About the children, for the children

Nimesh Ved and Anshumalika Rai

For this set of books from Pratham we have tried a fresh approach. We received the books in English and also read them in Hindi, online. We read the books individually and then together. It was an experience to read these books aloud together, in multiple languages, and to discuss, agree, and disagree.

During the past few years that we have had Pratham books at our book room, the quality of translation has only gone up. A Song in Space, for example, has terms like naayaab, roohani, parhej, and dastoor which succinctly capture the essence of the original English text. Similarly, What the Dark Sounds Like uses ‘bahon me bhar lein’ for hugging. The translation here is simple, and like a lot which is simple, it works.

Images had us engrossed. Some of them appeared all the more captivating when viewed on the screen – especially in What the Dark Sounds Like.

Overall, the themes in Pratham’s books appear to be moving closer to the children. The focus, especially the ‘Red’ and ‘Yellow’ series, is on the children. Hello Sun is an apt example.

What the Dark Sounds Like
Written: Aparna Kapur
Illustrated: Krishna Bala Shenoi
Level: 2 (Red)
Price: 85/-

This book has one of the more fascinating opening lines, especially for a book meant for children, “I wanted to know what the dark sounds like, so I listened to a night.” So many of us have wanted to do this at night – getting out of the four walls to figure out the world beyond. It is refreshing to see someone alone, observe silently, experience awe, questioning – and it is not surprising that this sensible someone is a child.

One can listen to nights be it the dogs barking or the silences and feel the wonder! Hugging trees too is special. The book has a very clear message for adults – just let children be.

Clouds are ‘magical’ while ‘love’ indeed has a lot to do with grandmothers – the words have been carefully selected and the book crafted with emotions. There is magic all around us, we need to neither wait for something special to happen to us nor do we need to buy stuff to feel special – we just need to be.

The images too are such that they make it extremely difficult to pick a single favourite!

Hello Sun
Rajiv Eipe
Level: 1 (Yellow)
Price: 75/-

What diversity we can come across in a single day and that too amidst human habitation! And, of course, it helps to know our non-human neighbours too!

The illustrations had us turn and re-turn the pages slowly in a leisurely manner. We loved them – from the morning dew to the sunset – including that of the owlet which does not find mention in the text!

This book also presented avenues for us to disagree! Interpretation of the image where the father comes home for example. One of us felt that the author wanted to convey the friendly and warm bonding between the father and the son; while the other understood it as the son stopping the father from crushing little creatures under his shoes.

We need to appreciate the life around us and take time out to marvel at the wonders that exist, rather than getting paranoid about harmless species that exist around us or worrying about clothes getting dirty. Instead we need to enable children to explore their surroundings.

Afo and I
Canato Jimo
Level: 2 (Red)
Price: 80/-

This book takes us to our younger days. It reminds us of how children value friendship! How companionship is dear to them! The parallels they draw “These mountains, these rivers, these trees. Will they stay the same?”

A line finds space both at the beginning and towards the end of the book; “Things are changing and they are changing fast.” It talks about how the character feels. The one at the beginning is followed by an illustration of a JCB eating away the hills and leaving a wound on the shifting cultivation landscape – a stark take on the times.

The illustrations are endearing – be it the landscape or the characters. One of us has visited Nagaland on multiple occasions and was reminded of the times there – of days spent walking the shifting cultivation fields.

The principal characters – the English version does not name the bonding – we assumed were friends. The Hindi version, however, refers to them as brother and sister. Did the translator need to bring this ‘value’ or ‘shift’? The English version has a beauty to it, the beauty of unlabelled bonding and friendship, which is lost in this labelling!

A Song in Space – Kesarbai Kerkar
Written: Neha Singh
Illustrated: Shubhshree Mathur
Level: 4 (Blue)
Price: 85/-

It is a pleasure to read books on Indian classical music artists, especially when they are meant for children. This book reminded us of one of the favourite books at our book room; Zakir and his Tabla.

We were neither aware of Kesarbai Kerkar nor that she was the only Indian on the Voyager Golden Record. We were reminded, yet again, of how little we know about our country, especially its arts and artists.

Non-fiction books, such as this, are a good medium to find out about our culture and recent past. They also enable us to question some of the practices and beliefs followed during her times women artists not sitting cross-legged while singing or only males singing khayaal!

Bibliography and a list of songs towards the end of the book help. The illustrations are of high quality – they capture an artist’s journey from childhood to old age with panache. Kesar, Kesarbai, Kesarbai Kerkar – have three names been used on purpose?

Level: 2 (Red)

This picture book, entirely without words, reminds us that we recklessly throw trash all around us and that the trash we generate is only increasing. It warns us that one day this trash may get out of control and consume us. And also suggests what we can do.

On the one hand, we wondered why we need to burden children with this talk on trash, and on the other whether we have the option of not talking to them given the dire situation we are in.

Images leave a lot to interpretation and imagination. This is a book which might have been more apt for a higher level.

The authors enjoy being amidst poetry, music and children. They can be reached at nimesh@teacherplus.org.

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