Long live kid-lit

http://www.thehindu.com/children/long-live-kid-lit/article22282330.ece

We’ve got a long way to go when it comes to making children’s stories mainstream, but let’s celebrate all the effort that went down in 2017

Where did 2017 go? It just whooshed past like those deadlines. It felt like it was just January, and we were all wondering if Mumbai would have a winter (ha! ha!) and before we knew it, the new year is upon us. Here are some of the highlights that kept children’s literature fresh and exciting as ever.

Children First:

When it comes to Duckbill, there’s plenty to keep book reviewers happy. The publishing house is constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries when it comes to challenging stereotypes. This year saw the release of the books written by the winners of the Children First contest, organised in association with Parag, a Tata Trust initiative and Vidyasagar School, Chennai. The contest invited entries from authors who wrote stories featuring children with disabilities. Harshikaa Udasi’s Kittu’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Mad Dayand Shruthi Rao’s Manya Learns to Roar have already been published and picture books by Lavanya Karthik and R.K. Biswas will be released soon.

Two new imprints:

Going by the adage, the more the merrier, 2017 saw the launch of two more children’s books imprint. Tina Narang moved from Scholastic after 12 years to head HarperCollins Children’s Books in India, while Sudeshna Shome Ghosh moved from Red Turtle to start Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger. Expect to see a lot more picture books, exciting fiction and non-fiction from these publishing houses.

Brick and mortar stores:

In the world of e-commerce, stores that focus on children’s books are few and far between. Most airport bookstores are stuffed with international titles, endless retellings of Hindu mythology, and the usual books by Ruskin Bond, Sudha Murthy, and Devdutt Patnaik. But it’s truly a joy to visit places such as Kahani Tree and Trilogy by the Eternal Library in Mumbai; Lightroom and Funky Rainbow in Bengaluru; and Kool Skool, Full Circle, the Bookshop and Book Vook in Delhi. These bookstore owners are truly the champions of kid-lit.

More and more:

This year saw new titles from some of our favourite authors. Priya Kuriyan illustrated the delightful wordless picture book, Ammachi’s Glasses (Tulika Books), while Rajiv Eipe dazzled us with Ammachi’s Amazing Machines (Pratham Books), where a grandmother uses the principles of physics to make coconut barfi. Then there was Ranjit Lal’s The Trees of Medley Gardens (Red Turtle), that brought to the forefront the underground life of trees. Anushka Ravishankar, truly one of India’s finest picture book writers, returned with Hic! (Tara Books), a picture book illustrated by Christiane Pieper; and Majula Padmanabhan came out with two gorgeous books for Tulika – Mama, What is the Night? and Pooni at the Taj Mahal.

Reading Racoons:

If you are on Facebook and are one of those adults who love children’s books, then you can’t have missed the chatter on The Reading Racoons – Discovering Children’s Literature. In the group’s description, the admins write, “We all have spent endless hours browsing for that ‘right book’ for children, painstakingly choosing the ‘best’, and yet having them out rightly rejected! So, it does makes sense to pool the information. List what your child is currently reading, post reviews straight from the horse’s mouth (or shall we say the raccoon’s mouth), and share ideas to get them hooked to books.” The group was started by Dr. Tanu Shree Singh, a professor of psychology and author of Keep Calm and Mommy On. With 16,145 members, The Reading Raccoons is an online space that offers a platform for spirited discussions, recommendations and discovery.

International recognition and festivals:

Kudos to Bookaroo, India’s own festival of children’s literature, for winning the Literary Festival of the Year award at the London Book Fair International Excellence Award. Fully well deserved! It is truly wonderful to see how festivals such as Kahani Karnival, Chandigarh Children’s Literature Festival as well as Tata Lit Live and Bangalore Literature Festival focus on children’s books authors and illustrators. Of course, we are a long way from seeing most mainstream festival line-ups integrating kid-lit creators on the same platform (unless it’s a celebrity writer).

Girl power:

The book that really sparked conversations across India and the world this year was Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women (Penguin Random House) by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. “To the rebel girls of the world: dream bigger; aim higher; fight harder; And, when in doubt remember, You are right,” writes the authors in the front of the book. The book features a hundred heroes – from scientists and artists to explorers, designers, writers, queens, and activists. In an interview to The Hindu, the authors said, “We had been working in the children’s media space for the past five years and witnessed from the inside how gender stereotypes still permeate books for children of all ages. Parents are offered little resources to counter this trend and they are especially concerned about the lack of strong female role models in children’s media. That’s why we decided to create this book.”

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Sh*t people tell children’s books people

http://www.thehindu.com/children/sht-people-tell-childrens-books-people/article21607136.ece

If Cinderella was the stepchild of her family, then children’s books are sometimes treated as the step kids of the publishing industry. Whether it’s lit-fests or advances, kid-lit authors, editors and illustrators find themselves lower on the rung, a marked departure from the international scene.

This is why I asked some of India’s best children’s books writers and illustrators about the reactions they get when people find out about their “peculiar” career of choice. Here’s a sampling.

Make pictures? For children’s books? Like A for Apple… then you draw apple?

My child did the funniest thing the other day. I should make a book and of course, you can draw the pictures!

Don’t act so weird or you will find yourself a character in uncle’s next picture book.

Oh, that’s so sweet.

Means you draw for text books aa?

“What?”. When I repeat “Illustrator”, a blank look for a few seconds and then quickly changes topic

How exciting! But how do you get work? How do the authors find out about you?

Means?

Best no? You can have lots of free time then!

Ah, that’s brave. Especially if you’re used to being a rich banker type before.

Jab bachhon ke liye chutkule hi likhna tha to itni padhai kyon ki?

(When you writing kids stories why did you need to study so much?)

Oh. You don’t look like an author.

Okay. Published or writing just for fun?

Kids book? Accha, then you do a workshop, okay? Hundred kids possible?

Not bad. The royalties will make you a rich woman!

Miss, you are an author, you must be very rich! Which car do you have?

My daughter has written this most amazing book. I am sure you will publish it right away, it’s that good! She’s only 11.

When I retire, I am also going to write a book on my life story.

So, you work on the computer from home? That gives you some pocket money?

How much do you earn by doing these books?

Ah! Ravi Subramanian is writing a children’s books na? Same thing you do?

Errr…. feminist children’s book? Good luck with that then.

So, when are you planning to move on to real books?

No wonder you write for children! After that PhD in history, you obviously wanted something mindless to do. Something easy that doesn’t tax your mind.

When are you going to going to graduate to real writing? Proper writing? This kids’ stuff isn’t worth your while.

When I grow up, I want to be like you. I want to talk like you, wave my hands like you and smile like you. Because I love your books and I want to write just like you.

Your kids are older now. So, are you planning to write proper books now?

So, this is what the wife of a guy in financial services does now to keep busy!

You know I’ve been thinking of writing a book also. I think I’ll also write something for kids. Will be a change from all this consulting stuff.

Oh, I write real novels. But writing for children sounds easy!

Will you judge my school creative writing contest?

Will you come and tell a story to my students?

But you don’t even like children.

So, you make these stories inside your head? Just like that?

I hate reading. I find it the most boring thing in the world. My kid also doesn’t like reading.

Can you read at my kid’s birthday party?

Oh! You are an author? How cool! What kinds of books do you write? Oh… for kids…

So, you just sit and write? That’s all you do?

We’d like you to come read to the kids. But it cannot be a promotional activity about your books.

You write books for children? Very good. Very good. But kitna market hoga? You know, erotica is the big seller now. I was reading about it in the newspaper. Will you ever consider writing that? After all, it is also writing.

An editor of children’s books? Will you evaluate my 10-year-old’s book?

There is no writing for children in India other than epics and folktales.

So, what do you do exactly? Move commas and correct spellings?

Oh! So, when you give feedback the author listens to you?

I am so tired of writing these long complex books, and when I went out to buy something for my nephew I found nothing in the stores that he could read, so my next book will be for children and finally Indian kids will have something good to read.

What do you mean you manage a children’s imprint? What is there to manage? What is an imprint?

Editor? Means? Newspaper? No, children’s books. Means?

Oh… wow, you do that for a living?

P.S. I got inundated by responses, and am seriously considering a Tumblr for this now.

Magic, monsters and mysteries

http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/magic-monsters-and-mysteries/article20389327.ece

Publisher Tina Narang on celebrating differences, creating book series with strong brand recall and working with graphic novels in her newly announced list for kids

What do Zippy the Zebra, poet Gulzar, and artists Garima Gupta and Kaveri Gopalakrishnan have in common? They are all part of the new Harper Collins Children’s Books in India list. Spearheaded by Tina Narang, who worked at Scholastic for over 12 years, the publishing house’s children imprint is going to be a mix of picture books, fiction, non-fiction, bilingual books, science and mythology.

The set launches with Meet Zippy, the first in a picture book series by Anitha Balachandran about an eponymous zebra. “The characters are all unique with very different personalities: a zebra, an elephant, a rabbit, a turtle, a leopard and more. So, it is about celebrating differences as well,” said Narang. Apart from that, the Flipped series sounds fun – which Narang said is a book with two covers, with Scary stories at one end and Funny Stories at the other. “The reader needs to simply flip the book over to get to the other side,” she explained. “The idea is to have something there for different tastes, so a child who can’t stomach a scary story, can just go ahead and read a funny one.” In an email interview, Narang outlined her plan for the imprint.

What’s the prime focus of your list?

The prime focus is to find fresh, new ways to engage the reader. There were two factors that I kept in mind when planning the list: Novelty and the Series format. Novelty because you are entering a market that you know is already full of good books from small and big publishers, all of whom acknowledge that this is a growing segment and are competing to be players on this stage. And Series because within this crowded market, where books disappear with alarming regularity, brand recall becomes the next major challenge and establishing a successful series ensures that the books within that series have a longer shelf life. So, I have tried to create a list of books that goes across age groups and is representative of various genres from picture books, to chapter books, to activity books, non-fiction, fiction, biographies and more.

Gulzar’s writing a children’s book, Ek Bar Socha Pustak Ne Aur Anya Kavitayen, after ages.

I am delighted to be working again with some of the authors that I had the pleasure of working with earlier, Gulzar being one of them. He suggested doing a collection of poems for children which I thought was a brilliant idea. The book has some delightful poetry. The book will also include some popular songs that he has written for children which remain unforgettable even years later, such as ‘Lakdi Ki Kathi’ and Mowgli. It will be a collection that fans of Gulzar—both young and old—will enjoy and cherish.

Do you plan to navigate unexplored themes?

This depends very much on discovering a brilliant story that explores a hitherto unexplored theme, or thinking of an innovative idea and commissioning an author to take that forward. This happens more organically. One of my strongest theme-based projects so far has been Paro Anand and Orjan Persson’s graphic novel 2. Brilliantly illustrated by Garima Gupta and Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, this book was a bundling together of two perspectives of the same story: the boy’s from Paro and the girl’s from Orjan.

Does the list include new writers and illustrators as well?

Among the new voices is Nidhi Chanani, whose graphic novel, Pashmina, we will be publishing later this year. There is a refreshingly different Gita retelling by two new UK-based authors, Sonal Patel and Jemma Kattan. Although Damian Ward has illustrated for foreign publishers, this is the first time he will be illustrating in India. Damian will be working on Jane De Suza’s Uncool series.

What are the key highlights, according to you?

Some of the highlights of the list: The M series is an interesting play on the letter M. Some of the popular genres that kids enjoy start with the letter M, such as Mysteries, Magic and Monsters. The first in the series is Magical Tales by Shashi Warrier, two brilliantly-told, charming stories with a dragon called Hot Lips and a bear called Bubba. The Good Indian Child’s Guide series by Natasha Sharma takes things that are intrinsic to India—be they mangoes or cricket—and presents a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the subjects.

There is the Favourite Things series that lists the favourite things of your favourite authors, sportspersons, celebrities and others. Launching the series will be Ruskin Bond’s favourites. Also, coming up is a bitingly funny teen series called Uncool by Jane De Suza, one of India’s leading humour writers, which is a rib-tickling tackling of teen issues. There is also the biography of Amrita Sher-Gil, the fiercely independent and talented artist, in the Timeless Biography series.

‘Resilience is Mumbai’s past, present and future’

http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/resilience-is-mumbais-past-present-and-future/article20005040.ece

Determined to showcase the city for children, two Mumbaikars decide to trace its history and lore in a fun book packed with trivia

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci’s journal, Manuscript F, has “a mysterious note scribbled in it mentioning a map of Elephanta” or that Mumbai is home to two types of crows, the jungle and the common crow; or that almost 400km of Mumbai’s roads are dug up annually? If you’re looking for a book for children that introduces them to the maximum city, then Totally Mumbai: A City in a Book (Blue Spectacles) may just be right up your galli.

Written by Pereena Lamba and Miel Sahgal, the book traces the city’s history, acquaints children to its landmarks, and shares trivia and lore about Mumbai. And it’s packed with photographs, puns, and lots of information. Sahgal, a director at the Sanctuary Nature Foundation, said that Totally Mumbai was born out of a need to share “the city as a whole, from nature to culture, history to arts” with their children. For Lamba, who has worked in advertisting and is a writer, Mumbai is a city full of her best memories. “It shapes my opinions and view of the world,” she said. Over email, the writers talk about their venture into publishing for children.

Packing Mumbai into 85 pages – how difficult was it?

Pereena Lamba: It was an incredibly hard task to sift through the collection of stories that we discovered. We had debates, discussions and some heated arguments on what to include. In the end, I think we chose the facts and stories that would grab the children’s attention. There were stories that we would have loved to put in, but thought that they appealed more to us as adults and perhaps less to children. Will use them for Volume 2!

What made you decide to self-publish?

Miel Sahgal: We were completely invested in the content and had an exceptionally clear idea of how we wanted it to be communicated. The advice we received is that self-publishing would give us the greatest autonomy over design and production choices, so we took the plunge. Blue Spectacles is a little entity the two of us set up to publish this book. The name came in a flash when were across the table from each other, hammering away on our laptops, coincidentally wearing almost identical blue spectacles.

The book is dedicated to your children and a reminder of the magnificence of the city. How resilient a future do you see for Mumbai?

PL: Mumbai is the ultimate survivor. I think it takes its knocks hard but has the gumption to pick itself up, dust itself off and get going again. We have seen this after many big events – blasts, natural disasters etc. but I think Mumbaikars do it on a daily basis too. Mums come to work even when children are ill, asking neighbours and friends to help out. People go back to business the day after a personal tragedy because they can’t afford not to. Kids finish final exams and perform in concerts the next day… it’s all in a day’s work for Mumbaikars. Resilience is Mumbai’s past, present and future. That is the lesson that I think our children will learn, appreciate and imbibe. I think that because of this, they won’t give up on Mumbai and will help make it a stronger city in the future.

MS: It is so easy to feel hopeless about Mumbai’s future. Heritage buildings are torn down, life-saving mangroves are hacked, the chasms of economic disparity widen, as do the roads… and yet, as you rightly say, all this can’t take away from the magnificence of the city. It’s difficult to imagine a resilient future with the current set of ambitions. But we do have hope that the priorities of our children’s generation will be different. The book is peppered with subtle stories of inclusiveness, of the stupidity of land ‘reclamation’, of how people live or travel, of the non-human inhabitants who share our space. And we believe that today’s kids who value things like clean air, sustainable transport, heritage conservation, rooftop gardening or public art will ensure a better tomorrow for the city when they are in charge. We all know what resilient cities of the future need to be like, and our hope is that the next generation will help Mumbai change course and steer towards that.

It’s not surprising that there’s plenty of wildlife and nature tucked into the book.

MS: It’s so important that children appreciate how lucky they are to be in a city that is home to wild leopards, crocodiles and deer. But more important is that we help enable a connection with nature in an everyday routine. Look skyward to spot a bird, pause for a moment with a butterfly, or even just touch the bark of a tree. In this city, we can all be very disconnected from nature, and this comes with a host of physical, psychological and spiritual consequences. To be able to highlight the existence of nature in the city, and celebrate it, was an important aim for us.

Any memorable moments while researching the book?

PL: Though it was research, we really had a blast doing it. There were so many unforgettable experiences that are going to stay with us forever. Like when we finally met our ‘Decision Devi’ in Worli and she lived up to all our expectations. Or when we went around knocking on strangers’ doors till we found the ‘lady with the key’ who opened the doors to the most stunning Chinese temple in Mazagaon. Or trying to convince our usually feisty sabziwalli to pose for a photo – she suddenly turned coy on us and even asked for a few retakes!

What are your favourite bits in the book?

MS: That’s a tough question – we love most of what we’ve put in there! Perhaps the pages we enjoy the most are those where history comes alive through real, personal stories. Like Fables of Fire about the Great Fire of 1803 and the Dock Explosion of 1944, or Swaraj in the City about the Freedom Movement. I also love the unusual ones, like the ghost stories in Boo!mbay, and the unexpected connections in Space and Time. We couldn’t include everything we wanted to in the book, but one consolation is that some of our favourite left-out facts and stories will still find a place in our upcoming series of talks and workshops with children. And who knows? Maybe an updated second edition!

The escapist pleasure of reading

http://www.thehindu.com/books/the-escapist-pleasure-of-reading/article19926594.ece

One of the reasons I rarely introduce myself as a children’s books author to grown-ups is because almost always the next thing they say is:

“My child just doesn’t read. How much I tell him.”

“Oh my child, she has no time to read only.”

“Arre, but who reads now?”

“She used to read, but now she doesn’t. I feel so sad. I mean, I used to read all the time as a child.”

And then I watch their eyes glaze over, right after they ask me for recommendations of books. Earlier, I’d get annoyed. Now I simply suggest they read The Rights of the Reader, a wonderful book by Daniel Pennac and illustrated by Quentin Blake. Originally written in French, the book has been translated by Sarah Ardizzone.

The Rights of the Reader is not a self-help book. Rather, it’s truly about reading being an intrinsic part of our lives – it is but a way of living. Or rather a way of reminding grown-ups that reading is about freedom, joy, and the wonders of a story. Pennac writes, “You can’t make some someone read. Just like you can’t make them fall in love or dream.” As he points out, you can try and push, but nothing will come of it. What he does is reminds us why we read – because it’s joyful.

Pennac makes some keen observations – 57 of them to be precise. In summary, it’s basically that while there may be the lure of the television or screens or consumeristic goodies, but really the reluctance to read happens when it becomes a chore. When as parents, teachers, and well-meaning adults, we constantly say “reading matters”, and then assume that will excite a child to read. When in fact, the exact opposite happens – and the pleasure of reading falls away.

I have seen it happen closer home, the nephew an avid reader, suddenly turned away from his books. It really bothered me – after all, he and I bonded over Harry Potter and the wonders of the wizarding world. The books, not the film, duh. I was also guilty of giving him grown-up tropes of how reading matters, until I realised that’s now how it works.

Instead, we started talking about the books he was reading once again. Like we used to, when we’d read out loud to him, just before his bedtime. I picked up David Walliams’ The Boy in the Dress, and read out parts to him, describing some of the triumphs of the story. We pored over Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls together, marvelling at the artwork and trying to figure out how many of the inspirational stories we already knew. I told him what Aaron Blabey, the author of The Bad Guys series, said in an email interview for a feature.

I dug out my old Ranjit Lal books and we spoke about the story behind The Battle for No. 19. We argued over whose illustrations we really liked in The Puffin Treasury of Modern Indian Stories. And I shared with him (somewhat reluctantly) some of my first editions.

Slowly, he began picking up those books again. Not all the time, but often enough. Because, as Pennac writes, “This pleasure in reading was always there, hidden away in the attics of their teenage minds because of a secret fear, the (very, very deep-rooted) fear of not understanding. They’d forgotten what a book was, what it could offer.”

If you look online, Blake has illustrated the back of the book into a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ‘The Rights of the Reader’ poster. In that lies the wisdom that any reader will nod at – the right not to read, the right to skip, the right not to finish a book, the right to read it again, the right to read anything, the right to mistake a book for real life, the right to read anywhere, the right to dip in, the right to read out loud, and the right to be quiet. Look it up, you will want to print and frame it.

So the next time, you meet a grown-up moaning over their child not finding the time to read. Quote Pennac. “Time to read is always time stolen. (Like time to write, for that matter, or time to love.) Stolen from what? From the tyranny of living.”

The Rights of the Reader, Walker Books is priced at priced at Rs 474 onwards

The tree whisperer

http://www.thehindu.com/children/the-tree-whisperer/article19834741.ece

Trees, writes Peter Wohlleben in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, are social beings. They can defend themselves, share resources, and communicate with each other using “olfactory, visual, and electrical signals”.

In Ranjit Lal’s new book, The Trees of Medley Gardens (Red Turtle), they can talk your ear off. They will gossip, tease, dole out wisdom, and even play pranks on you. When Tadpole and her brother Vishwajit move with their family, they discover that the sacred grove of trees from the neighbouring Medley Gardens can talk to them. Soon they befriend the wise old Banyan Ustadji, the Peepul Princesses, and find out exactly what the Mango trees think of kids scampering up and down their branches, stealing mangoes. But the trees are hiding a secret and it all maybe unearthed if the owners of Medley Gardens decide to sell the place. It all comes down to Tadpole, Vish, and his friend Zafia to figure out what to do.

“The idea came about because I felt that trees were just taken for granted (and cut down at will) and ignored – way out of proportion to their worth, and considering what they do for us – and all of life,” said Lal, over email. Lal’s love for both flora and fauna is well-documented in many of his books, whether it’s The Tigers of Taboo Valley (Red Turtle), The Caterpillar Who Went on a Diet and Other Stories (Puffin), or Every Dog has its Tale (Scholastic).

Lal insists that he doesn’t talk to trees in real life and which is why he turned to fiction for that conversation. “Am nuts enough without actually having to go and have conversations with trees (nor do I hug them as some nasty ‘Rottweiler’ of an ant is sure to bite me in the armpits) so I made the kids do that in the story,” he said. “I think the most ‘memorable’ conversation [in the book] has to be the one where it is pointed out to Ustadji, that while he may be the grand old ‘tree of knowledge’ and a ‘keystone’ species blah blah blah, he and his ilk are still dependent for their survival on a minuscule wasp. Something we need to remember otherwise too.”

That is one of the key takeaways from the book – how everyone’s survival on this planet is inextricably linked with each other. “All you have to do is to is to take time out and think a little – and it’ll all become very clear how dependent all life forms are on trees and plants,” Lal explained. The children in the book realise that they can talk to pretty much any tree, flower, or animal. Sometimes it’s annoying because really some of the plants can be a bit of a sap like the hypochondriac Neems that are always whining. It can also be scary when they meet the dreadful Julifloraa that are armed to the teeth with spiked thorns. While at other times, they have some fabulous chats about life on planet Earth, whether it’s seed dispersal or events in history.

Lal manages to do all this without preaching, and at the same time he ensures that the reader is chuckling and guffawing through the book. “If I start yawning or nod off or start fidgeting while writing I know I’m being preachy and also of course totally boring,” said Lal, about his own writing. For instance, at one point, the mischievous (and pompous) grasses burst out in song, praising themselves, “Without us grasses, you won’t have bread! Without us grasses you’ll all be dead!” they then go on to talk about how they, the grasses, have taken over most of the land in the world – “You came, you planted, we conquered!” Food Security lesson 101.

Lal is concerned that children are more and more disconnected with nature today. “Yes, they’re less connected to nature thanks to the Internet, TV, video games, social (or rather anti-social) media etc,” he said. “They need to go out more – and not to malls! What gives one hope is watching kids play on and around trees, whenever they’re presented with the opportunity and their parents/teachers are not hovering around armed with hand sanitizers and having hysterics! I still believe if you leave a kid near a tree – give him/her some time and space and take away the smartphone etc – he/she will be halfway up the tree within the hour!” Honestly, after reading The Trees of Medley Gardens,that just be one side effect your children may end up with – climbing and talking to trees.

In fact, Lal points out that even grown-ups need to do the same. “We stop ‘talking to’ trees as we become adults because we think only kids should do so,” he said. “Actually you don’t have to talk to trees, you just need to sit beneath one, or on one and listen. We do too much talking and too little listening anyway!”

Why we need to talk about climate change

http://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/why-we-need-to-talk-about-climate-change/article19757788.ece

Kids, it’s time to sit your parents down and have THAT chat. Yes, that one. That life-changing one. Make sure your parents are comfortable, ply them with plenty of tea, coffee, or a beverage of their choice. Ask them to turn their mobile phones off, or at least keep them on silent. After all, talking about climate change isn’t going to be easy.

First, start with the basics. The climate is changing – it’s real. No matter what the politicians say. Or the news does not say.

Take them through the science – the greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide – that are being pumped into the air, how they are warming the atmosphere, trapping heat, melting ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, and so on and so forth. Now just because there’s an average rise in temperature doesn’t mean that the entire planet will warm equitably (Yes, see anticipating questions from the grown-ups already). It means that some places may get cooler and have longer winters, while others may see devastating monsoons. We are already seeing all of that happen.

Next, explain to them that we are living in the age of Anthropocene. Say it slowly – anth-ro-po-ceee-neeee. Elaborate that this means that human activity is accelerating climate change. Burning fossil fuels, pollution, deforestation all of that keeps pushing the temperature up.

Second, it’s exacerbating extreme weather conditions. Third, our cities are not resilient or adapting fast enough to these extreme weather conditions. We don’t have the infrastructures or the plans in place. We just do not.

If there’s some vociferous talk about “development” versus “environment – one of the most inane debates ever – remind them that extreme weather events leads to loss of human life and infrastructure. Which all racks up a bill that is heavy on our GDPs. We need clean air, drinking water and soil to survive, and that is just a basic truth. And also, vital to development.

And lastly, spell this out, repeat if necessary – we are children and we are not going to “save” the planet. Because the Earth does not need saving, she’s going to be fine. Plus, there’s homework to do and unit tests to mug up for. So, it comes back to the grown-ups who have the power to get their voices heard and at least show their dissent about what’s happening. After all, no child wants to inherit a planet stuffed with greenhouse gases and problems of this gargantuan proportions.

Here’s the thing – grown-ups are not talking about this. At least not enough. A friend said right on the heels of Mumbai’s floods, the teachers in her niece’s school did not think it was important to chat about what had happened and why. I am sure that many children must have exulted at the thought of no school the next day, but they must wonder, why is this happening time and again, and why are we not prepared for this. Let’s face it, if children don’t get answers to their questions, then they will find out for themselves. And perhaps they will be better equipped to help grown-ups understand what is happening.

I go to classrooms often to talk to children about my book So You Want to Know About the Environment. Increasingly I feel this constant worm of worry when I realise how little tweenagers and teachers understand climate change. One student told me that it’s when you go up a mountain and the air becomes thinner, that’s climate change. Another smart aleck told me it means the climate is changing. Well, yes. But it’s only when we begin talking about how relentless the last summer was or a particular flood, that they start nodding and realising that climate change is not something that’s happening in the Arctic regions or other far flung places, it’s occurring everywhere and impacting everyone. And all of us.

So, kids, have that chat. It’s time.

Safaris in a Box

http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/safaris-in-a-box/article19595440.ece

Having worked with a number of animal advocacy and wildlife conservation organisations, most of my friends assume that I know everything there is to know about animals. Especially birds. So, when we hear a bird call on a nature trail, they look at me expectantly. They are waiting for me to name the species, and that too without the help of Google or a Rememberall. Of course, I can name a few– a flash of blue means kingfisher, a flutter of a black and white tail and I can wisely whisper, “tree pie”, or declare with some swagger that the birds circling in the air above are raptors. Try it sometime. It sounds clever and everyone believes you if you say it confidently enough.

Fortunately, help has come to me in the form of wildlife games, which have now become a staple at gatherings and a trusted travel companion. Of course these are actually meant for children, and are fantastic tools that teachers can use in the classroom as well.

Last Wilderness Bingo and Dominoes: When going away on a vacation, card games are an easy travel companion. They are light and easy to slip into any bag. Which is why I was thrilled when I came across the Last Wilderness Foundation’s Wildlife Bingo. The bilingual game’s simple – you have to collect nine stones to begin the game. Each player is given one bingo card which has different trees, animals, birds, and reptiles drawn on them. The stack of individual animal cards go into a bag. To play, you pick out a card from the bag and call out the name of the animal, which is written in English and Hindi. Show the card to players and put it aside. The players that have the particular animal on their bingo cards place a stone on it. The first player to have stones on all nine species yells “Bingo!” and wins.

Of course, I have put a new spin on the game and call it Story Bingo. Each player makes up a story with the bingo card they get; and all the species on the card need to be in their tale. We have come up with tall tales of a Chow-Singha that loves eating and a Barn Owl that has insomnia. The cards are beautifully illustrated and promise hours of fun.

Then there’s the Dominoes game – there are 30 cards divided in half, forming two squares. One square has the name of an animal, and the other a different animal’s name. Players have to find the matching animal and place it next to its correct name. There are lots of possible combinations and it gets harder to place the cards correctly as the game progresses. Available at lastwilderness.org.

Nature Conservation Foundation Bird Flash Cards: These set of 40 flashcards introduce children (and me) to 40 common birds of India. One side has photos of the bird and the other details about its natural history, habitat and food. There’s also a quiz, which I tanked the first time around, but I promise you I am getting better at it.

The cards double up for a memory game, just like the playing cards memory game. And from their website, you can even download a free instruction PDF on how to use the flashcards for different games such as drawing and quizzing.

I also use the cards as writing prompts when conducting workshops with children. The free e-kit comes with a common birds’ sound folder – and you can listen and identify the sounds of the Asian koel, black kite, and white-throated kingfisher, among others. All birds that I can now identify. Mission accomplished! Available at instamojo.com/NCF.

Kaadoo: Kaadoo is a board game, and the makers call “a safari in a box”. What I love about this game is that the pawns are crafted by Channapatna toy makers and the animal sighting cards hand-painted by wildlife artists. The games are available in different versions including the Nilgiri Biosphere, African Savannah, Western India, and Central India editions.

Playing is simple – you roll the dice to move around the “forest” board, and get to collect animal sighting cards. It involved math and natural history both. What is amazing is that the game instructions are available in 17 languages! Their newest game, Jungle Patrol, requires the player to assist forest rangers to outwit notorious brigands from entering the core of the jungle and wreaking havoc. If only real life could be this awesome. Available at kaadoothebiggame.com.

P.S. If I encounter a bird or insect that I can’t identify despite these games, I promptly message my wildlife friend, Radha Rangarajan, and she answers all my queries. But unfortunately not everyone has their own phone-a-friend option, which is why, game on.

Finally, Indian parents have words and images to explain grief and loss to children

Bereavement is never easy to talk about, more so with children.

https://scroll.in/magazine/843221/finally-indian-parents-have-words-and-images-to-explain-grief-and-loss-to-children

Boo! When My Sister Died

Boo! When My Sister Died (Pickle Yolk Books) is a picture book written by Richa Jha and illustrated by Gautam Benegal. In it, the protagonist Noorie’s sister dies and the world, as the girl knows it, changes. As Noorie yearns for Zoya’s return, Jha and Benegal unspool a story about coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Like a child talking, the book is often straight and direct: “That night my sister Zoya was away at the hospital, I dreamt of her. The next morning Mummy said Zoya was dead. I cried.” And yet, the picture book ends on a note of hope.

Jha said the picture book initially started as a story of separation of two friends. “It was during the collaborative creative process between Gautam and I that we felt the need to create a bigger canvas to tell a deeper tale of separation in a more permanent sense,” she said. “This led us to explore whether death in itself can be treated as permanent. And if so, how does one explain the poignant memories of the dead that punctuate the loneliness of the ones left behind?”

The illustrations lend a dark yet colourful ambience. Some pages are splashed with light and rainbows, and others are resolutely dark, as if someone turned off a light switch. The crosshatch background, said Jha, mirrors the confusing unresolved thoughts and questions that emerge in the wake of a sudden death. “The illustrations are hand drawn in a crosshatched style progressively ranging from a warm space of togetherness and belonging to a space of loneliness and isolation,” said Benegal. “Finally, with closure and coming to terms with the realisation that a close person who has left us physically also gifts us with an abiding presence of shared memories and moments, we return to that warm, secure space.”

Although Jha conceded that this may be a difficult book to sell in the Indian market, she felt that as authors, editors and publishers, we “owe to it our young readers (and the parents) the freedom of choice and the option to pick up books that can help them initiate conversations on seemingly difficult subjects”.

Jha noted that children have a sharp grasp of reality, even in its most unsavoury form. She took Boo! to a summer camp in Delhi for underprivileged children and realised that at least a dozen participants had experienced the loss of a near one. “I had not expected it,” she said. “The room became emotionally charged. I put the book away the moment I felt myself slipping into an insensitive TV reporter mode about to ask, ‘so how did you feel?’. But that was also the moment I realised how important it is to create books that talk to a child’s inner most grief or fear or even joys.”

The Boy with 2 Grandfathers

Image courtesy: Tulika Books
Image courtesy: Tulika Books

Amol lives with his mother and father as well as his Appa and Ajoba in The Boy with 2 Grandfathers by Mini Shrinivasan (Tulika Books). Appa and Ajoba are as different as Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. Appa is from Chennai, spends every morning performing a puja, and wears dhotis and bush shirts. Ajoba, in sharp contrast, has stylish white hair, a thick moustache, and wears a tweed coat with a silk scarf. But they both dote on Amol. One day, Amol’s mother falls sick with cancer, and the two grandfathers rally together to help their grandson through this difficult period.

“The idea behind The Boy with 2 Grandfathers is to use a humorous tone to highlight how men and boys deal with difficult emotions and how young boys and grandfathers too can be sensitive and gentle in their own unique ways,” said Shrinivasan. “Also how families from mixed communities live harmoniously while respectfully poking fun at each other.”

Shrinivasan said she felt the need to address the “tough situation of loss” because few books do that beyond the fantasy worlds. “Children’s books can help by dealing with such real issues of real children, especially pre-teens, but by keeping some humour and fun in the story and by not being preachy,” said the author.

Shrinivasan won the Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her book Just A Train Ride Away. In it, she describes how Amol copes with the slow withering away of his mother, the long silences, and the absences. “It was very hard to write the last chapters as I could not get a handle on how a 12-year-old would feel,” she said. “It was serendipity that I came across a first-person account of someone who went through a similar experience just when I was stuck. That helped to bring the authenticity that I was looking for.”

Gone Grandmother

Image courtesy: Tulika Books
Image courtesy: Tulika Books

Chatura Rao and Krishna Bala Shenoi’s picture book, Gone Grandmother (Tulika Books), starts hauntingly. “One day in February Nina’s grandmother went away,” writes Rao. “Nina didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.” Everything was the same – the sky was still blue, the birds continued to call out from the trees and friends played hide-and-seek. Except that the grandmother was gone. Gone Grandmother is a beautiful exploration of grief, the comfort of memories, and the innocence of childhood.

Rao said she felt that children have a great many questions that need to be answered with gentleness and honesty. When her grandmother passed away two years ago, her seven-year-old niece wanted to know where she had gone. “Her mother replied that grandma has gone to Ganpati,” recalled Chatura. “The little girl said she really couldn’t see how our old grandma could have journeyed so far, all the way to Ganpati’s home. This struck me as a pretty valid doubt. When someone dear passes on, where do they actually go? As adults, we perform the rituals of death, some of us donate money to charity, or contribute to feed the poor… we find ways to accept loss. But what is a child supposed to do for answers? Gone Grandmother was born from seeing things from my niece’s eyes. I was really hoping to answer her question.” And the book becomes a beautiful way to answers these questions.

Shenoi uses light as the foundation to illustrate the book. The result is stunning. “I wanted aspects of the visuals, particularly my use of light, to reflect the progression of the story,” the illustrator said. If you look closely through the book, the story gives the sense of a day progressing – starting from daytime and then fading into darker colours as the sun sets. “The illustrations, particularly those set in the grandmother’s room, are lit with patches of golden light to bring to the images a sense of her Nani’s warmth even in her absence,” said Shenoi. “And the compositions emphasise Nina’s smallness in her grandmother’s room, giving us a sense of some of her loneliness and longing.”

For Rao, this book wasn’t easy to write. “It seems like a simple enough narrative, but it was hard to strike the right balance between a child’s loneliness and her need to understand the truth.” But she manages to do that. In fact, the author has heard from many adult readers that the book reminded them of the time they lost a beloved grandma. “They said that the book acknowledged loss and spoke of hope, and these made them feel better,” Rao said. “The children I presented it to liked the funny bits best – the lists that the protagonist Nina makes: Ways to Reach the Stars and Ways to get to God’s Home. Perhaps they too make such lists themselves sometimes.”

Rao added that stories like these can help children deal with difficult subjects. “Loss and grief expressed through a story gives the child a chance to explore it in a slightly removed sort of way. She realises that the experience is universal (because it’s in a book) and yet is personal because she feels close to it while reading. So, it’s okay to feel sad and blue, but then life goes on.”

The Harry Potter films gave us Alan Rickman as Severus Snape but aren’t a patch on the books

https://thereel.scroll.in/841902/the-harry-potter-films-gave-us-alan-rickman-as-severus-snape-but-arent-a-patch-on-the-books

Never judge the book by its movie: this is especially true for the screen versions of JK Rowling’s novels.

There is a point in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Ginny Weasley bends down to tie Harry Potter’s shoelace at The Burrow. While watching it in the movie theatre, I wanted to fling up my hands in despair and yell, “What! Why?!”

You will not find that stupid scene in the books. Not even if you were to use a Revealer (that bright red eraser that makes invisible writing visible). Ginny in the books wouldn’t tie anyone’s shoelaces, she may actually trip them instead.

Few movies can do justice to a book series, especially one as rich as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. As a reader, I have definitive ideas of how Hogwarts and its moving staircases should look, whether Cedric Diggory resembles Edward Cullen (no, he does not), and how the Mandrakes cry when pulled out of the soil. A friend and I had a really long argument over the pronunciation of Sirius – she insisted it is Cyrus, and I couldn’t believe she was “serious”. (I won, in case you were wondering.)

All of us have versions of our beloved books in our heads. Some adaptations, such as the Game of Thrones series, come close to doing justice to their literary roots. This match is possible in a television show that stretches over several episodes instead of being scrunched up into 120-minute editions. Conversely, the Percy Jackson films were pretty much a disaster when compared to Rick Riordan’s funny and fantastic books.

For Potterheads, there’s always the tussle between endlessly discussing how the movies are not a patch on the books while devouring them just to get one more gulp of the wizarding world. The movies have been a means of remembering and revisiting the books that we all love. Without the movies, Alan Rickman would not have been seared in our collective memory as Severus Snape.

Movie adaptations of popular books tend to set the dominant visual cues for fans. The younger generation will always think of Daniel Radcliffe when they think about The Boy Who Lived, rather than Jim Kay or Mary GrandPré’s illustratations in the novels. Be it the figurines or the colouring books, they are all based on the movies. Even the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in America and Harry Potter World in London are tours organised by the producer, the Warner Bros studio.

Potterheads have their absolute favourite scenes from the books that have often been ruthlessly cut on the editing table. For instance, where is the wonderful story behind the Marauder’s Map, and how can Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire even proceed without telling us that the hack Rita Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus? Don’t even get me started on how easy the labyrinth was in the final task in the Triwizard Tournament.

One of my pet peeves has to be the fact that the filmmakers reduced Ron Weasley to a sidekick. In the books, he has all the funny lines and he is loyal to a fault. His insecurities, on the other hand, reveal his vulnerable side, something that is completely glossed over in the films. That is why we should never judge the book by its movie.