Jane De Suza is the author of the recently-released book – SuperZero, a laugh-out-loud book for children. Other children’s books that Jane has written include Party in the Sky, The Big Little Want and the Han Series. She has also written a best-selling humour novel – The Spy who lost her Head. In an interview with Hippocampus, Jane shares interesting anecdotes of her childhood, and tells us about what inspired her to start writing humourous novels for children. Jane writes for magazines across the world including National Geographic and also writes a parenting column in Good Housekeeping.
‘I want a fun book for my kid,’ I told the bookstore guy. ‘About princesses?’ he asked. ‘No – funny.’ ‘We have books about vampires, wizards, morals, mythology, battles with greek gods?’ ‘FUNNEEEY,’ I said. ‘Take a quiz book,’ he suggested. ‘Makes your kid smarter.’
I don’t want kids smarter. They’ve got enough tests and mental maths and music classes. I want them to have fun. So I wrote SuperZero. I love it when kids reading the book thump the floor, roll around and laugh hysterically. There’s nothing happier-sounding than a child’s laugh.
When I discovered the William series by Richmal Crompton in my father’s bookshelf, I tumbled into love. William was the original rebel, the inventor, the leader of the gang into all sorts of trouble and so, so funny. Years later, one of the first things that convinced me that my husband was the right guy for me was that he loved William too. We’ve now started a collection of the original print William series, tattered and hunted out from second hand book stores all over.
Schools should really get books out of neatly stacked libraries. Books should be living things – friends. Demystify them – get authors in to interact with kids as much as possible. Get children to act out characters from books. Ask children to take a book and change the story midway, into their own. Or else to take a character from a book and give him or her a new adventure – that sort of thing.
Only 3? Asha Nehemiah’s world of creativity, yet so set in local flavour. Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid – though excluded from most ‘serious’ book lists, I think this is a total creative genre-breaker and again – funny. Anything by Dr Seuss and Ruskin Bond.
I’m going to take this chance to push for books in libraries that encourage children to be with animals, love them, understand them, fight the systems that persecute them. I grew up with some of these books, so here goes:
– Call of the Wild – Jack London, Black Beauty – Anna Sewell, Born Free – Joy Adamson, Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling and the current fantabulous How to Train your Dragon series.
As a kid, I spent many happy hours imagining myself to be Thumbelina, so tiny that I could slip through keyholes, hide in a book and sleep in a walnut. Interesting –the possibilities of growing smaller, rather than growing up, right?
The Pleasant Rakshasa
The Pleasant Rakshasa is a wonderful story about a monster called Karimuga. Karimuga was a pleasant, friendly and beautiful rakashasa. All the other rakshasas were jealous his purple skin, pink cheeks, red eyes, and his wonderful hairy legs. Read this simple, heartwarming story aloud to children and teach them about the joy of sharing.
The Princess with the Longest Hair
Have you listened to the tale of the princess with long lustrous hair? The forests praise her and the winds still carry her song down the river. The jungle birds and fisher-folk smile and fondly remember the princess for her kindness. An award winning book with brilliant illustrations. A must have at every children’s library.
An unusual sweet magical story about a little girl called Annabelle who brings colour, magic and warmth to her village with kindness. Jon Klassen has done a brilliant job with his illustrations. He also brings back bear and rabbit from his book I want my hat. This Caldecott honor is a charming book which the children at Hippocampus often enjoy reading.
Pigeon finds a hotdog
Mo Willems has created a joyous adventure in this one by encouraging children to share. Is it easy to share when you really really want something all for yourself? Find out if hungry pigeon parts his hot dog with the big-eyed duckling. Highly recommended for kindergartners.
The Rainbow Fish
Sometimes being the most beautiful fish in the sea can be lonely. Rainbow fish learns that there is more to be gained by sharing his possessions than by keeping them all to himself. The heart of this simple story emphasizes not only the importance of sharing, but also the joy that comes from giving.
SHAILAJA MENON: As I understand it, reading is not “an act”, but a complex set of interrelated skills, strategies, attitudes, preferences, and so on. Let us take this slightly more complex picture of reading and ask ourselves: as teachers what are our “big objectives” or goals related to reading? Your responses may include goals such as: (1) children should be able to see reading as a meaningful and enjoyable activity; (2) children should be able use reading to accomplish different purposes in their lives; (3) children should be able to think critically about the books they read; and of course, (4) they should be able to have the necessary skills and strategies to access books independently.
Now, let us turn to the issue of children with dyslexia and ask ourselves: which of these goals is a child with dyslexia likely to have trouble with, as compared to other children? Children with dyslexia tend to have trouble with acquiring the skills and strategies needed to access books independently, and this may impact the other goals, if we are not careful. My advice to teachers is to take a two-pronged strategy to teaching children with dyslexia: (1) enable children to experience reading as meaningful and enjoyable; even while (2) empowering them with the needed skills and strategies to access texts independently.
In order to empower children with the needed skills and strategies, teachers would need to develop a careful and specific plan for each child with dyslexia, preferably in consultation with a special education teacher who understands their needs. In general, children with dyslexia may not “automatically” pick up skills related to words, letters and sounds that other children might. Explicit teaching, opportunities for practice, and specific and immediate feedback helps. They may need to be taught decoding in small-group or individualized formats. Teachers should teach not just skills, but strategies, by “thinking aloud” for children about how they (the teachers) solved a problem (e.g., decoded an unfamiliar word, or inferred something from the passage). Seeing the teacher make their own thinking visible helps all children learn how to be strategic readers; it is also helpful to children with dyslexia. Without explicit, intensive, guided teaching of skills and strategies, reading is never likely to be truly enjoyable for children with dyslexia, no matter how kind, supportive and child-friendly the overall environment is!
That said, we cannot wait until all the needed skills and strategies are acquired in order to develop the other goals related to reading, such as, enabling children to see reading as enjoyable and meaningful, thinking critically about texts, using texts meaningfully in their lives, and so on. Reading aloud good books and inviting children to having meaningful conversations is one way by which all children can be invited into the world of literature and books, even if they cannot yet read independently. While reading aloud, you may ask children with dyslexia to sit closer to you, or in a quieter spot. Some children are helped by having a small manipulative to hold and squeeze in their hand, that helps them to focus. Other children don’t need such support. Once the pressure of reading independently is taken away from them, children with dyslexia enjoy books as much as other children. Read alouds can be used to introduce children to a wide variety of genres and types of literature, and can be used as a time when children learn to think critically about texts, or respond aesthetically to them. You could set up your classroom to show children how different kinds of reading are useful to us in our daily lives – for example, literature for aesthetic enjoyment, different kinds of non-fiction for different kinds of information, and so on. You could show children how you, yourself, use reading for a wide variety of purposes in your life.
You could also build opportunities for collaborative work where peers help each other through a complex task. Pairing/grouping children with dyslexia with children without, helps each of them work to their own strengths. Even while the child with dyslexia feels supported with the nitty-gritties of decoding the text, she can bring other strengths to the group (e.g., thinking about a problem, or representing it visually, or presenting it verbally). It is important to remember that all tasks in the classroom (as in real life) do not need to be accomplished individually. Collaborative language learning is a key strategy that can be used to support children with dyslexia in the classroom.
It might also be a good idea to bring in a selection of books into your library that are easy to decode, but not conceptually simplistic. Make interesting (but easy-to-read) books available.
In short, children with dyslexia are remarkably similar to children without dyslexia when we take a broader view of what we mean by “reading”. Principles of good teaching that apply to all children would also apply to children with dyslexia; in addition, they would need more intensive, explicit and guided support with the acquisition of specific skills and strategies related to reading independently.
Have questions related to reading or literacy that you haven’t yet found the answers to? Send in your questions to email@example.com and have Dr Shailaja Menon respond to it.
Dr. Shailaja Menon currently works as faculty in the area of Language and Literacy, School of Education, Azim Premji University. She has her Ph.D. in language, literacy and culture from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and degrees in human development and psychology from MSU, Baroda, and Delhi University, respectively.
Shailaja has worked in various educational settings in the US and in India. She has an abiding interest in imparting a love for language, literature and literacy to children, teachers and teacher educators and engages in a variety of initiatives that help promote these.
Shweta Taneja is an author and comics writer based in Bangalore. She loves to prod into the paranormal and ask uncomfortable questions about everything. Her book The Ghost Hunters of Kurseong which is packed with mystery and adventure is a big hit among children.Her other published works include Krishna: Defender of Dharma and The Skull Rosary. Find out more about Shweta whose one motto is to stay curious and get some great advice on do’s and don’ts to promote reading among children.
I have an itch called curiosity. So you would find me prodding into a bug, or staring at a crow’s wings wondering what about them makes it fly (is it the colour or the way they shine?). This itch to solve mysteries of life, to question everything makes me write. I have no choice in the matter really. If I don’t write, I will have to sit all day scratching myself to get rid of the itch. Which is not a great alternative to writing, is it? So I write instead.
I have read, reread and even stared at Alice in Wonderland. It’s a fascinating book, full of nonsensical characters, all of whom I simply adore. At every age, I learn something new from it and it still makes me sit in a corner and giggle every now and then.
Excite them about stories: Children don’t distinguish between different media like books, television, games, etc. What gets them going are stories. If they’re curious about how the story goes, nothing in the world, including food will stop them from finding out. So as a definite first, I would suggest doing activities that make them curious about the new books in your library collection. Maybe tell them what the story is a little bit, do a mystery class and then dangle the book like a carrot in front and see them all turn into hungry rabbits!
Don’t handhold them: Many a times in India, I’ve seen schools and parents become strict about what their kid should be reading. Kids are rebels at heart (aren’t we all?). If you tell them read, they would want the telly. If you tell them read this book, they would want some other book. So the idea is not to tell, but show. Don’t force ‘good’ books on them. Instead, let them decide what they want to read. Let them pick up a book after wandering in the aisles and daydreaming. Guide only when strictly required. Set them free and they would figure what they like and read it.
Stock all kinds of books: Not only moral stories or stories that ‘teach’ the kids some kind of values. You should stock mysteries, thrillers full of ghosts, naughty stories and all kinds of things that make you want to sit in a corner and giggle all afternoon!
Oh, that a really difficult one. Three would be too limited to list down the lovely contemporary writings I see around me. I would suggest you to explore all beautiful writing that is coming out in the genre. Just read and then read.
I have a soft spot for fantasy so here goes my list (mostly for 10-upwards and most are series): The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, all books by Roald Dahl, His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll, Ramayana by Ashok Banker.
I’ve always been curious on how it would be to become someone non-human. So I would be torn between Casper, the friendly neighbourhood ghost, and The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland who can become invisible and only presents itself to make mischief. Yum!
Connect with Shweta Taneja online at www.shwetawrites.com
This October, let’s take time to respect, appreciate and celebrate all the wonderful animals that share the planet with us. It is important to speak to children about animals, animal safety, putting an end to animal cruelty and to stand for protection of the habitats that are home to wild animals. Here are 5 amazing books on animals and their world, which can help sensitize children towards all the wonderful creatures from land, sea and sky.
Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet by David McLimans
Gone Wild is a brilliant black-and-white alphabet book which is sure to intrigue and captivate readers of any age. David McLimans has elegantly illustrated the book transforming each alphabet into an endangered animal. Once you take this eye-opening safari, you will never look at animals or alphabets the same way again. Gone Wild is a Caldecott Honor winner.
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
This book is a wonderful blend of practical information and bold life-size depictions of animals. Steve Jenkins describes and gives examples of the size and weight of the Siberian tiger, salt water crocodile, the goliath frog and other such exotic animals. A great book to introduce children to the spectacular diversity of the animal world and is a must have at any children’s library.
Kakapo Rescue by Sy Montgomery
Kakapos are sweet-smelling, affable, flightless birds that once waddled on Codfish Island off the southern coast of New Zealand in large numbers. Now fewer than 100 remain, as their habitat became invaded by predators introduced by humans. Kakapo Rescue has beautiful photos and witty text that provide an intimate look at a concerted effort to save these endangered species. This book is a winner of The Robert F. Sibert Medal.
Birds from my window by Ranjit Lal
A beautiful and humorous book which will change the way you look at birds and their antics. Birds from my window is based on Ranjit Lal’s personal anecdotes and observation of winged wonders. Even the cover of the book is a photograph of a Hoopoe taken by Lal himself. This book is proof that you do not need to march to the wilderness to spot birds, you can observe many species from just the window of your house or by strolling at a park nearby.
Magnificent Makhna by Aravind Krish Bala
Makhna’s are tuskless elephants and are usually aggressive, but not Moorthy. This gentle elephant lives in the Theppakkadu elephant camp at Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu) wildlife sanctuary. The book unravels by telling us the story of Moorthy, who had once terrified humans and protected the forest from hunters, poachers and timber traders. Use this heart-warming Tulika book to discuss with children the human interference in nature.
Illustrations in children’s books are not merely for decorative purposes. They often work as a hook for children – especially early readers – and work as a parallel narrative (visual) in many cases. Being surrounded by a plethora of wonderfully illustrated children’s books, we at Hippocampus couldn’t resist the temptation of picking out a few of our all-time favourites. Having said that, there are several breathtaking picture books that we had to leave out, keeping in mind our commitment to 7 favourites. Do add in your favourites in the comments section below because we always look forward to your inputs!
‘WONDERSTRUCK’ illustrated by BRIAN SELZNICK
The novelty of ‘WonderStruck’ lies in its brilliant structure. Set 50 years apart, two independent stories are interwoven, almost seamlessly. One story is that of a young boy who is struck deaf and the other, of a girl who wishes her life to be different. Selznick’s monochromatic illustrations are captivating, and his attention to details is mind-blowing! Filled with mesmerizing illustrations, ‘WonderStuck’ is a collector’s delight. Brain Selznick is an American illustrator best known for his award-winning book ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret.’
‘RAINDROPS’ illustrated by RUCHI MHASANE
In Tulika’s book ‘Raindrops’, Ruchi Mhasane has beautifully portrayed scenes of a rainy day in India through the eyes of a little girl called Anju. It is through a window in her house that Anju observes the cloudy skies, puddles, colourful umbrellas and other little monsoon surprises. The illustrations in this book are depicted elegantly with soft water colours and have a dreamy feel to it. ‘Raindrops’ is a delightful book that must be stocked in every school library. It is available in various Indian languages. Ruchi Mhasane has studied Children’s Book Illustration at The Cambridge School of Art.
‘OPEN HOUSE FOR BUTTERFLIES’ illustrated by MAURICE SENDAK
“A screaming song is good to know in case you need to scream.” ‘Open House For Butterflies’ is an unusual book dotted with sweet and interesting thoughts. Of all Sendak’s books, this one happens to be our favourite because it’s light in nature. This is a brilliant book with adorable illustrations that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Maurice Senkak was an American illustrator and author of children’s books who became widely known for his book ‘Where the Wild things Are.’
‘THE GIJJIGADUS AND THE FIREFLIES’ illustrated by ATANU ROY
The nests of the golden sparrows are dark, they have no light. They fly all the way to the Kingdom of Gods to ask for help, and together they find a magical solution. Atanu Roy’s artwork in this gorgeous and touching tale of friendship published by Katha is certain to delight young readers.
‘HOW TO CATCH A STAR’ illustrated by OLIVER JEFFERS
There once was a boy who was very fond of stars. He loved them SO much that he would often dream about playing hide-and-seek with them. One day, he decides to catch one for himself, but first, he needed a plan. This lovely book is filled with illustrations which will constantly keep you reaching for the next page. Oliver Jeffers is an artist, illustrator and writer from Australia.
‘BIG RED LOLLIPOP’ illustrated by SOPHIE BLACKALL
Sophie Blackall’s illustrations are no short of sheer brilliance. In the book ‘Big Red Lollipop’ Blackall has illustrated scenes from a Muslim household set in North America, where the eldest daughter Rubina is invited to her friend’s birthday party, and her younger sister Sana insists in joining her. As the story unfolds, the delicate nuances of a sibling relationship is depicted subtly yet effectively through Blackall’s drawings. The book is a visual treat for readers! Sophie Blackall is a Brooklyn-based Australian artist who has illustrated over 20 books.
‘THIS IS NOT MY HAT’ illustrated by JON KLASSEN
‘This is not my hat’ is about a fish who swims away with a little blue topper that fits him perfectly. However, the topper belongs to a bigger fish who is on the lookout for it. Klassen’s illustrations in this book are brilliant, especially because of his evident sense of humour. ‘I Want My Hat Back’ has won Klassen The Caldecott Medal and British Kate Greenaway Medal. Jon Klassen happens to be first person to win both awards for the same book.
“If we are to teach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children”
– Mahatma Gandhi
With so much conflict in the world today, it is essential for us, as educators, to discuss and reflect upon the urgent need for peace with children who will shape the future of tomorrow. With 21st September being observed as International Day of Peace, we at Hippocampus have put together a few ideas on how you can help children understand the significance of values such as respect and tolerance.
Here are 5 simple but amazing ideas that you could start with:
1. Sign a peace pledge
Make a large poster with the words ‘I Pledge to be a Peace-Maker’ and pin it up on your notice board. Talk to children about the importance of being a peace-maker, and ask them if they would like to be one. Ask the young peace-makers to sign their names under the pledge.
2. Inside and outside a peaceful world
Draw a globe on a large-sized chart paper. Ask students to write words that they equate with harmony inside the globe, and words that they associate with destruction of peace outside the globe.
3. Choose non-violence
Ask children what they understand of the world ‘conflict’. What does it mean to them? Tell them to think of a situation which would upset them or make them angry, and then take a minute to reflect on how they would deal with the same situation peacefully. Alternately, you can ask them to form groups and give each group a ‘tricky situation’ which they are expected to solve.
4. My peaceful hands…
Distribute A-4 sized papers to children and ask them to trace their palms on to it. Once they’re done tracing, ask them to write a sentence starting with the words ‘My Peaceful Hands…’ inside the tracing. Children are expected to finish the sentence keeping in mind something helpful that they have done recently. For example: My peaceful hands water the plants everyday, my peaceful hands helped my mother cook breakfast, etc.
5. Go on a silent march
Take children around the school on a silent peace march during the library hour. While they are marching around the school, the children can carry placards with messages of peace on them. You can also ask them to greet everyone they see at school with a smile, a hand shake or a hug.
This Independence Day, give children enough reasons to love their country. Celebrate the most significant day in Indian history by interacting with students in the school library and ensuring that they have fun while learning more about our country’s dramatic past. Here are 5 great ideas to start with:
Unleash the spirit of Indian Independence in your library by decorating it using primarily Indian flag colours: white, green and saffron (use ribbons, streamers, balloons, etc). Put up information about what each colour of the national flag represents and what the 24 spokes on the Ashoka Chakra mean. You can also print out pictures of our freedom fighters and pin them up in the library.
Using brown chart papers, cut and make the shape of a tree trunk, and stick it on the wall. Write the words ‘Freedom means…’ on it. Then, make leaves using a variety of coloured chart paper and stick it around the tree trunk. Hand a leaf to each child and ask them to complete the sentence ‘Freedom means…’ based on their own experiences. It could mean anything: “Freedom means… summer holidays” to “Freedom means…. choosing my own clothes.” At the end of this activity, you will have a colourful tree in your library with words that children associate with freedom.
It is essential for children to know about India’s freedom fighters and their struggle for our nation’s independence. Give the children a brief introduction to great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Subas Chandra Bose, etc, and ask them to write a letter to any one of them thanking them for their courageous efforts. This exercise will not only inspire children, but also help them appreciate forgotten heroes and heroines.
Talk to children about a few National Symbols: national flower (Lotus), national fruit (Mango), national animal (Tiger), national tree (Indian Banyan) and national bird (Peacock). Make as many groups as the number of categories, and ask each group to select a new national symbol with good reasons to support them. Give each group a chance to discuss their choices and reasons.
Ask a group of children to find books that relate to freedom and independence in any way. This could be related to any country’s or individual’s freedom. Examples: ‘Picture Gandhi’ by Sandhya Rao (Tulika), ‘Mother is Mother’ by Shankar (Children’s Book Trust), ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela; Abridged by Chris Van Wyk