Inside Bright Minds: Author Asha Nehemiah

Each month, look out for our interviews with wonderful authors, illustrators and storytellers who are contributing to the wealth of children’s literature. We are thrilled to kick-start this series with popular children’s author Asha Nehemiah. Over the years, Asha’s books have been published by Scholastic, Duckbill, Puffin and Children’s Book Trust. ‘Mystery of the Secret Hair Oil Formula’, ‘Mystery of the Silk Umbrella and ‘Zigzag and Other Stories appear on CBSE’s list of Recommended Books for Schools. Read her interview with HSS in which she talks about promoting reading for joy in schools, her favourite children’s books and her dream job inspired by Roald Dahl.

Excerpts from the interview:

What are the factors you keep in mind when writing for children?

Children today have many more options for entertainment than ever before: TV, movies, internet, games, apps! So if I want a child to read my book, it had better be as entertaining as any of her other choices – ideally it should offer a child something more satisfying. So I always keep this in mind when I write. In order to make my book a more fulfilling option, I try to include some emotion in it. Talk about feelings and relationships along with the fun and adventure. I’m also very conscious of the fact that the child’s entry into the world of reading and books is influenced by my book. This is a big responsibility. If my book is boring, children may begin to think that reading is a boring activity.

Tell us about a book that you loved as a child and that you revisit even today.

Richmal Crompton’s ‘William’ series. I loved the stories as a child and read them even today. Her books are so layered in terms of humour and plot that they can be enjoyed by children at one level and by adults at another.

 What are three effective ways in which schools can promote reading for joy? 

a) Schools should make parents partners in the process. Conduct workshops and interactions with parents so that they understand how vital it is to ensure that children have the time to read and access to a wide variety of books. It’s entirely up to the parents to see that their child’s time at home is not so packed with activities that there’s never a window of time when they can relax and read.

b) Schools should provide a great library with a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction. Have librarians and language teachers who love reading and read widely themselves so that their love for reading rubs off on the children. Ensure that there are books for every taste.

c) Schools should budget for providing every student with five books (every year) that become their own and that they can take home to read. These five books should be chosen across genres and interests. Children will, quite naturally, discuss what they read and peer influence will encourage reading. The choice of the books – with different selections for each class – must be made fresh at the beginning of every year.

Name three contemporary authors who you feel children should be introduced to.

It’s difficult for me to limit this list to 3 as there are so many wonderful contemporary authors.  Here’s my shortlist: Ranjit Lal, Uma Krishnaswami, Anushka  Ravishanker, Subhadra Sengupta, Michael Morpurgo, Morris Gleizman, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Paterson, Anthony Horowitz, David  Walliams, Elizabeth Laird, Rebecca Stead, Kate Di Camillo, Sharon Creech, Karen Cushman.

Name a few books which you feel every school library must own.

The Why-Why Girl by Mahasweta Devi

Hanuman’s Ramayan by Devdutt Patnaik

Cool by Michael Morpurago

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Two Weeks with the Queen by Morris Gleizman

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson

If you could become any book character for a day, who would you choose to be?

Willy Wonka in his Chocolate Factory, creating new types of chocolate and eating it! My dream job!

If you’re interested in having an author or illustrator visit your school, write to us at hippocampus.librarian@gmail.com. Please note that this will be possible only if there is an author/illustrator in your city/town.

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Ask the Litpert

Have any questions related to literacy or language? Shoot your questions right away to hippocampus.librarian@gmail.com and have literacy expert Dr. Shailaja Menon answer them. Big questions, tiny questions, serious questions, silly questions, soft questions, hard questions – we love them all. So don’t be afraid to ask!

Q. What is the big deal about Reading Aloud?

A: Reading Aloud should be an integral part of the daily routine of classrooms and homes. Read Alouds provide an opportunity to introduce children, from an early age, to high quality literature. Literature sparks children’s imagination and brings them into connection with the collective knowledge of human experiences and relationships. It acts as a window into worlds that children have not yet experienced for themselves; and it serves as a mirror for them to understand and examine their own lives.

Reading Aloud good literature also helps create a space in the classroom for productive TALK and discussion around the books, ideas and stories shared. Children are often discouraged from talking in many Indian classrooms. Research, on the contrary, suggests that classrooms that are rich with productive talk around shared ideas, create conditions for children to develop their oral language, vocabulary, comprehension and literary engagement and appreciation.

Reading Aloud good books also provides “models” for children to use in their own attempts at creating texts of different kinds. Teachers can use the books shared in the classroom to introduce children to different genres of writing (e.g., realistic fiction, fantasy, non-fiction, etc.), and can discuss the techniques and strategies that authors use to create texts of different kinds. In short, Reading Aloud is one of the most powerful, versatile and easy to access techniques to foster language development, critical thinking skills and a lasting love for literature!

Literacy expert Shailaja Menon

Literacy expert Shailaja Menon

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.

 

Heart of the School: Bangalore International School

HEART OF THE SCHOOL is aimed at showcasing dynamic school libraries across the country where librarians are doing amazing work to build and nurture a culture of reading. This month, we are featuring Bangalore International School, Bangalore, and highlighting a few key aspects of their library that have contributed to making it a special reading space for children. The BIS Library Media Centre is often described by the school as an ‘intellectual getaway’.

a) Enthusiastic team of librarians – The first thing that will strike you about the BIS library is the incredible enthusiasm exuded by their team of librarians – Joseph Colin, J Asha and Suryanarayana. It’s always heartening to see librarians who are open to exploring new ways in which to promote joyful reading, even when there are challenges involved. The BIS library team believes that their strength lies in being able to create a friendly atmosphere in the library and being flexible in their approach.

b) Diverse library activities – There’s never a dull moment at the BIS library. While there is ample time set aside for quiet reading time, diverse library activities aimed at making reading fun for children are conducted frequently (Bookmark contests, analyzing book characters, making book-related posters, writing letters to authors, etc).

c) Author visits – At BIS, children love interacting with authors. Some of the authors who visited them in 2013 were popular writers Poile Sengupta, Monideepa Sahu and Rukhsana Khan. This year, even before May 2014, they are hoping to invite children’s writers Deepika Murty (Pika Nani), RamG Vallath and Suzanne Sangi.

d) Growing, relevant book collection – Today, there are roughly 30,000 books at the BIS library. Every month, 30 new books are added to this collection. What’s impressive is that book-suggestions from children are taken very seriously and the library team doesn’t hesitate to procure these books. Weeding of books is an annual affair, with typically around 50 unused books being removed. This helps them maintain a relevant collection that is used by children.

e) Recognizing challenges and searching for solutions – Like with any other library, the BIS librarians are faced with challenges and to tackle these, they are constantly experimenting to see what works. For instance, getting middle-school children interested in reading has been an ongoing challenge for them. To solve this, all middle-school children were asked to suggest books that they would like to see in their library. These books were procured and activities based on these books were conducted. Involving their favourite literature teacher while conducting library activities also helped.

BIS Library Team’s Favourite Children Books

Primary school The Terrible Greedy Fossifoo by Charles Fuge

Elementary SchoolBig Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan

Middle SchoolBoris by the Sea by Matvei Yankelevich

High SchoolIt Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet by James Herriot

Write to us at hippocampus.librarian@gmail.com if you feel that your school library is a dynamic learning space that deserves to be highlighted in HOO’ked on Books