Hippocampus has been in the children’s library space for over 13 years and one of things we learnt very soon is that a great space and an enviable collection of books are the heart of a good library – but the soul is the librarian. S/He has to be able to engage with the children and keep their excitement in reading always going. Carefully selected activities are a great way to keep the fun quotient in the library always high. Here are a few activities that you could organize at your school library and which are sure to be a hit.
Gather a group of children and get them to be seated in a circle. Once they are all settled, hand out a book to any child and ask him to start reading aloud. As he starts reading it in his normal tone, add a twist by asking him to read the sentence like a pirate. At any point you can ask the child to stop and pass on the book to another child. This child must then continue reading the book in her regular tone, until you stop and ask her to read the sentence in a whisper. You can continue this fun activity by letting the children pass on the book and giving them various voices to read the sentences in. Here are a few examples: clown, baby, lion, ghost, monster, princess, king, volcano (start slow and later speed up the sentence to sound like an explosion) robot, rap artist, opera singer, newsreader etc.
This activity is suitable for children of 7 years and above.
Those Terrible Twisters
Tongue Twisters are a great way to liven up a silent library with laughter and joy (yes we believe a library is not a silent zone!). Write down a few tongue twisters on chits of paper, fold them up and put them in a bag. Get children to be seated in a circle and select a child to come up and pick up a twister. Get the child to read it aloud once so everyone can hear and memorize it. Later, ask that child to nominate another child to stand up say the twister really fast 5 times. The results are always hilarious, making library time fun and enjoyable. Here are a few popular tongue twisters:
Whose goose is loose? Is it Lou’s goose or Sue’s goose?
Slippery clamshells slowly slam shut.
Chubby chimps chase shrimps.
A tree toad with three toes is a three-toed tree toad.
A kitty in the city bit a kiddie – what a pity!
Witches wish weird wishes.
This activity is suitable for children of 7 years and above.
Tip: Use this if you find that the children are very distracted during a library hour. This will focus their boisterousness and provide an acceptable outlet for their energy.
If you want the library to be calm while also keeping the children occupied with an interesting activity, try brain-teasers. This challenge keeps children scratching their heads for a logical answer and is also immensely fun to do in groups. A few brain-teasers are included here :
Answers: 1. A Computer, 2. letters, 3.Give one apple along with the basket, 4. A carousel, 5. Nothing
Activity suitable for 10 years and above.
This game is immensely entertaining. It will motivate children to be more observant and also pay attention to details. You can either hand out copies of the questions or divide children into four groups and quiz them orally.
Answers: 1. Daag acche hai 2. Twenty-four spokes 3. Escape (Esc) 4. Right hand 5. Counter-clockwise 6. Three curves 7. Eight sides, 8. Right side 9. Right side 10. Fifteen languages
Activity suitable for children above 10 years
The Extremely, Horribly, Terribly Difficult Quiz
A literary challenge for readers! – gather avid readers from different grades and conduct a quiz contest. Ask children to form 4 groups with a maximum of 3 children in each group. Quiz the children in front of an audience for encouragement. You can also pass on some of the questions to audience for fun. Find a few sample questions below:
Answers: 1. Mary Poppins, 2. Peter Pan, 3. Bagheera, 4. Snowy, 5. Arthur from Arthur Series, 6. Mr Popper from Mr Popper’s Penguin, 7. Swami, 8. Ramona from Ramona series, 9. Bashful, 10. Ollie, 11. Monday, 12.Eeyore, 13. Aslan, 14. Mary Lennox, 15. Jeff Kinney
Activity suitable for 8 to 12 year olds
After a long chase, Hippocampus finally pinned Vidya Mani to do an interview with us. Enjoy her witty responses and expert advice.
When was the first time you, as an adult, discovered a love for children’s literature?
I used to work for a review magazine many years ago. The magazine reviewed books for adults and children and I found myself pretty interested in the reviews of children’s books. I think that sparked off an interest in children’s literature. Subsequently, three of us friends got together and started off a children’s magazine called Chatterbox and life became children’s literature. Now, fifteen years later, I still love it and cannot live without it.
You edit, write, plan events with Bookalore, run a travelling bookshop and also conduct workshops for children. How did this evolution of Vidya Mani happen? Which do you enjoy doing most and why?
Oh gosh, people usually ask these evolution type questions when something is on the verge of or has become extinct! That said, most of the things I do are all linked to children’s books, be it writing them, editing them, doing events around them, selling them and managing a site that reviews them. As you can see, that’s a complete circle, isn’t it?
I absolutely enjoy working with new ideas, so writing and editing would top my list, but I think I really like juggling many hats, so I’m happy being a writer-editor-bookclubber-bookshopper and everything else in between!
Do you remember the first person who read a book to you? Would you like to tell us a little about that experience?
Mum’s the word! I can’t remember that experience specifically because I must have been a baby, but I know my mum filled every room in our house with books. My parents read to me, told me stories, took me to libraries and bookshops, so books were never out of reach. That’s all it usually takes to become a reader for life.
Tell us about a book that you enjoyed as a child and that you revisit even today.
The Just William books by Richmal Crompton were and are absolute favourites. I read them voraciously as a child and find myself reading them as pleasurably again with my nephews now. I grew up in Calcutta, so had I heard the entertaining story of Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and also seen the movie. That’s a children’s book I enjoyed reading very much recently.
What are three effective ways in which schools can promote reading for joy?
– By allowing children to read for fun
– By introducing children to every kind of book that can be read for fun
– By just letting children be around books for fun
Which 5 books -according to you – should every school library own?
Annual Haircut Day by Noni (Pratham)
Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar (Tara)
The Why-Why Girl by Mahashweta Devi (Tulika)
Tigers for Dinner by Ruskin Bond (Red Turtle)
Survival Tips for Lunatics by Shandana Minhas (Hachette)
If you could become any book character for a day, who would you choose to be?
Moyna from The Why-Why Girl – but don’t ask me why!
Vidya Mani is a children’s writer and editor, who wears many hats. She runs a content and design studio called Melting Pot that creates children’s books and magazines for publishers and NGOs. She is one of the founder-members of Bookalore, a Bangalore-based children’s book club. She along with a friend runs a travelling bookshop called Funky Rainbow that stocks and sells a curated collection of Indian children’s books at events. She is also the managing editor of the children’s book review site, Goodbooks.
Children at some point will encounter people with disabilities. In such situations, they may be inclined to stare, heckle, laugh or make inappropriate comments. They may even be scared sometimes. Siblings of children with disabilities also face a myriad of ambivalent emotions, where they love their sibling but simultaneously feel resentment, and embarrassment about the way their sibling looks or behaves. From another perspective, children with a disability should be helped to accept themselves and celebrate their uniqueness. Hippocampus has identified a few books that are ideal to explore questions about developmental delays and physical and intellectual disabilities that can help sensitize children, and introduce them to world of special needs in a gentle way.
Ian’s walk – A Story about Autism
Writer: Laurie Lears | Illustrator: Karen Ritz
Julie is excited to go to the park with her big sister Tara. She is however, unsure if she wants to take her little brother Ian, who has autism. When Ian insists by whining, she rushes and tugs him along. Tara and Julie feed cereal to the ducks at the park, when Ian lies on the ground with his cheeks pressed against hard stones. Ian does not have the same sensory reactions as his sisters’, and this makes Julie feel angry and embarrassed. When Ian goes missing in the park, her feelings instantly change; she knows that she loves her brother and that she must find him. Julie discovers that the best way to find Ian is to think like him and she therefore, attempts to see the world through Ian’s eyes. A heart-warming book, that can help teach patience and compassion towards children with autism. A book more specifically appropriate for siblings of children with autism, as it highlights the complexities of their relationship.
Catch that Cat
Writer: Tharini Viswanath | Pictures: Nancy Raj
A lovely book about a spirited girl who is determined to find her friend’s missing cat Kaapi. Dip Dip is the naughtiest child in school; she whizzes through the corridors, starts most of the food fights during break time, and plays with the monkeys through the window. One morning, Dip Dip’s friend Meemo cries that her cat has gone missing. Dip Dip decides to help. She begins her search by looking behind houses, inside dustbins and under the bushes. During her forage, she thinks about how grateful she is for her wheelchair that makes her faster than her friends. After a lot of searching, Dip Dip finally discovers that Kaapi has climbed up a tree and settled himself comfortably on a high branch. Dip Dip wheels herself close to the trunk of the tree and lifts herself up the branches to help him. How do they both get down safe? This wonderful book with bright detailed illustrations may help sensitize children and break all stereotypes associated to disabilities in a subtle but matter-of-fact way.
Writer: Zai Whitaker | Illustrator: Niloufer Wadia
Kanna is a happy child who has a way with words, or the words rather seem to have a way with Kanna “The teacher asked me my name and I said, ‘Kanna’. Then before I could stop my voice, it said, ‘Kanna Panna’.” “When Amma said, ‘Don’t play with dirt,’ my mind said, ‘and tuck in your shirt.’” His parents seem be a little impatient with him, always telling him what to do. Kanna likes it better at his cousin’s house where there aren’t too many rules. One day, Kanna along with his aunt’s family visit the dark cave temples. When they are inside, the faint light suddenly goes out, and the whole cave is engulfed in darkness. Everyone panics, except Kanna. Darkness isn’t new to Kanna, as he is visually impaired. He calmly retraces his steps and leads his family out of the cave into daylight. For the first time in life, Kanna realises his strengths. Kanna Panna is a poignant, thought-provoking story which is certain to leave the reader with a fresh perspective, questioning the limitations of being normal. A great book to read aloud to children with disabilities, as it may help them relate to Kanna, and celebrate their uniqueness. An apt book to introduce awareness in classrooms.
My Name is Brain Brian
Author: Jeanne Betancourt
My name is Brain Brian is a delicate portrayal of the difficulties faced by a dyslexic child, who doesn’t know that he’s dyslexic. He thinks of himself as dull, his parents think he’s lazy, and his classmates make fun of him because he struggles to read and write. This makes Brian dread going to school. One of his teachers observes Brian’s writing patterns; discovers his condition and helps Brian by taking extra effort in nurturing his learning. Brian is embarrassed by all the attention that he gets but he also realizes that the attention is necessary because he ‘learns differently’. My Name is Brain Brian is a great book to read to children with learning disabilities and also to those without.
Author: R.J Palacio
August Pullman is like any regular ten-year-old kid. August eats ice cream, rides his bike, plays ball and also has his very own Xbox. His parents love him immensely and therefore think that he is extraordinary, his sister Via is very protective of him and gets furious when they stare at him or pass mean comments because of his rare medical facial deformity. The only person who realizes August is ordinary, is himself. After being home schooled for many years, Auggie’s parents finally agree to put him in a regular school where he faces numerous upsetting situations. There are several small moments in the book that force the reader to stop and reflect – The way Auggie feels during Halloween is one such moment. ‘Wonder’ has the power to evoke empathy and respect – an inspiring book to educate children about acceptance.
Children’s laughter must simply be the most delightful sound in the world. Hippocampus recommends 6 hilarious books that won’t just make them laugh-out-loud but also help enhance their reading experience.
Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
In this minimalistic, award-winning picture book, the bus driver entrusts the reader with his bus and asks you not to let the pigeon drive it. As the driver leaves, pigeon promptly makes his appearance; begs, pleads and even tries to bribe the reader into letting him drive. The futile efforts of silly pigeon and his goofy expressions are certain to tickle children and get them laughing.
The Monster at the End of this book by Jon Stone
In this story, adorable Grover from Sesame Street begs the reader to stop turning pages, because each page brings us closer to a monster at the end of the book. Grover is afraid of monsters. But somehow, the reader ignores Grover and turns the page. Grover tries to nail the pages shut, he tries to tie the pages down, he even builds a brick wall trying to avoid the inevitable. Who is the monster at the end of the book?? Children will delight in each page they turn.
Max the Brave by Ed Vere
Max is a kitten who is confident of his outstanding mouse-catching abilities, if only he knew what a mouse looked like! Max goes on a quest to find a mouse and meets an array of animals big and small through the pages. Max finally meets a mouse who tricks him into believing that he isn’t one. A fun, interactive book of a fierce cat that is desperate to chase a mouse.
Never Take a Shark to the Dentist by Judi Barret
Never Take a Shark to the Dentist is a clever book filled with hilarious notes. There are many things that you should NEVER do – Like go shopping with a centipede or invite an ant to a picnic. You should definitely not take a giraffe to the movies or our favourite — NEVER go to the bank with a raccoon. A funny and imaginative book that makes you realise the perils of silly situations.
A Silly Story of Bondapalli by Shamim Padamsee
There once was a Prince who hated food. The royal cook one day gave him something new and very special to eat – a hot golden ball, crisp on the outside and soft inside.. A bonda! After that, there was no stopping the prince who took his obsession for bondas to a whole new hysterical level. A bondafully light-hearted book filled with bright and happy illustrations.
Phiss Phuss Boom by Jerry Pinto, Anushka Ravishankar and Sayoni Basu
Can breaking wind at a wrong time change your life forever? Stories of flatulence are a cheerful pass time for summer holidays spent with grandparents. Everyone has heard a story about loud funny ones or silent stinky ones or the ones that made you dizzy laughing at someone. Similarly, these 3 explosive fart stories from Kerala, Goa and Bengal will most certainly crack you up.
Here are a few other funny book series for you to enjoy – The Diamond Brothers by Anthony Horowitz, Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, Super Zero by Jane De Suza, My Weird School by Dan Gutman and Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. Tell us about some children’s books that you thought were hilarious in the comment section below.
Payal Kapadia’s debut book, Wisha Wozzariter, won the Crossword Award for Children’s Writing in 2013. It is also on the “101 Indian Children’s Books We Love!” list. After getting a B.A.(Hons.) degree in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, Payal received a M.S. (Journalism) from Northwestern University in Chicago. She worked with Outlook in Mumbai and The Japan Times in Tokyo because she thought that real life would give her many stories. It did – but then Payal discovered that some of our dearest stories are born in our imagination. Her latest book, Horrid High, is a riotous, rambunctious adventure in the world’s most horrid school. In the interview, Payal tells us what inspired her to write for children and gives school librarians excellent tips to encourage children to read for joy.
The wonderful stories my two daughters, twelve and eight, bring home each day. My own vivid memories of being a child. And the niggling knowledge that somewhere inside us, there’s a little part of us that remains a child forever.
My original copy of Enid Blyton’s ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ sits on my children’s bookshelf now. It still fills me with wonder, this notion of a changing land at the top of a magical tree. I’ve read it so many times now and it never gets old.
One, let kids read what they want to read. It’s OK if they want to read the same book again and again. Make suggestions, but don’t prescribe. Reading is the last bastion of freedom. Two, don’t wring a moral lesson out of everything a child reads. Three, employ and encourage librarians who are passionate about children’s books. A good librarian can find the perfect book for every child.
I’ll give you three, though I could probably name a hundred. Eva Ibbotson, Roald Dahl, Paro Anand.
Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’; Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy; Norton Juster’s ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’; Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’; Eoin Colfer’s ‘Artemis Fowl’ series.
I’d be Moon-Face and live inside the Faraway Tree and slide down the Slippery Slip and suck on Pop Biscuits!
Vishaka Chanchani is a well-loved illustrator with a Masters in illustration from MS University, Vadodhara. She has written and illustrated many books for children and is also an art educator and workshop facilitator in Bangalore. Her book – The House that Sonabai Built published by Tulika, won the Darsana National Award for Excellence in Book Production. In an interview with Hippocampus, Vishaka tells us about what inspired her to write for children instead of adults and also names a few of her favourite books among the ones she has written.
What inspired you to write for children rather than adults?
Difficult to say. Didn’t do this consciously.
Maybe I have a knack for it, it’s because the kind of writing that comes to me is really simple, direct, and has generally been inspired by things around me. Characters and situations that have struck or stirred me in some way, real or fictitious. There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve written for schools, and for my nieces and nephews as they were growing up, mostly unpublished. Some of them are reinventions of stories I heard from my mother when I was young, oral folklore handed down to me with song and rhyme. Gujarat has a lot of that. So though I did not really grow up in the land, I inherited some of the folklore passed down to us.
Also, I grew up with my older sisters and cousins who directed a lot of plays during holidays all within the family with props and costumes, and invited all the neighboring children to watch.
All this might have become part of my mirch masala of writing which became writing for children!
And now, even as an almost 60 year old ‘adult’ I still collect and like to read children’s books, especially of the pictorial kind.
How ‘Stones Lost their Hearts’ was the first book that you had written and illustrated. Could you tell us what led you to it?
Simple, an assignment in college, which was the Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU, Vadodara.
I had taken up illustration for my Masters, and we were supposed to come up with books. Of course in those days, making books wasn’t based on technological inputs.
There were no laptops, no computers, everything was executed by hand. We had to create ‘dummies’ and then rework them and make final illustrations. Mostly, I couldn’t do that, as often when the breakthrough happened, my illustrations were not copied from my dummy pictures, but came straight from the heart and the hand on to the page, at one go. However, I did take some time developing the character, in this case a witch, and remember vividly detailing her hair! All this was in pencil, which is still one of my favorite tools for drawing.
I happened to show the artwork to the editor at Children’s Book Trust, and he okayed it and it became a real book, much to my surprise!
Could you name a few contemporary authors who you feel children should be exposed to?
Well, my reading for children now is mostly limited to varied picture books, or stories that have been illustrated. I could recommend ~
Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories; the later edition has astounding illustrations. It’s a contemporary fable, with characteristic Indian elements, not very sweet and pretty, but full of life, wit, and fantasy and fun.
Then there is the already popular and touching little novel, The Little Prince, or books by Gerald Durrell many of which are illustrated by Quentin Blake.
My all time favorite has also been Dr. Seuss, not the beginners’ books, but stories like Bartholomew Cubbins and his 500 Hats, King on Stilts, the verse of ~ Mc Elligot’s Pool.
Amidst Indian ‘picture’ books, there are some that do not grow old, some of CBT or NBT classics include Mother, Maya of Mohenjo-Daro, both with rich and subdued illustrations by the late Pulak Biswas; I like some of the Puffin old time tales like the Crab and the Crane, for its tiny format, and especially the way it has been affectionately picturized by Taposhi Ghoshal. Then, for a collection of short stories there is the Twist in the Tale, by Aditi De, selective folk lore retold in refreshing ways with Black and White illustrations by Uma Krishnaswamy.
Today there is lots of great mixes happening, and many contemporary Indian publishers have broken conventional formats to make exciting forays into children’s book publishing; for me it’s also Tara Publishing that really made the gallant leap in India…braving challenging scripts, new approaches, and daring to make books valuable, aesthetic and a treat to handle.
What are some effective ways in which you think schools can promote reading for joy?
Now that’s a real question. In one of the Schools I was working in, many years ago, and one I still fondly revisit, an enterprising and genuine librarian completely changed the way one looked at libraries and books. She made it very child friendly, opened it up by taking books out of the shelves and relocating them in fun ways, made it more dynamic, with book talks, and book auctions…and took a personal interest in children, offering them books that were not typical, yet that seemed to resonate with the child’s interests.
I think even today, we lack a perspective on what constitutes good books for children. Is it about a cute story, heavy literature, a nice plot, being a best seller? And to address the larger questions, don’t we need to even seriously think about why we should find interesting books only in the library?
Do we need the divide between the academic book, recommended for the curriculum, and the book as entertainment, past time, for lighter reading? I have seen many children enter the regular school library only pouring over coffee table kind of encyclopedias, despite the shelves being full of all kinds of children’s literature. Does reading become synonymous today with boredom, especially as there are so many sensational ways to attract us, and as visuals and sounds become louder than words?
To break out of some of these moulds, all the teachers of the school, and not just librarians, need to look at what constitutes good reading, what is the current material available today, how can diverse and different books enter the classroom, or how can storytelling or even theatre become part of many more subjects, and not just for an end of the term cultural event.
Can students participate in the act of reading and writing without being marked or assessed in harsh ways? Schools can also become hubs for celebrating stories, enriched with workshops; interactions with writers, illustrators can bring in fresh perspectives as they work with both teachers and students.
Tell us about a book that you loved as a child and that you revisit even today.
I liked Heidi, perhaps because it was connected to a girl who found herself in the mountains with a lovable gruff grandfather and animals around her. I liked to pour over a picture book called Chendru, an adivasi boy who made friends with a tiger cub he found in the forest. This book was full of real lavish photographs.
I liked Leo Tolstoy’s unusual stories for children, poignant tales with black and white graphite drawings.
I still have a copy of the book…and read and share it when the need arises.
If you could become any book character for a day, whom would you choose to be?
Maybe a character from Haroun, the Hoopoe who carries the protagonist on his feathery back, across the skies to unpredictable landscapes.
I might even venture into the kingdom of cards, Tagore’s absurdly relevant Tasher Desh, or don one of the extraordinary hats of Seuss’s Bartholomew Cubbins.
Do you have a favorite from among all the books that you have written? Why?
I have quite a few, but not all have been published! But I like all my vendor stories, be it Chashmuddin Chashmewalle, the spectacular spectacle man or Beeju, the vendor of seeds.
Perhaps this is because, as a person on the streets or around the railway scene in India one cannot but help being confounded by the vendors around, stoically displaying their wares and advertising them in absurd and playful ways, making language and picture come alive. Men and women sell stylish spectacles, false moustaches, a pile of brooms on heads; vendors with carts or without them, they arrest us with their calls, and we stop right in our tracks.
I particularly like Beeju, I think the Hindi verse has worked well, and because here’s a whimsical guy who sells seeds and his stories of seeds ~ without charging any fees!
There are several wonderful alphabet books that have been published over the years to help children learn the 26 letters of the English alphabet. Here are some of our favourites that are absolutely distinctive and off-beat.
Go ahead and grab these books to make learning ABC a lot more fun.
Alphabetics by Suse MacDonald
In this wonderfully creative book, letters are pulled, curled, twisted and turned till they become a part of an illustration they represent. ‘A’ becomes an ark, ‘d’ becomes a dragon and ‘g’ becomes a giraffe. A visually appealing book that is sure to be read time and again. Read this book and rest assured you will never see alphabets the same way again. Alphabetics is Suse MacDonald’s first book and it won her the Caledecott Honor.
Harold’s ABC by Crockett Johnson
A unique and original ABC book where Harold picks up his purple crayon and draws himself adventures through the alphabets. The story unravels as Harold creatively draws over each letter he encounters with the narrative brilliantly connecting each alphabet in sequence. This book is not only a great read but can also encourage creativity to inquisitive minds while teaching basics of the alphabet to little children.
Alphabets are Amazing Animals by Anushka Ravishankar and Christiane Pieper
A clever and quirky book in which each page tells you a silly story. Careless Crocodiles Catch Cold, Fat Fish Frighten Funny Frogs and Huge Hippos Have Happy Holidays. The best features about this book are the amusing alliterations, and the catchy rhythm that each line creates. The playful illustrations match the text perfectly, making it a delightful book to read.
The Dangerous Alphabet by Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly
Two children sneak out of their house with a treasure map in their hand into a world beneath the city where eerie, unfathomable, mysterious things lurk. Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly have combined their expertise in this genre and have unleashed the most grisly, spine-chilling alphabetic adventure. Definitely not a typical alphabet book.
Picture A Letter by Brad Sneed
Feast your eyes on this exquisite wordless picture book that skillfully hides and reveals illustrations. A quick glimpse of the page ‘F’ for instance, immediately reveals a fisherman and a fish, take a closer look and you will see a Ferris wheel, firewood, frog, fawn, fly, flashlight, feather, etc. This exceptional work of art will be enjoyed at different levels by all age groups. A must-have for every picture book collector. And a must-read for adults!
Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet by David McLimans
David McLiman’s big and bold illustrations transform each letter into a work of art, graphically rendered with endangered animal characteristics. Spots, beaks, horns, wings, etc transform the alphabet into animals. The Moth for example spreads out its patterned wings to cleverly create the letter ‘M’. McLimans includes details of the endangered animals in a small red box at the bottom of each page and also provides information at the end of the book on how to protect and save them from extinction. Gone Wild is a Caldecott Honor Book.