Friday, January 27, 2012

Pratham Books Champion : Abhinav Agarwal

As part of the International Year of the Forest, we were running the 'Awareness Today for a Greener Tomorrow' campaign. We asked our AWESOME community if they would be volunteer to become a Pratham Books Champion and conduct storytelling sessions based on the book "A King Cobra's Summer'. And again, our friends volunteered eagerly. We will be sharing the stories of all our champions through our blog.

Today's story comes from Abhinav Agarwal who conducted a storytelling session in Bangalore. Abhinav is a software engineer by profession and works atOracle India. He is a post-graduate from IIM Bangalore. Bangalore has been his home for close to 10 years now. When not reading stories to his children, he reads books, takes photos, and puts them all on his blog at His other likes are Hindi music and retro Hindi movies.

Abhinav wrote about his storytelling experience on his blog ...

On a bright Sunday morning on Dec 18, at 9:30AM, our small apartment complex library opened up, and the kids started trooping in - seven of them. All excited by the prospect of a story-telling session and the chance to do some drawing too. At the very outset I had to remind the kids, gently, without dashing their hopes, that we would "try to draw" something from the book after the reading, and that I could not guarantee any sort of decent results. I have the equivalent of "two left-feet" when it comes to drawing. I also have two left feet when it comes to dancing, so both abilities sort of complement each other. Kids being kids, all they wanted a good story and an opportunity to spread color on canvas.

This whole episode had started a couple of weeks earlier, when I had emailed Pratham Books, asking them whether I could volunteer to be a book reader for their soon-to-be-launched book, "A King Cobra's Summer", written by Janki Lenin and illustrated by Maya Ramaswamy, and be what they call a "Pratham Books Champion",an honor to be sure, since I lay no claim to being a champion. They readily accepted. Maya from Pratham Books called back and spoke with me, and a few days later the book had arrived by mail. The first order of business was for me to read the book. Which I did. In half an hour I had gone from cover to cover. I was quite taken in by the high-quality printing, the gorgeous use of colors, and the easy-to-understand prose, and how the story weaved a rich tapestry of information about the king cobra within its pages.

On the Sunday, after the children had all gathered, over the next 45 minutes we spent a very interactive 45 minutes (see - no point in wasting even a single minute) going over the book. Rather than make it a one-way aural street, I had breaks every five minutes or so, asking the children questions about Kalaa. Of course, the kids had questions of their own that couldn't wait even those five minutes! Right on the first-page, where we are told that king cobras grow to over 15 feet in length, one way to bring this length alive for the children was to tell them that 15 feet would have meant placing four kids on top of another - give or take a few feet. Or that 15 feet would have been almost the entire length of the library room. You know that children have 'got' it when you hear the appreciative 'ooh' and 'aahs' from them!

The part where Kaala gulps down the python elicited a few 'eews', and rightly so. One should peel the skin before eating it, right? Don't we peel the skin of a banana before wolfing it down? See, right there there was a distinction to be made between humans and animals, or in this case, reptiles.

A swift 45 minutes later, it was time to start with the drawing, and to bring out the Raja Ravi Verma in all. Or so went the wistful hope. 

The portraits of Kaala on pages 2 and 20 were quit similar, and in the end we selected the one on page 2 to draw. It also looked the easier of the two. Once the outline had been drawn, the children went about tracing the outline with a black sketch pen, and then started filling in the colors.

What you see on the whiteboard down is my own attempt at fleeting artistic immortality. The book lies at the foot of the whiteboard with its pages opened to the pages.

By about 11AM or so we had decided to wind up - the children had shared a very enjoyable 90 minutes listening to, participating, and then drawing from the lovely book, A King Cobra's Summer.

Kudos to Pratham Books and their amazing team for everything. Their books are informative. They are educational. And they are entertaining. And they are cheap. I kid you not. And that's not even a pun. The books are very affordable, and here's to them coming closer every single day to their aim of getting a book into every child's hands.

Thank you Abhinav for spreading the joy of reading!

Click here to read the stories sent in by all the Pratham Books Champions.

Note : If any of you want to be a Pratham Books Champion and join us on our journey of getting 'a book in every child's hand', write to us at web(at)prathambooks(dot)org.

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