Our journey with Pratham books

Anshumalika Rai and Nimesh Ved

We received a bunch of recently published books from Pratham publications for review. These books had us revisit our journey, of a few years, with Pratham books. So, rather than only review the fresh books, we take a step back to talk about our experiences with books we already had in our book room.

The experience so far
Pratham books have been a part of our book room since we rejigged the entire collection of books. Then we had reset not just the furniture but also the ethos of the room. We were keen to create a space that the children would enjoy being at and get the books they would like.

During this restructuring phase we visited the book fair in Delhi. Here we got Pratham books. It did not take us long to figure that these were the kind of books we were in need of. Books that were colourful, diverse, and attractive. Books that children would want to touch, hold, and invest time with. Books that brought happiness.

When we first arranged them, the four colours on these books brought cheers and smiles to the room. The book spines are colour coded – yellow stands for level one, red for level two, green for level three and blue for level four. We too joined in the fun and soon each wall in the book room was adorned with different levels, read colours, of books. These colours and the illustrations in the books made the children pick them up to read and comprehend. Colleagues too, when they came to the book room, could not stay away from these books.

After a few months we applied for and secured a book grant from Pratham. As a part of this grant, we received books and a book-hanger. Some books were present in both English and Hindi avatars. These were a big help – especially for the language teachers.

We also began observing children with the books we now had. Amongst the different sizes the large format books were the most popular. When it came to levels, the reds and yellows were the favourites – these books had also begun to appear worn and torn. The greens had a mixed reaction – the children read some of these. The blues, children seldom picked on their own; they preferred to stay away from these. We wondered whether it was the language or the content that kept the children away from the blue books.

Over a period, as we got more books and reread them, we observed that the quality of translation had improved. A shift towards themes relevant in today’s time was discernible. On the metro, for example, is an excellent book to discuss gender, and not just with children! However, when it came to maintaining the stocks, these books continued to leave us befuddled. The same book could have two very different names – Dho Dalo in Hindi and Brushing is no fun in English!

The recently received books

Paati’s Gold (level 4, pages 20)
Written by Meenu Thomas and Illustrated by Kruttika Susarla

This is a story about using local and traditional varieties of crops. The first line of the book is “Selvan and Savi did not like it when Paati and Appa fought.” While quarrels and disagreements are a part of our day-to-day lives – children talking of their father and grandmother fighting is seldom a part of our stories. This, making our stories more real, and not pretending as if children are not aware of the reality, is a positive shift. The book depicts people from the southern part of our country with their skin colour and dresses. This too is a welcome change. It talks about rice varieties that many of us consume but few know about like Kolam, Kattuyanam, and Karudan samba. It reminds us that the native rice varieties are beneficial for us in more ways than one and also subtly talks about helping others.

Teachers can take help of the book to engage children in conversations about rice (and other crops), native species, families, and more.

How many? (level 1, pages 16)
Written by Sudeshna Shome Ghosh and illustrated by Sayan Mukherjee

This book teaches counting in a light and non-preachy tone. The butterflies wave bye-bye while the snails joke. The illustrations are bright and colourful. Rhyming text adds to the fun. Questions are asked on one page and readers get the answers on flipping the pages! Small species like fishes and worms find place; this is refreshing.

This is a book teachers can leave for children to pick up and figure.

Vira and Tilli (level 3, pages 18)
Written by Meenu Thomas and illustrated by David Yambem

Most of us consume onions and yet so few of our stories talk about them or even the sabji mandi. This is a story about Vira (a young boy) and Tilli (an onion). Vira takes care of Tilli from its sapling stage and takes it home when the bulb is ready. He is sad when the onion has to be sent to the market. Here, his father tells him, “Vira, how long can you keep it with you? Tilli will start to go bad in a few weeks”. These simple and succinct conversations that treat children as sensible and sensitive beings are welcome. The illustrations are captivating. The book tells us about how vegetables are sold in the market – not many of us would be aware!

This is a book teachers can take help of to talk about how vegetables are grown and sold.

Picnic on grass (level 2, pages 12)
Written by Venkataraghavan Subha Srinivasan and illustrated by Annada Menon

Such a pleasure to read this book on grass that encourages us to roll and tumble! Reminds one of the fun times one has had with friends on meadows and lawns. The book mentions names of different grasses; names we do not come across commonly. It also has a map that depicts the regions, in India, where each of these grasses thrives. The book is light on text and the illustrations add to the text. The plate for food and the straw for the juice – did the book miss out on an opportunity to communicate silently on sustainability?

This is a book teachers can take help of to talk about grasses. It makes us realize there is so much we can discuss about grasses!

A suitable shell (level 2, pages 16)
Written by Radha Rangarajan and illustrated by Rohan Dahotre

A crab moves around the beach looking for a shell! It encounters trash – bottle-cap, wafer packet, egg, groundnut and else – all over the beach. The book highlights what we have done to our beaches and how it affects species like crabs. Rather than lay the blame on someone else the book makes us relook at our practices – especially that of throwing trash left, right, and centre including on beaches!

This is a book teachers can take help of to talk about the trash we generate and how that trash affects other species.

All about teeth, All about claws and All about beaks
(each of the 3 books – level 2, pages 16)
All three books by Rohan Dahotre

As the names convey – these books talk about how species use their claws, beaks, and teeth. These books are light on text, in other words there is no information overload. While the illustrations are brilliant, they appear multiple times. Those on the cover find place thrice! Can this have been avoided? These books also depict species not occurring in India. Can they have done without this or have maps showcasing where the species occur? The book on beaks says birds, the book on teeth says animals, and the book on claws says animals but has both birds and mammals! Could the terms birds, animals, mammals have been used with more precision?

This is a book teachers can take help of to enable children to identify species or draw them.

Our beautiful world (level 4, pages 24)
Written by Bibek Bhattacharya and illustrated by Joanna Daavala

This book – about climate change and how it can be mitigated – has a lot more content compared to other books of this level. It uses ‘we’ as if children are a part of the problem! It also takes an over simplistic view – that using energy sources alternative to fossil fuels will help solve the climate change crisis. Do the alternative sources not come with their baggage and caveats? The final page shows a conference as a part of the solution! Many of the conferences today are more a part of the problem than the solution! What message do we want to give? Could the book, instead, have talked about lifestyles and footprints with children?

This is a book teachers can do good without.

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

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