25 Oct 2010
Edited to add: Submitted post for Shruti’s Artsy-Craftsy June 2001 Folk art challenge.
I have done numerous lesson plans for course work. Two years back, one such lesson plan was on Tulika’s Sameer’s House, an all time favorite at home. That is when I realized how today’s kid’s-lit is so versatile and can be integrated in to a classroom setting. The seed was sown.
For CROCUS 2010, my category assignment was arts and crafts. For this I decided to do a post on how Warli can be integrated in to a classroom. Check out my post at Saffron Tree. I am eager to hear back from you all.
22 Sep 2010
We read couple of disastrous books about the fictional life of grade school children….. I was in half mind to withdraw the girls from school, post kindergarten….That is when we stumbled across Gooney Bird Greene series by Lois Lowry.
I thumbed through the book and quickly digested that the book was about a quirky little girl in second grade. Gooney Bird who tells tall tales, has an ‘interesting’ fashion sense and has an exceptionally high level of confidence. At first it reminded me of Pippi Longstockings, but Lois Lowry does manage to differentiate this very Pippi-like character, well at least in my mind. While Pippi made me a little sad, I did not have this lump in my throat and a heavy heart when I read Gooney Bird. Pippi leaves you wondering if her claim that she has super human strength and that she can bake a 100 dozen cookies in an hour are true. But Gooney Bird assures that all her stories are 100% real, though her stories are ‘HOW GOONEY BIRD CAME TO THE TOWN OF WATERTOWER, USA FROM CHINA ON A FLYING CARPET’, ‘HOW GOONEY BIRD’S BELOVED PET CAT, CATMAN, GOT CONSUMED BY A COW’, ‘HOW SHE GOT LATE FOR SCHOOL BECAUSE SHE WAS DIRECTING THE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA’.
And yes, all of Gooney’s stories are true. For those of you asking me are flying carpets true? can cows eat cats? can a second grader conduct an orchestra? All I can say is, pick a book and find out for yourself.
I loved Gooney because of her confidence, her curiosity to be in the middle of things, her genuine effort to help her friends and her ability to transform and inspire even the shiest child in the classroom. Also through Gooney Bird, Lois Lowry tells her readers how to write a story! She talks about the components of a story – how to choose a title, how to keep the audience interested, when to add ‘suddenly’ and give a twist in the story, descriptions etc. She also talk about how to tell a true story full of facts and numbers without boring the audience, how to write a fiction based on real historical characters, ambiguous endings which open up different possibilities and such. Creative writing 101 !
What endeared Gooney Bird to Mieja was Gooney’s fashion sense. With her three pony tails, cowboy boots on pajama pants, velvet coats, fashion scarfs etc, Gooney and Mieja are soul sisters. She is also thinking deeply about emotions. When ever I read, ‘she slumped her shoulders’ or ‘he scowled’, she asks me to act out slumping shoulders or scowling and she is processing the information.
Chula adores Gooney Bird because of her stories. I can see that Chula can’t get enough of them. She is inspired and wants to write her own stories and look up dictionaries (Yes! That is the current passion! If there is a word she does not understand she looks it up in webster, the old school way. )
Yay to Gooney Bird and we are sad that we have only one more Gooney bird book that we haven’t read
Yay to Lois Lowry for her faith and respect in young people and her ability to simplify information without being condescending.
7 Aug 2010
….it is about time to read books on slavery.
Approximately four months back, my amma went to Boston for a week. She came back late wednesday night and the next day, just as I was leaving for school, I gave her a quick update of what is in the fridge, chores that were half done etc. Basic handing over the domestic chores routine. I finished my update with, “Amma, can you make sure that the kids gets their school clothes and shoes on in the next five minutes?” Chula who was standing next to me the whole time immediately said, “Amma, you are treating patti like a slave.”
Apparently at school, during passover time, they had had a discussion about slavery in Egypt, slavery in America and Dr.King. So the child did know what she was talking about and was ready for books about slavery. I picked up some books from the library, of course after launching a full scale lecture that my mom is here on her own accord and can walk away at any time but wouldn’t because she is here for love and not against her will.
Back Of The Bus by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
This is the story of Rosa Parks through the eyes of a six year old boy. The little boy is sitting at the back of the bus, like he is “supposed” to, with his mama and playing with a marble. His mama keeps giving him stern non-verbal messages to keep the marble inside his shirt pocket. The boy notices Mrs.Parks sitting at the front of the bus. He is confused.
She don’t belong up front like that,
and them folks all know it.
But she’s sitting right there,
her eyes all fierce like a lightnin’ storm,
like maybe she does belong up there.
And I start thinkin’ maybe she does too.
He is scared when the police is called when Mrs.Parks refuses to give up her seat. He asks his mama,
“We in trouble Mama?” I say all soft.
“No we ain’t,” she says. “Don’t you worry none.
Tomorrow all this’ll be forgot.”
But I got somethin’ in me,
all pale and punchy,
sayin’ it won’t be.
Don’t know why.
But instead of feelin’ all shaky,
I feel a little strong.
Like Mama’s chin.
I take out my marble
and start to hide it in my squeezy-tight fist.
But instead, I hold it up to the light,
right out in the open.
That thing shines all brown and golden in the sunlight,
like it’s smilin’, I think.
‘Cuz it ain’t gotta hide no more.
I was extremely touched. I love the way the author uses the marble as an allegory.
Every time Chula reads the book on her own she gets the same expression on her face and when asked she said that she felt very sad for the boy because he had to sit at the back just because he had dark skin.
More books about slavery
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B.Lewis
Henry’s Freedom Box By Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People To Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
3 Aug 2010
I discovered Ms.Ravishankar only four months back. When I first saw the books authored by her on Tara catalog, I did confuse her with Anoushka Shankar, the sitar player. Live mint sorted me out proper. I started reading more about her and the title Dr.Seuss of India had me riveted.
The first Ravishankar book we read at home, The Rumor – published by Karadi, charmed the pants off us and left us wanting for more. Luckily we found a couple of her books in our library.
Elephants Never Forget!
Anushka Ravishankar. Illustrations by Christiane Pieper.
The story is simple. An elephant calf gets separated from its mother after a storm and is adopted by a heard of buffaloes. He grows up as a member of the buffalo herd. When he encounters an elephant herd few years later, will he choose to go with the elephants or will he remain with the buffaloes?
The simple story has been made interesting by the typical Anushaka Ravishankar’s style of story telling.
“He needed some water
To wash himself clean.
The buffaloes looked so calm, so serene.
The water was lovely, cool and green.”
What endeared this book to me was not just the rhyming verse. To me the elephant growing up with animals totally different from him, forming his identity and in the end deciding his zone of comfort was very similar to immigrant children forming identity.
To market! To market!
Anushka Ravishankar. Illustrations by Emanuele Sanziani.
I still remember my tri-weekly trips to the vegetable market with my dad. A buzzing Indian bazaar is not exactly a theme park, yet I found it very entertaining. Walking along the aisles touching the fresh vegetables, observing the art of bargaining, being mesmerized by the art of peddling(Doesn’t even the mundane tea and coffee has a magic to it when the peddler calls out in his deep voice – teeeeeee-kaapi-kaapi-kaapi-kaapi-kaapeeeee ?), the smell of fresh flowers and a quick pass by darshan at the local road side temple……
The essence of my experience is captured effectively in rhyme and in illustration in To Market! To Market! It brings out powerful nostalgia. It brings fleeting images of a five year old me walking to the old Saidapet market holding my dad’s fingers. I remembered this one particular trip where I was busy looking around and reached out for my father’s fingers and he shook me off rather rudely which made me look up at his face only to realize that in my trance, I had lost my dad and was trying to go home with a stranger! It brings out the child in me.
Contrary to her claim to fame as India’s ‘nonsense verse’ writer, Ms.Ravishankar personally made a lot of sense to me.
29 Jul 2010
(1)Sometimes called pre-level as in for pre-readers. The author still relies largely on pictures. Many a times there is no story. The focus is on words. Select keywords are repeated again and again throughout the few pages of the book, supported with pictures. The sentences with keywords are simple, basic three word or two word sentences. The idea is to help the child understand the keyword, train the child to familiarize the keyword, reinforce the keyword with pictures. All this leads to the child recognizing the word, written or spoken, stand alone or in a different context.
See Pip Point series (by David Milgrim) in which the protagonists are Pip the mouse and his friend, Otto the robot. Names Pip and Otto are repeated in almost every sentence in the book. The names being phonetic are easy to read. The rest of the words are mostly sight words like ‘the’, ‘there’, ‘you’ with few rhymes like see-bee, few action words and couple of new words thrown in.
Biscuit series (by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illlustrations by Pat Schories). The main character is an adorable puppy named Biscuit. Some pages do not have any print on them, just the pictures and the illustrations are tell-tale of what is happening in every page. “we can feed the hens Biscuit” is illustrated by the puppy’s owner, a small girl feeding the hens. Every book has a theme, a farm theme, where all animals are introduced. A school theme which talks about school and so on.
Mittens series (by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrations by Susan Kathleen Hartung). Where there is a puppy, there is a kitten and it attracts young readers all the same. The author picks a noun and verb, example a butterfly flying, and introduces prepositions that are associated with the noun and verb, example ‘the butterfly flew up’, ‘Mitten ran under the bridge’, ‘butterfly landed on a flower’ etc.
Elephant and Piggies series (by Mo Willems). Why leave pigs and elephants? This is least of MY favorites, but the young readers do not mind. Well it is MY blog and here is My honest opinion. The piggie is over hyper, unrealistic reminds me of Kareena Kapoor in Jab we met. The elephant is over sensitive and super stressed, reminds me of Nicolas Cage with his standard constipated look. These books are not your typical 15-20 page three word sentences. It is 50+ pages of a pig who wants to fly and keeps going Fly! Fly! Fly! Yes! Yes! Yes! Fly! Fly! Fly! and the elephant going No! No! No! You jumped! You can’t fly! Yes, every other word ends with exclamation. But as I said the girls seem to enjoy it. Chula can read, Mieja reads from memory, I don’t have to read it to them. Good.
(2)Pictures are still a bigger part of the book. There is a very simple story that can be summed up by an adult in one or two sentences. There are slightly larger sentences and lesser keyword repetition. The prime objective is to make sure that the child follows the story line.
Max And Mo series (by Patricia Lakin, Illustrated by Brian Floca) is about two hamsters(I think, may be they are some other kind of rodent pets) who live in a school in a cage. The series is about the adventures of Max and Mo. One we particularly enjoyed at home is MAX AND MO GO APPLE PICKING. After getting tired of being fed corn, Max and Mo escape their cage and have fun with the apples they find in the school.
(3)This is a flavor of what an young reader will experience in the future. There are chapters and each chapter is representative of introduction, plot and an ending. There is an index to every chapter. There are not just sentences, but paragraphs.
Mr.Putter and Tabby series (by Cynthia Rylant, illustrations by Arthur Howard) Mr.Putter is a senior citizen who lives in a neighborhood with other senior citizens. Mr.Putter finds in Tabby a companion. The stories are not just about the aches and ailments of being old and living alone, but are tasteful snippets in to the lives of old people, that evoke a myriad of feelings and makes the young readers wanting for more.
Cynthia Rylant (illustrated by G.Brian Karas) also has the High Rise Private Eyes series, about a boy and girl detective pair. For some reason, I found the pair to be sassy. We read about a couple of books and did not take much to the private eyes.
Amelia Bedelia (by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Lynn Sweat). Amelia Bedelia can be easily equated to our good old Suppandi. Amelia Bedelia is maid who manages to mess up every instruction given by her employers. If you tell Ameila Bedelia to clear the weeds in the garden, you must tell her ‘Unweed the garden’, for if you tell her just ‘weed the garden’, she would bring more weeds from your neighbor’s garden and lay it around in your garden. But in the end, she wins over her employers with her awesome teacakes and mouth watering cookies. She is quite a character.
Magic School Bus series by Scholastic. The level 2 books are the ones I find appropriate for the 4-6 year old age group. Mrs.Frizzle, the teacher takes her class on a ride in the magic school bus. They can travel to the past, the future, in to the human body and in to outer space and the children learn first hand how circulation works, about the dinosaurs, how snow is made etc.
Fancy Nancy series (by Jane O’ Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasner) The girls go ga-ga over Fancy Nancy may be because the protagonist is a girl. Or may be because, true to her name, Fancy Nancy is very fancy. Nancy is the fashion diva born to two plain parents. She has a chic BFF, a teacher who is always in vogue and a neighbor who can give models a run for their money, but her own parents and her sibling are so simple that they don’t even ask for sprinkles on their plain vanilla ice cream. The adventures of Nancy are about a variety of subjects like Nancy getting over her jealousy and sharing her best friend with another girl, trouble writing a book report etc. I like the fact that Fancy Nancy is always introducing new words.
“… we shout in unison. (That’s a fancy word for all together.)”
“…That makes me unique.(You say it like this: you-NEEK.)”
Young Cam Jansen series (by David.A. Adler, illustrated by Susanna Natti). Jeniffer, has a photographic memory and is nicknamed Cam, short for camera. She solves mysteries with her friends and is good at it because of her photographic memory. At thirty pages, it makes a good light read. For the young boys, David A.Adler also has the Bones series in which boy detective Bones is in charge.
There are many more like Poppleton the pig, Amanda Pig, Charlie and Lola, Nate the grate, Dick and Jane etc that we have read on and off.
(4) This is a complex form of the previous level. The shift from pictures to the written word is explicit. Rainbow Fairies, Cam Jansen, Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith, books by Roald Dahl and The Magic Tree house are some examples. So far, I read these books, few chapters at a time during bed time and the girls listen.
Happy reading young readers.
3 Jun 2010
So we got four Karadi’s Chitra books as Mieja’s fourth birthday gift. Karadi claims that their Chitra english hardcover books are ‘exclusive picturebooks in English, written by India’s finest children’s writers and illustrated by many talented international artists’. I must say that they live up to their claim.
Mieja loved this book. Ever since I read the title and the blurb, I was intrigued too. It was one of those rare days, we were all early to school and I decided to read the book to the girls. Shobha Viswanath starts the story with the earth losing all its shapes. Can you imagine a world with out triangles, straight lines, squares or circles?
An adult mind races with images of buildings, architecture, art etc that are possible because of shapes. But a pre-operational child’s mind to which shape is a very 2-d, strictly theoretical concept, knows not of any of the complications. Now a good story teller makes the audience relate and this exactly what Shobha Vishwanath does.
Subsequent pages show in illustration and text what a shapeless earth would look like. The eggs are not oval but are already scrambled, oranges are not semi-spheres, but look squeezed, the kite looks windswept and the stick looks beaten. These are little, day to day things that make the children think about the importance of shapes in every day life. I can clearly see that the two little audience are hooked in. Their eyes are wide and their mouth slightly open, not a peep out of them.
At this point in comes the hero – Little Dot, which is literally a dot, which some how holds on to its shape. The rest of the story is how Little Dot saves the world from the shapeless confusion.
The story does not go in to detail how the shapes were lost. I was half expecting an onslaught of questions about the how part. But there were none. The author quickly gets in to the practical difficulties of living in a shapeless world and the children were engrossed.
Christine Kastl’s brilliant acrylic pallette knife illustrations in bright colors bring fleeting images of Eric Carle to my mind.
Definitely a book Karadi can be proud of.
Lizard’s Tail is the story of a little lizard that lost its tail in an accident and how the little one learns that its tail is regenerative. My children have heard this as a bed time story and were quite excited to see and experience the story through the vivid illustrations of Christine Kastl.
The story some how managed to bring a flood of childhood memories to my mind. One of the common misconception in a ‘firangi mind’ used to be that India is a land of snakes and tigers. However growing up in India, I didn’t see a snake in the wild till I hit 19 years of age. The only exciting reptile I grew up with was the household lizard. Considering that I am such a thigh shaking coward when it comes to the reptiles, I must be happy that this was the case. Certain memories from childhood stay etched in one’s mind and one of mine is witnessing a lizard’s tail getting severed after it fell from the ceiling to the floor. I remember being clearly freaked out by the body-less tail twitching on the floor. And who will forget the famous ‘Kowli sollum palan’ (the predictions based on the direction from which kowli, the stripy variant of common household lizard, makes its calling sound) and ‘kowli dhosham’(the ill-effects that awaits you assuming the darn lizard falls on you) in your friendly house hold panchangam(almanac). The whole thing is extra special fun if your poor old grand mother believes in such things and if your father does not
This is our very first Anushka Ravishankar book and I regret for having waited so long to lay my hands on one of her books. Like in citi card ads: Silly verse – check, funny story – check, nonsense names – check, non-preachy and fun just for the sake of having fun – check, engaging – check, perfect for story telling – check, vibrant illustrations – check, simple enough to read and follow – check, the experience – priceless. The older child is found pouring over the book when ever she gets a chance.
This is an adaptation of a famous Japanese folk tale by Anushka Ravishankar. The emphasis is that every one and every action has an ultimate purpose. Anushka’s adaptation is very true to the original version. Water color and ink illustrations by Christine Kastl add true Japanese flavor to the story.
19 May 2010
Mythological stories have always had a strong hold on me since childhood. No meal was complete without my chithi narrating a mythological story(because I begged and whined till she gave in). No story was complete without my chithi repeating, “Sapitunde kelu”(translates to: Eat as you listen) because I was so transfixed that I needed constant reminders to chew. But, I have my reservations when it comes to introducing mythological stories to my children. This dilemma of mine was the fodder for my first blog post. If I had written the same post today, I would have cut down on certain frills and made the post crisp, but the underlying issue would still be the same. The dilemma still continues.
I think, to some extent, I keep comparing the way I grew up with the way my children are growing up and I am afraid that my children might perceive the mythological story out of context. Since most of our mythological stories are religious, I am afraid that my children might extrapolate the inconsistencies in the story, the imperfections in the character as inconsistencies in religion. Adult perceptions and their role in child rearing is a full fledged research topic!
Amar Chitra Katha will always have a special place in my heart. When I see an ACK, I get mental images of summer holidays, burning sun, cool shade, tender coconut water, nungu (palm kernel), mangoes – ripe and raw and nothing can beat this nostalgia. But in the context of my children, I think ACK is still too much of he killed his brother, he made his wife walk in fire, she threw her children in the river and such. I wanted something beyond ACK.
So, I started looking for books on mythology that I am comfortable reading at home and given that this truly is the golden period for kids-lit in India, I am finding some good books on this subject.
Author: Chitra Krishnan.
Illustration: Arun Kumar
Have you seen Jackie Chan movies?! After the movie, the rolling credits invariably show scenes from the making of the movie. It shows the bloopers. Silly, but always puts a smile on my face. That is the same effect this book had on me.
Tulika’s Vyasa Mahabaratha is not Mahabaratha, but the events leading to the writing of the epic. Vyasa’s search for a scribe and how Vyasa and Ganesha entered in to an agreement is the crux of this book.
I ordered the tamil version of the book. The tamil used in this book is certainly not the spoken tamil, but what my tamil class students will call as, ‘news reader’ tamil. I read it for my children and have to make sure that I translate. When what they hear is different from what they read, it is tough for children to understand. So it was up to me to make it interesting.
The story is narrated in a fun, lively manner. The illustrations are cartoonish with a Dumbledore looking Vyasa and a ‘thinni pandaram’(translates to: glutton ) Ganesha. I loved it. My children are getting used to it.
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustrator: Nancy Raj
Mythology is considered as a symbolism. Myths were originally passed on through the tradition of oral story telling. In the days of yore, story telling was a form of entertainment. Story telling, I am sure, was cause of much excitement, celebration and was often associated with a religious occasion. Tulika’s Sweet And Salty talks about how the people in the village of Narasannapeta get excited when the story teller Gorannagaru visits to tell the story of Ramayana.
Hanuman’s Ramayana is not the story of Rama, but tells the readers that mythological stories might have different versions and the possibility of stories getting lost over time. I have personally heard two versions of Ramayana, one in which Ravana is the cruel villain and one in which he is Sita’s original father and took Sita captive for the good of the divine couple.
Basic things that I took away from this book is that a story can be molded to suit the ideas of the story teller. It changes and flows with the interpretation of the narrater. The story is bigger than the teller. It is not the who but the how and what that matters.
Nancy Raj’s illustrations are in Madhubani style. Lovely, intricate and in beautiful colors. We have three Tulika books illustrated by Nancy Raj(Village Fair, A-vil Yirundhu Ak-varai and Hanuman’s Ramayana) and each has its own style to suit the nature of the story. The concept of Hanuman’s Ramayana – ‘what is important is the story, not the story teller’. Nancy’s concept seems to be, ‘what is important is the art that compliments the story, not the artist’ and as a result the illustrations shine through.
|Ramayana The Divine Loophole
Author/Illustrator: Sanjay Patel
How can I talk about Ramayana and not talk about this book?! The key attraction for our family in this book are the illustrations. Sanjay Patel has used vector point illustrations to translate his sketches in to digital format using adobe illustrator. Four years of hard work, each page taking approximately seven days to finish and the result is this vibrant 185 page eye candy. I literally drooled. I have never see Ramyana illustrated like this before. Considering that this book came at the time, I was struggling to translate some of my sketches in to digital format using illustrator and photoshop and was throughly frustrated with the result, my respect for the book doubled. And of course, Sanjay Patel saying that Rama kneeled before Sita’s feet asking her forgiveness for having suspected her faithfulness and the authors note that ‘Times have changed, as have customs, but love has always been complicated’ agreed well with me
The tone of the book is very casual and the target audience is definitely the ‘non-hindu but is curious about the monkey god and such’ category. So if you are seeking deep spiritual advice and an insight in to hinduism then you are barking up the wrong tree.
Both my daughters love looking at the pictures in this book. They can sit for a good hour, just turning the glossy pages, absorbing the pictures.
My only gripe is about the illustration of Ravana. In order to make him symmetrical Sanjay Patel took poetic license and shows only nine heads. Like Maniratnam’s Ravan would say, he is ‘Das sir wale’ and not ‘Nao sir wale’
12 May 2010
|The Tulika kaka flew tirelessly over the Pacific Ocean, all the way from Chennai, India to San Jose, CA with one mission. The mission is not migration, but to deliver to me my copy of Tulika’s The Snow King’s Daughter in appreciation of my participation in the Tulika blogathon. Thanks Tulika.
Please find my review of the book at Saffron Tree.