The ‘ChallengeAccepted’ hashtag has been perplexing me for a while. I keep seeing people post the hashtag along with a photograph of them in black-and-white or some such confounding theme on social media. And honestly, I looked for a challenge, I solemnly swear I did. I looked high and low for one. I even googled it to understand better, but I just couldn’t find it. I mean, I have been in more challenging situations, including getting my 3G to work, on most days. And honestly, Barney Stinson would not be impressed.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the difficulty in putting up a black-and-white profile picture, and not only because we now have filters to do it in a few taps. It’s pretty, yes, but I think we can afford to have some actual challenging posts for a change.
Over the past few years, we have seen plenty of stuff go viral: from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in all its incredulousness, spotlighted the disorder (not to mention spurring countless analyses of the social media phenomena), to book swaps to people showing off their beautiful handlooms on National Handloom Day and committing to the #100SareePact.
Given how much time we while away on social media, maybe as people who love children’s books — as parents, teachers, enthusiasts — we can put that to good use. Like setting our own #Challenge, both offline and online, about sharing stories and the joy of reading.
In less than a month, on September 8, we will be celebrating International Literacy Day.
According to a UNESCO report, India has a 76.43 per cent literacy rate. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate to actual learning. According to a story by IndiaSpend, “Only a fourth of all children in Standard (Std.) III can read a Std. II text fluently, a drop of more than five per cent over four years. With math, a quarter of children in Std. III could not recognise numbers between 10 and 99, a drop of 13 per cent over four years, according to the 2014 Annual Status Report on Education (ASER).”
These figures tell a bleak story about reading and learning.
Picture books are a great starting point for visual literacy. Many of us have a stack of them lying around, and when our kids grow older, we donate those books to libraries, schools, and NGOs, or pass them on to other young readers. Some people directly read to children, and others support charities that enable access to books. Donate-a-Book by Pratham Books is one such initiative. It aims “to help bridge the gap between those who want to help children read and those who need books for children.” Here, institutions such as schools and libraries put in book requests and people can donate money to help get books to them. According to their website, even Rs. 500 can translate to 15 books.
Apart from that, there’s the Pratham Books’ Champion campaign where volunteers can sign up to conduct storytelling sessions in their community. This year, they are celebrating One Day One Story, where the “idea is to encourage children to fall in love with reading. These sessions are conducted free of cost and mostly with children from under-served communities. We hope that these storytelling sessions will also bring to light the issues of joyful reading, access and multilingual publishing.”
Similarly, you can choose to support Room to Read, whose literacy programme “transforms primary schools into child-friendly learning environments that enable children to develop the skills and habit of reading throughout primary school and become life-long, independent readers.” Or volunteer with Akanksha Foundation that looks at providing “children from low-income communities with a high-quality education, enabling them to maximise their potential and transform their lives.”
And of course you can throw open the challenge on social media. Invite your virtual (and real) friends to commit to sharing at least five picture books with a child or a parent who doesn’t have easy access to books.
My go-to sites are Pratham Books, Eklavya, and Tulika Books. The books start from as little as Rs. 12, so they won’t burn a hole in your pocket. You can get bilingual and activity book sets at fabulous prices as well. May I suggest posts like this one: Calling out to who love stories. All you have to do is buy five picture books and share it with someone who has a child but doesn’t have easy access to books. It could be your auto rickshaw driver, your bhajiwallah , your fish lady (so on and so forth). Let’s share stories with children in the offline world. If you agree, copy and paste this post on your wall, starting with #ChallengeAccepted.
Alright, perhaps not. But you get the drift. What would be wonderful if you can, along with keys, cell phone chargers, and mints, pop in a few picture books in your bag. Share them with children you meet, or parents. Invite them into the magical world of stories, and with that literacy. So, challenge accepted?