then, there are writers who are so greedy that they go on at length about the things their characters are eating, or are about to eat—serving it in front of us and then snatching it from our mouths. Ian Fleming is obsessed with food; gluttony, even more than lust, is the electric current of his hero’s adventures. Newcomers to James Bond, imagining him to be the roughneck he has once again become in movies, will be startled to see how much time Bond spends, in “Casino Royale” and the other early Bonds, giving advice to his girls and his spy superiors on what to eat, with the author hovering over his shoulder as he examines the menu: the problem with caviar, Bond announces, is getting enough toast (not true); English cooking is the best in the world when it’s good (certainly not true then); and rosé champagne goes perfectly with stone crabs (very true). His creator, one feels as the excitement builds, is not just itemizing the food, waiter-like, but actually sitting at the table and sharing it with him.
And then there are writers, ever more numerous, who present on the page not just the result but the whole process—not just what people eat but how they make it, exactly how much garlic is chopped, and how, and when it is placed in the pan. Sometimes entire recipes are included in the text, a practice that links Kurt Vonnegut’s “Deadeye Dick” to Nora Ephron’s “Heartburn,” novels about the inadvertent mayhem that a man can inflict on a woman; in “Heartburn,” the recipes serve both as a joke about what a food writer writing a novel would write and as a joke on novel-writing itself by someone who anticipates that she will not be treated as a “real” novelist.
These days, we have long cooking sequences in Ian McEwan; endless recipes in James Hamilton-Paterson; menus analyzed at length in John Lanchester; and detailed culinary scenes involving Robert B. Parker’s bruiser of a detective, Spenser. Cooking is to our literature what sex was to the writing of the sixties and seventies, the thing worth stopping the story for to share, so to speak, with the reader.
Not long ago, I attempted to mimic some cooking as it is done in a number of relatively recent novels. I began, foolishly, with several recipes from Günter Grass’s Nobel Prize-provoking “The Flounder,” the epic allegory of German history told through the endlessly repeated parable of an evil fish, a gullible man, a virtuous woman, and a lot of potatoes. The talking Flounder, being both the evil daemon and the central consciousness of the piece, has a natural class interest in flounder’s not being eaten, so there is a shortage of fish recipes in “The Flounder.” (I was tempted by a detailed description of how to make stewed tripe, but who in my gang would eat stewed tripe?) There is one nice moment, though, when the eternal talking Flounder, who “knew all the recipes that had been used for cooking his fellows,” mentions simmering the fish with white wine and capers. Well, from his mouth to our plate: I did just that, with a nice fillet from Citarella, and, as suggested, added some sorrel. Then, learning in a later section what could be done with potatoes and mustard—the potato, with its false promise of cheap nutrition for all, is, I suppose, meant to represent the false hope of the Enlightenment in Germany, but the mustard surely could represent the saving genius of the Bavarian rococo—I made a gratin with mustard to accompany it. It was fine, though it reminded me of why it is that, at a moment when Spanish cooking is everywhere sanctified and even English cooking, for the first time, canonized, not many people are making a case that German cooking is much more than fish and potatoes and sauerbraten. Eating Günter Grass’s flounder was actually like reading one of his novels: nutritious, but a little pale and starchy.

Okay, am off! Time for lunch!

Image Source: smh

Mila's Daydreams

Mila's Daydreams is a blog run by Adele Enersen.

This is my maternity leave hobby. While my baby is taking her nap, I try to imagine her dream and capture it.



Oh What a Circus!

Cute..cute...cute. Click here to get a dose of more cuteness.

Image Source

Another response to Karadi's question :)

The most adorable ad, to promote reading. By Indigo, Love of Reading Foundation

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

India's Lukewarm Response to Ebooks

Via Business Standard
Globally, on, the sales of ebooks may have outstripped the sales of hardcover books over the past three months. However, this does not appear to be the case in India.
Amazon’s Kindle, for instance, was launched in India in October last year. It was priced at around Rs 18,000. Yet, say analysts and industry sources, Amazon has not managed to sell more than 2,000 units in country.
“In India, I dont see ebooks finding a mass uptake before five years. While enthusiasts are buying ebooks on their devices, it has not yet reached the scale to send publishers running to convert physical copies into digital formats,” says V K Karthika, publisher and chief editor, Harper Collins (India).
“Kindle users are limited to ebooks (books in a digital form that can be read on devices like the Kindle or iPad) and similar multimedia content available from the Amazon store. This not only hinders user uptake but also limits distribution,” concurs Vishal Mehta, CEO and founder of, which has launched its own version of an ereader at Rs 9,999. Mehta, who claims to have sold “several thousand” Pi ereaders, adds the market in India for such devices is estimated to be around 50,000 units annually.
“That (the rise in numbers) doesn’t have to mean that revenues have increased,” reasons Mehta, who is already seeing ebooks sales contribute up to five per cent of total sales on The entertainment retailer has announced that for every 100 hardcover books sold on in the last month, it has sold 180 ebooks for its Kindle ebook reader.
Alok Kejriwal, CEO and co-founder, Games2win, agrees. He says: “As far as the ebook impact on India goes, it seems insignificant because the hardware (the iPad costs more than Rs 30,000 if sourced from outside of India) and also the biggest problem is lack of availability of wi-fi.”
Read the entire article here.
Image Source : Tom Raftery

Saving a Language Online

Via DNA (via @induviduality)

A script gives a language some kind of permanence in a predominantly oral culture. Spoken languages are freer, more fluid. They thrive in the air, but also depend on the living to stay alive. Konkani is one such language. Essentially colloquial, it is spoken across dinner tables, in fish markets and community courtyards in and around Mangalore, Karnataka.

It is therefore volatile, or in other words, susceptible to disappearing in thin air. One way to save it from such an eventuality is to document the language in a scientific manner, as it exists in its present form, and also to map its evolution. Roshan Pai Ramesh, a UK- based IT consultant, is doing exactly that through an online Konkani Dictionary Project at, a website he started in 2005. Ramesh’s inspiration was the revival of the dying Welsh language that was brought back into the mainstream through the adoption of scientific methodologies and addressing social aspects of the language.

“The Konkani dialect is not in official use anywhere in India. It evolves in the microcosm of each and every household that speaks it,” says Ramesh, who is also the chief editor of, a website that is dedicated to the Konkani language. Till date, it has documented more than 6,000 words.

The project is entirely volunteer-driven, where people contribute a word and its English meaning. There is strong gate-keeping; the submissions can make it to the final dictionary only after it has been reviewed, catalogued and semantically categorised by language experts. About 60-80 per cent of the words received do not make the cut. To avoid duplication, 60 volunteers from India, Dubai, USA and UK, among others, collaborate on email and spreadsheets “targeting specific topics.” A topic is basically a semantic category, say, ‘vegetables’ or ‘kitchen’. The volunteers go category by category, submitting Konkani names for vegetables or kitchen utensils.

The diverse profile of volunteers —bankers, homemakers, IT consultants, entrepreneurs, people in their 20s to those in their 50s — ensures that the evolution of the language is also reflected in the dictionary.

Read the entire article here.

To read or not to read...

While reading about Enid Blyton's Famous Five getting a makeover, I came across this very interesting blog post, Are Some Children's Classics Unsuitable for Kids? More interesting than the blog itself were the responses that it received. I am currently re-reading E. Nesbit's The Railway Children. When I first read it I took the story at face value. Now, when I read it again, I am both skeptical and cynical, something I would have never thought of being when I was younger... For me, the Author was God, and whatever they said was final. Maybe that's why I like Kavitha Rao's approach, questioning and understanding books at different levels.

My nine-year-old daughter loves to read. And unusually, she loves to read classic children's literature. This should make me both happy and smug. And mostly it does. But it also makes for all kinds of dilemmas.
When she was about eight, we read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was immersed in the bucolic delights of pioneer life, when suddenly she was catapulted into the world of a bigot. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian," is repeated several times by various characters, as the book goes on to describe Indians as "wild", "terrible", "savage warriors" and "screaming devils". Then Charles Ingalls, Laura's father, says, "When the white settlers come into a country, the Indians have to move on. White people are going to settle all this country." " Why do the Indians have to move when they were there first?" asked my daughter. I began to talk about how the world of the 19th-century settler was very different from ours. But eight-year-olds see the world in black and white. "I hate Laura's family!" yelled my daughter. And that was that for Little House on the Prairie, for another year at least.

There are many children's classics that I devoured as a child, but on rereading them I discover knobbly bits that stick in my craw. Like The Secret Garden, where the heroine Mary, newly arrived from India, is outraged at being mistaken for "a black". "You thought I was a native! They are not people – they are servants who must salaam to you," she sputters. Or the blithe stereotypes of Enid Blyton in her admittedly addictive St Clare series (let's not even talk about Noddy) where French spitfire Claudine displays a variety of "un-English" behaviour such as cheating and fibbing. In the end, Claudine declares, "the English sense of honour is a fine thing". As my daughter happily gobbles Blytons like cookies, I wonder how to explain away old Enid's consistent portrayal of Gypsies as thieving, rascally, child-thumping varmints. Tintin was a beloved part of my childhood, but after reading about the revolting Tintin in the Congo (African women bowing and intoning "White master is very great!") I will never feel quite the same again.

I have to wonder what message I am sending my daughter, especially since as an Indian Hindu girl she might once have been that "savage" or "heathen". There are those who argue that racist authors were just a product of less enlightened times. "That's just the way people were back then," they say, pointing out that Wilder, and others of her ilk, were far less racist than many of their time. I don't disagree, but not talking about why things were the way they were seems foolish.

Most people I know just ignore the racism, as my parents did. Many are just thankful that their kids are reading. That's certainly the easier way out, but I'd like my daughter to read the classics critically. Particularly because in India – where we currently live – many classics are prescribed as school textbooks and therefore accepted as near gospel truth. As I read with her, I constantly tell her, "That's the way people were back then, but that doesn't make it right." I'd like her to enjoy the sublime prose of Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard while challenging their covert, and sometimes overt, imperialism.

Of course, there is such a thing as looking too hard for racism, and that way madness most certainly lies. I didn't get the memo, but apparently the Chronicles of Narnia, Babar and even Peter Pan are all racist now. The list of banned books that offend someone or something is ever growing. I don't want my daughter feverishly scrutinising books for things to be offended by, and I would never support a ban on any book. I want her to hate the prejudice, not the author.
I could simply focus on reading modern children's literature, replete with Asian heroines and positive role models. But I think the classics, even the dodgy ones, have lessons to teach modern children. Currently, we are reading a simplified version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and talking about why she can't use the "N" word. "But Mark Twain uses it," she says. "Was he a racist?" "Why don't you tell me when you have read it?" I suggest. And she does. We begin talking about slavery and end up talking about Barack Obama. Finally, we reach the conclusion that yes, we shouldn't use the N word, but no, Twain was not a racist. This is not a conversation that I can imagine myself having while reading Harry Potter.

And yes, we have returned to the Little House series. Thanks to Wilder, my daughter now knows about the plight of the American Indian. "I think Laura wasn't a very nice person, but we should read her books anyway because she's a very good author," she says. Exactly.

Here are some comments this blog post received:

Billy Mills: So, your daughter learned an interesting thing about fiction; that it reflects the world in ways that are often different to our own viewpoint, and that this includes things that are not pleasant. Now, you can choose to "protect" her from such disturbing idea or you can trust her to question what she's reading on the basis of whatever values you share with her. From the sound of that last paragraph above, you, and she, are doing a decent job and she is turning into a sophisticated reader. I know any number of PhD's who seem to believe that authors whose ideas do not conform to our modern ideas of "acceptable" should be excised from the history books.

Craig Butler: Looking at simple writing works you can see negative stories put in a good light in children's fairy tales. Reading a collection of children's bed time stories to my 3 and 5 year old, we come across Jack and the Beanstalk. No matter what version you come across it is the story of theft and finally murder. Whilst I don't go into the full depths of explaining murder we do discuss how stealing is bad and that Jack really isn't being very nice. I think the key is that regardless of the story the benefit comes in communicating with your children and guiding their development so that they can take the right messages out of any piece of literature.
If you've got a message that you want you kids to hear you can always write your own stories. I've written a couple for my kids that have the message to stay away from snakes and to stay in one spot if lost in the bush. A local printer will make it look like a real book. The kids love them because usually they are in them, I get to impart the message I want, and they will have familiar text as their reading skill progresses to reading the classics. If you try you're luck with a publisher you may get to sell your Safety in the Bush message or what ever message you want to teach to a whole lot more people than just your family. I did. Follow the link to see.

Denzil Dragon: It's not just racism that's a problem with the classics. What do you do if you also don't want your children to read books with sexism, religion, animal cruelty or homophobia (admittedly not that common in children's books, though some of them are quite derogatory about, for example, 'pansies')? Then there's the whole monarchy and class issue. And things like corporal punishment. There's really little choice but to let your children read them all & then discuss the issues with them later. (Unless you're willing to write all of your children's books, & personally I'd like my kids exposed to a few more ideas than just mine!)

KatyEB: Oh for heaven's sake. Or is 'heaven' a dirty word now too? OMG, people used to think differently from how we think!
And how anyone can possibly say that Laura Ingalls Wilder "wasn't a very nice person" because her MOTHER had a prejudice - a prejudice that's never presented as anything BUT that, in a scenario where actually life was dangerous for the white settlers - is beyond me. Laura Ingalls Wilder did something really remarkable and admirable: she described (60 years after the fact) her childhood life as it had been, warts and all, in a world that had, by the time she wrote in, disappeared. She looked unflinchingly so that children could understand. She was a kind of hero, in fact.
Kavitha, do you not want your daughter to know everything and have the tools for seeing things as they are? Or do you just want her to swallow whatever you tell her and look down on everything else?
There is, as well as historical trend, such a thing as CHARACTER, you know! The Secret Garden is about a deeply unhappy - and mean - girl who loses her snobbery and prejudice as the book goes on, and becomes both happy and nice. In FACT, it contains exactly the sort of lesson you are aiming to teach your kid! Or were you too prejudiced by one sentence to be able to see that?
Sorry, but all this mealy-mouthed smug I'm-so-greatness just makes me tired. And yes, I'm a liberal. I'm just the kind who gives their kids information - I trust my kids' moral compasses, and so far they have never let me down. As Kulturtrager says, you can teach kids thew facts without purveying bad old ideas. And you can certainly teach them a bit more tolerance for people who aren't just like you.

To read the rest of the comments, click here.

"The Famous Five" Makeover

Maya already tweeted about this yesterday, but this debate in 'The Guardian' was just too much fun to not put up. Well, not a debate exactly, but conflicting yet interesting points of view, nevertheless... 

Farewell to the awful swotters, dirty tinkers and jolly japes: Enid Blyton's language is being dragged out of the 1940s by her publisher in an attempt to give her books greater appeal for today's children.
Starting next month with 10 Famous Five novels, Hodder is "sensitively and carefully" revising Blyton's text after research with children and parents showed that the author's old-fashioned language and dated expressions were preventing young readers from enjoying the stories. The narrative of the novels will remain the same, but expressions such as "mercy me!" have been changed to "oh no!", "fellow" to "old man" and "it's all very peculiar" to "it's all very strange".
The intention, said Hodder, is to make the text "timeless" rather than 21st century, with no modern slang – or references to mobile phones – introduced.
"The actual stories remain the same – there's no change to the plot whatsoever," said Anne McNeil, publishing director of Hodder Children's Books. "Children who read [the Famous Five books] need to be able to easily understand the characterisations and easily to get into the plots. If the text is revised [they're] more likely to be able to engage with them."
Other changes include "housemistress" becoming "teacher", "awful swotter" becoming "bookworm", "mother and father" becoming "mum and dad", "school tunic" becoming "uniform" and Dick's comment that "she must be jolly lonely all by herself" being changed to "she must get lonely all by herself".
McNeil said references to a "tinker" have also been changed to "traveller". "Enid Blyton wouldn't have meant that ['tinker'] pejoratively. It's a description of a person, in order to place the character. So 'dirty tinker' has become traveller."
Blyton, said Hodder, was a "passionate" advocate of child literacy and would stress the importance of children relating to her characters, especially through their dialogue. The author criticised the books that she used to read as a child herself, saying: "There was no lively conversation, telling exactly what the speakers were like, just as a conversation does in real life".
Hodder will publish 10 contemporary Famous Five books in August, starting with Five on a Treasure Island, originally published in 1942, in which siblings Julian, Dick and Anne first spend the summer with their tomboy cousin George (Georgina, by rights) and her dog Timmy, and hunt for treasure on Kirrin island. It will bring out the rest of the titles over the next seven months, and McNeil said that if research pointed towards the need to update further Blyton titles "we would respond [to that]".
Tony Summerfield, who runs the Enid Blyton Society, said he was "thoroughly against unnecessary changes just for the sake of it, from adults who underestimate the intelligence of children".
He added: "I am in approval of changing language which has perhaps become offensive or has different meanings, or any racist references," he said. "And certain words such as 'gay' or 'queer' obviously have different meanings nowadays and it's fair enough to change them. But changes for the sake of them, I disapprove of."
Summerfield had heard Hodder would change the name of the circus boy, Nobby, in Five Go Off in a Caravan, to Ned, which struck him "as very strange". "How can you change Nobby to Ned and yet leave Dick and Fanny? It doesn't make sense.
"Why does Blyton have to be so heavily altered when other authors from the same era aren't changed at all? No one's going to change E Nesbit's Railway Children ... Children can appreciate these books were written in a different time."
McNeil pointed out that Hodder would continue to release the classic editions of the Famous Five books, with unchanged text and Eileen Soper's original illustrations. She admitted she wasn't sure how older Blyton readers would react to the contemporary editions. "I've read the Famous Five over many years and people hold it in such affection," she said.
"It's unusual to have a writer like this, who appeals to such a volume of children, generation after generation. Some people won't like the fact that revisions have been made – but the classic editions are still available."
Bestselling children's author Andy Briggs, who is writing a children's series bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan into the 21st century, approved of the changes. "It's an unfortunate necessity," he said. "The classic books we were brought up on – the Famous Five, Tarzan, Sherlock Homes – need to be updated. Language just changes, it evolves, and the problem is if we don't evolve with it, then the new generation of kids is not going to have anything to relate to. When these books were published, 'jeepers' and 'golly gosh' was modern slang. It makes perfect sense to update the language."
The recent Sherlock Holmes film, starring Robert Downey Jr, worked "because it was updated," said Briggs. "If literature doesn't follow in that path then these books will fall out of print – children won't read them and they will be lost."
Although Blyton died in 1968, she remains one of the most popular children's authors. Hodder sells more than half a million copies of the Famous Five books a year, while Blyton has sold more than 500m books and still features in the top 10 of most borrowed children's authors from public libraries. 

Image Source: FAB Radio

Tulika's iPad Apps and Other Goodies

Our friends from Fliplog have more surprises for your kiddies. After creating a few iPad applications with our books, they've gone on to create wonderful iPad/iPhone applications for Tulika Books too.
Ekki Dokki is a bilingual book in Hindi and English. It is based on an endearing Marathi folktale about two sisters. Ekkesvali has one hair on her head; Dhonkesvali has two and thinks she’s great. What happens to them when they meet an old woman who lives alone in a clearing right in the middle of the forest? This folktale takes on a special joyousness with Ranjan De's stylised representations, full of interesting details.
Thanks to a conference I attended recently, I managed to see this book on Brij's (from Fliplog) iPad. And it was awesome! What was interesting was the 'bilingual page-by-page audio flip'. The audio recorded by Tulika Books is fantastic too.

Other features of this application include :

- Switch between Hindi and English from any page using animation transition.
- Comes with read-along recordings in two languages(English and Hindi).
- Record your own voice for read-along.
- Playback in your own voice or pre-recorded voice. Switch at any time.
- Dual mode page flip - swipe for older readers and flip help for younger readers.
- Jump to any page using page gallery.
- Auto flip automatically turns to next page when playback for the page finishes.

You can check out this application here. You can also learn more about Fliplog, join them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter by clicking on the above links.

While we are on the topic of Tulika Books, have you seen the wonderful merchandise they are selling in collaboration with Fab India? Drool...drool..drool....Take a look if you don't believe us (here and here).

Ghummakkad Narain - The Travelling Children's Literature Festival

Pratham Books is delighted to be a partner in the UNESCO initiative on the promotion of reading through the Donate a Book campaign. Since Pratham Books' inception is linked to the READ INDIA campaign pioneered by Pratham and its mission is "A Book In Every Child's Hand", there is a definite synergy in joining hands to reach the largest number of children and spread the joy of reading. Both organisations believe that it is the right of all children to have access to good books and this enriches their educational journey as well as their lives beyond school.

The Ghummakkad Narain festival is being organised by the NGO’s Nivesh and Himalayan Hub for Art and Cultural Heritage (HHACH) under the aegis of the UNESCO New Delhi Office.

THE CONCEPT: Ghummakkad Narain‐ Narain is an elderly gentleman who is extremely fond of books and travels around reading them out to children. He is fun to be with as he makes reading a whole lot of fun. He is a store house of knowledge and has a unique way of sharing it – in the form of stories. He’s loved by both children and the elderly, wherever he goes. His stories sometimes even attract animals that follow him around listening to his stories......

THE INITIATIVE: Books are extremely important tools of providing knowledge, transmitting information and introducing us to unknown worlds, enhancing our understanding of the world. In addition books play a meaningful role as psychological and emotional balances and vents that help people overcome trauma caused by a disaster and help them face challenges and look at them rationally through reading. Reading can be escape into worlds of one’s choice or an emotional cushion seeing us through tough times, bringing us back to regular everyday life. Books cannot be isolated from reading, and reading habits can be inculcated only in those who have the opportunity to read and have an access to books and reading. It is therefore our binding obligation to facilitate the collection of reading material and to bring books to those who do not have access to libraries or the privilege of owning books. Books are for everyone and we would want every child to have access to books and reading through schools or community libraries. What matters is that each book must be read and enjoyed. It is with this purpose that we bring this festival to our children to bring them closer to books and to reading. To stimulate their imagination and foster their development by helping them understand themselves better. To make books their best friends for life. Our motive is to not just educate children but to retain their interest in studies through reading and sharing so as to make them thinkers and individuals of tomorrow.

For registration and queries contact,

The festival will take place every Saturday from 30 July 2010 to 29 September 2010 at The Heritage School, New Road, Dehra Dun

Catch our author Bharti Jagannathan at the Read Aloud session of Samira's Awful Lunch and Samira Goes Shopping on Saturday, 31 July 2010 at 10.30am.

The schedule for the festival is given below (please click on the images for a larger view)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Anyone Can Write - A Writing Initiative for Children

Via Anyone Can Write - A Writing Initiative for Children

Ms. Dheera Kitchlu, a noted children's author has recently launched an initiative called ‘Anyone can Write.' This encourages children to fully explore their creative potential through the medium of writing, with a view to being published.

All children interested in writing can send in their pieces to her at

Entries for the first session will be accepted between April 1 and August 31, 2010. She will help each child create original, individual work, through a one-on-one interaction. The final version will be published as a part of a compilation by young authors under the Serene Woods banner.

Ms. Dheera Kitchlu is an educationist, and a full-time writer and illustrator of books for children. She was Principal of Sophia Nursery School and then the Vice Principal of Sophia Polytechnic, both in Mumbai.

She has written and published five books for children, between the ages of 8 and 15. They are set in contemporary India, providing rich vignettes of daily life. Her first book was commissioned by the Indian Association for Promotion of Adoption and Child Welfare, and is a picture book to help adoptive parents explain the process to their children. She was also commissioned by the National Association for the Blind to write a collection of stories about blind women achievers.
Visit this page for more information.

You can also visit her blog at for writing tips.

Image Source : D Sharon Pruitt

French celebrate "Festival of Errors"

Whatever happened to "we learn from our mistakes" and "some mistakes are too much fun to make just once"? In schools, children are given little or no room to experiment, to make mistakes and learn in the process, and are expected to stick fast and reproduce what they already know. Though this article from The Guardian is based on students in France, I fear India's not too far behind. Let's just hope we don't have to "celebrate" being able to mistakes and can go ahead and make them normally!

Via The Guardian

In an attempt to counter this culture of “intellectual timorousness”, a group of academics from the country's elite institutions is hosting a festival in Paris this week with a rather unusual mission: its participants are being encouraged to make as many mistakes as possible.

“A large part of the French school system is based on the idée reçue that errors are negative, when in fact it is by this very process of learning ... that you make progress,” said Maelle Lenoir, of the Association Paris Montagne.

“The French system is founded on a strict learning of knowledge, rather than on creativity or innovation. And yet it was Einstein himself who said that ‘the only sure way to avoid making mistakes is to have no new ideas'.” Observers of the French school system, while praising certain key successes, have repeatedly highlighted the shortcomings of an educational process which is highly “top down” and results-driven, and which, they say, puts far more emphasis on having the right answer than the thought process by which a pupil might explore the question being asked.

“I'm a scientist. I had nothing to do with education. But then my six-year-old boy went to school and his teacher told me, ‘He's a nice kid, but he asks too many questions,'” said Francois Taddei, the author of an education report published last year for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

“This is the problem of the French system,” he added. “You are supposed to know the right answer. You are not supposed to express your own opinions or ask questions.”

One teacher who has attempted to rebel against the national model is Girolamo Ramunni, a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris, a higher education establishment specialising in science and industry.

Ramunni, an Italian who left school himself at the age of 14, says he tries to encourage his students to reject the pressure to always be right by, for example, giving them problems to solve "which could not be solved".

"At the beginning they don't want to take risks," he said. "But after a while you notice that they are becoming more creative.

"Once they've accepted that getting things wrong is not the end of the world, yes, they may come up with some crazy ideas, but they will have some good ones too."

Organisers of the self-declared "festival of errors", which began in the École Normale Supérieure in central Paris and continues until Saturday, hope to demonstrate to young participants the potential wonder of making mistakes through a series of science-based workshops.

Yesterday, Arthur, 12, explained that it was "difficult" to get questions wrong. "You're ashamed," he said.

Waiting for him was Isolde Serfaty, a parent who criticised the "competition and pressure to always do better" that French children face.

"They are marked right from primary school," she said, referring to the marks out of 20 used as measurements of achievement across France.

For Taddei, the problem is just a small part of a wider malaise which is leaving the national education system – which was born out of the revolutionary ideals of equality and fraternity – increasingly ill-equipped to help level out the injustices of modern society.
Read the full article here.
Image Source: anirudh seth

Why should kids read???

Our friends at Karadi Tales tweeted asking, Why Do You Think Children Should Read? We thought we'd ask around, and here's what we got. (The responses are from both people in our office, and from our friends outside via emails, messages and tweets.) In no particular order:

Divya - because it stimulates their imagination and transports them into far-away lands! It teaches them to a world where everything is hard reality- you don't want bricks in the wallyou can really do something only when you dream of it

Makepeace - besides increasing their vocabulary, its also a way to channelize their imagination and curiosity in a creative and productive way...also kids who read a lot besides being better at speaking and/or writing, also have a wide knowledge base and better reasoning skills

Anuradha - i think kids should read because it improves vocabulary, helps develop visualisation skills and reading gives kids character role models

Aarthi - how else do you build vocabulary? how do you build imagination?

Anonymous: er... tough one to put in words
id rather just tell a kid to - go read. :P

Maya:I want to say that books allow you to travel to different worlds.. yeeehaaww

Gautam: About the only data that has been available consistently in the past five years has been from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) and some key findings for Karnataka were that only about 39% of the children between standards 1-8 can read a standard 2 level text with the implication that around 5.3 million children in the state who are unable to read in their medium of instruction. Only 11% children in Standards 3 to 5 can read an English sentence and only 35% children in Bangalore can read English.

This pathetic state of affairs threatens to ruin the lives of millions of children in Karnataka and much larger numbers across the country,
and it would not be entirely out of place if we were to say that the failure of the schools is gradually destroying democracy. The often repeated rhetoric of elementary education being a fundamental right (now further enshrined in the Right to Education Bill 2009) seems to be accompanied by an inability to make the schools work for the children. Reading, along with Writing and Arithmetic, are the fundamental building blocks for a functional democracy, a working social system and a functioning market. That said, Reading is a "good" in its own right and must be encouraged.

Sanjay: To know more about the world...

Paulomi: cuz reading takes me to another a kid i used to read a lot of "champak, tinkle and all othr kinds of books and loved them to the core.

Tharini: Every child should have the freedom, ability and sheer pleasure of being able to disappear (as though magically) into another realm, another world if they so wish... Books are a source of comfort, of stability, of ideas, of fancy, and everyone must be able to access that. If you want access to that world, you need to discover the key as a child, for if you find it as an adult, then half the charm is lost. Cheesy, but thats what I believe. Oh yeah, and it gives you SO MUCH to talk about!

Vamshiavk: to improve vocabulary n imagination

Kirnamanral: Kids should read to keep them from destroying the house.

Shachii Manik: Children should read to discover the world around them. For kids, every new word they learn brings a lot more meaning in their lives. They can make long journeys through books. :)
Why only children? Adults should read "children's books" too.

Jitesh: A kid's mind is always jumping from one thing to another. Reading, makes them focus on 1 thing
it allows kids to increase their attention span on a particular thing. in this case the book or subject

Tara: cause its fun, gives them a chance to disappear into other peoples stories...

Sowmya: For knowledge, improving memory power...

Bhargavi: cos its fun. they learn an lot, keeps mind active, develops imagination...

Ashwitha: because narratives are an important way of understanding the world.

Nanda Ramesh: Reading is important for many reasons. First and foremost a good reading habit is required in whatever profession a child chooses. All learning, communication involves some language and reading helps the child to master it and excel in thei...r career. Second, it is the best way to learn. Information is still mostly kept in text somewhere which one has to read to understand. Third, I always feel discovering something by reading rather than by watching video is much more creative and satisfying. This is because, reading does not impose visuals and sound on the reader and lets them imagine it whichever way they want.

Mika22: Children should read to discover new worlds, experience new ideas, explore the quirky, the new, the 'impossible'.....both within their imaginations and outside of it.

Keep the comments coming! Why should kids read???

Image Source: designblog