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Friday, December 21, 2018

My Experience Narrating 'A Home of Our Own' by Meghaa Aggarwal


Our own Meghaa Aggarwal has turned author with ‘A Home of Our Own’ (Tulika, 2018). Here she writes perceptively about her experiences reading it to children.

This year I ticked one off my bucket list — to author a children’s picture book. I’ve had this one on my list since 2014, when I first joined Tulika and was exposed to its rich and vibrant catalogue of picture books — that too in eight Indian languages, apart from English. But, as I discovered, becoming a published author is a mean feat, even if you work for the people you want to publish with!


Nevertheless, after four long years, this has finally been accomplished and I’m now a bona fide children’s author. But what I didn’t imagine was that my first children’s picture book would deal with a subject as sensitive as poverty, homelessness and the quest for happiness. 

It’s a relatively straightforward plot, about a group of street children playing house. In my narrations, I make children from the audience role-play the various characters in my story – rag-pickers, beggars, child-labourers – and arm them with props – old plastic bottles, discarded packets of chips, an empty paint bucket… After this we have a discussion on the book and a short activity.

So far, I must have narrated my story to over 100 children at different venues. They are usually quite happy role-playing. In fact, some of them eagerly raise their hands to do this — unfortunately, my story only has seven characters! After I arm the 'actors' with the props, I ask them and the audience to ponder over the significance of the props. 

Most of them initially struggle. Being children from relatively well-off families, they wonder how anyone could possibly play with things they consider to be 'garbage'. “Miss, they will put the plastic bottles and packets of chips in the dustbin at home,”, “Miss, who ate the chips?” A 10-year-old even had an epiphany, "Miss, miss, they are recycling things, isn't it?!" But soon enough they get the hang of it and begin to enjoy the 'guessing game'. Witnessing their imagination at play and their delight, when they discover how an old, square carton can also be a TV, is an inimitable experience!

Social distinction and class-consciousness are so ingrained in our society that even five-year-olds are not entirely immune to these. There is an evident perception of 'the other' when my typical audience first talks about street children. They're poor, they're dirty, they steal, they're lonely, they use cuss words — the adult-influenced judgement is unmistakable because none of the children admit to ever actually interacting with street kids. One four-year-old innocently disclosed, “Mumma kehti hai woh chhee-chhee hote hain aur woh maarte bhi hain,” (Mummy says that they’re dirty and they also hit you).

Even during the act, I can sometimes sense mild discomfort when I first introduce the ‘actors’ to their roles. Some of the parents, if they’re around, don’t look too happy. 

Sometimes this perceived discomfort rubs off on me too. For instance, once I picked a particularly dark-skinned girl for the role of a rag-picker and I immediately wondered if she or her mother, sitting in the audience, might wonder if I picked her because of her skin colour. Another time, I was narrating to a group of underprivileged kids and I wondered if they would be comfortable playing the role of street children, who are not too far removed from their daily lives.

One parent even told me that while she enjoyed the fun-filled narration, with acting, props and even a cardboard car, she thought the subject was too heavy for young children. “Don’t you think literature for young children should be about tickling the funny bone?” 

But in my discussions with the children following the narration, I find them to be very discerning. A lot of them begin to wonder how street children would be living. “Where do they live, if they don’t have a home?”, “Where are their parents?”, “Do they wish for new toys to play with?” Some children also remark on how the characters are so happy despite all their troubles. “I think the story is about how one does not need too many things to be happy,” “I think these children are happy because they have so many friends to play with”. I still remember one boy who was particularly moved by a character who scavenges food from garbage bins, “Miss, miss I will never waste my dabba and I will share it with children who are hungry.” 

I’m ever-thankful for their thoughtfulness. It fulfils all the hopes I have in my book.

So, I’ll say what I wanted to say to the well-intentioned parent but couldn’t phrase it as well at the time, “We underestimate our children — they’re more resilient than we think. They are growing up in a world which is as ugly as it is beautiful and their curious minds are full of unanswered questions. Questions that are unanswered because they’re rarely discussed in their social milieu — the home and the classroom. Questions that aren’t ‘okay’ because for adults, children are too innocent to be tainted with the often-uncomfortable answers. But the truth is, children often do have these questions on their mind and I’ve come to believe that literature is the floodgate that opens to unleash all these questions, offer answers and fill a void in a child’s mind.”

A Home of Our Own’ has been going places. Follow the car! Get your copy of the book here!


Thursday, December 13, 2018

SCIENCE MEETS RHYME: Scientists A to Z


Of the several manuscripts that we receive daily, most are stories, some are verse, a few nonfiction and smattering of alphabet books. But there has never been a manuscript that focuses on nonfiction, is written in verse and references an alphabet book all at the same time! That is Scientists A to Z! What a truly unique concept. It is certainly what caught our eye when we decided to publish it.


A few months, discussions and drafts later, we have Scientists A to Z ready for you. Written by John Reilly and illustrated by Anna-Maria Jung, this is a cracker of a book that we are all excited about.


Why? Let us just show you why. Ready? Here we go!

H is for Hubble
Our universe is gaining size
Gaining size, gaining size
Our universe is gaining size
Just ask Hubble.

Did you see just what happened here? John Reilly has taken a rhyme that everyone is familiar with — ‘London Bridge is falling down’ — taken it apart and put it together but in a different way. And not just in any way but created a coherent rhyme about the astronomer Edwin Hubble which is also entertaining to read.

That’s not all. You can also find a mini biography — full of fun facts — of the scientist on the same page.

Another aspect of this multi-faceted book that we loved was the variety of scientists represented from all over the world across race and gender.



So with so many USPs, we think this book is for the 10+ age group. But really, we think this book is for everyone. Kids will love rhymes; young adults and adults will enjoy the facts. Everyone will adore the funky colour illustrations by Anna-Maria Jung which add that wow factor to the book. The black and white illustrations by the in-house designer Aparna Chivukula give the finishing touch.

What’s great about this book is that you don’t need to know or have heard of every scientist listed here or concept referred to. In that sense, it’s a journey of discovery that could also be your springboard into the world of science.

Whether you are mad about science or wary of it, in Scientists A to Z you will find a friend who’ll take you on a journey across a variety of topics like evolution, periodic table, computers and more while also introducing you to famous scientists from all over the world.

Go on, what are you waiting for? Grab your copy today!


Monday, November 26, 2018

Q and A with Mini Shrinivasan, author of ‘I Didn’t Understand!’

I Didn’t Understand! by Mini Shrinivasan and illustrated by Shubham Lakhera is here now! Watch out for it on the Tulika website! We spoke to the author Mini Shrinivasan, who has two award-winning books with us The Boy with Two Grandfathers and Just a Train Ride Away, about how this story germinated, concerns about translation, her own creative writing process and more.



How did Manna’s story start? When did the seed for this story plant itself in your head?

Manna is now a grown woman, but she was a little girl when I knew her first — a child with Down's syndrome, full of life, full of humour. I never forgot her, and one day this story popped up from the 'Sea of Stories' as Salman Rushdie calls it.

I Didn’t Understand! is focused on a girl with Down’s Syndrome. It’s an unusual story told from the point of view of the child herself. Why was it important for Manna to tell her own story?

It is so hard to understand the mind of a child with an intellectual handicap — does she know? I had to guess, and that is where a writer goes, into the 'may be'.

The story of I Didn’t Understand! actually lies in the gaps — between the reader and the narrator, Manna. What made you choose this strategy?

This idea  does the child know that she has a deficit in understanding? And how does she feel about it?  Also, the innocence of such children along with having trouble understanding most things, they also often don't understand nastiness and meanness. I thought it would be interesting to challenge the reader do YOU understand this child?

In the past few years children's books on disability are increasingly visible. Especially where the children themselves are empowered and take decisions. What do you think has changed?

I think parents and teachers have been the moving force. They want visibility and inclusion for their children.

Disability terminology was a challenge that translators faced in the Indian languages during the translation of this book. Do you think we need a different approach towards terms associated with disability — in any language?

YES! More and more young parents and young professionals in the field, and older people with disabilities tell us to stop using insulting euphemisms like 'special' and 'divyang' and 'differently abled'. Face our disability, and support us where we need it. Be our friend, not our saviour!



We’d like to know about your creative process. How does a story develop for you? Does it take many rewrites or does it turn up complete and ready?

Almost fully ready, from the 'Sea of Stories on the moon Kahani'. In my longer books I have had to fill in some parts with some effort, but mostly it just comes to me. It comes, of course, from a life full of children at home and at work.

Why do you choose to write for children?

Because I love and admire children, and I think I understand them.

Which children’s books have made an impact on you?

My all time favourite is Alice in Wonderland, which I read again every 10 years or so. I loved the early Harry Potter books. I like Paro Anand's books very much too.

Do you have a special place where you write your books? A favourite corner?

My laptop on my lap, in my study, my feet on a modha. Nowhere else.

What quirks — connected to writing — do you have?

I am totally indisciplined, write rarely and then all in one go for hours, or nothing for years. The story has to come to me; it has to beg to be written.

Are you working on a book at the moment? Do tell us about it.

I am trying to write a boarding school story like the old Enid Blytons, but set in a tribal ashram school — there will be ghosts and creepy crawlies, that's all I am saying.

***

Mini Shrinivasan is based in Pune but travels extensively to support projects working with children in the most
backward parts of rural India. Both her earlier books with Tulika
The Boy with Two Grandfathers and Just a Train Ride Away have won national awards.