When you’re a child, thinking out-of-the-box comes naturally. Backyard Adventure by Amanda Thomsen is a book that is filled to the brim with ideas and tips to reclaim the childhood that ‘should be’. As gadgets and structured lessons fill our children’s lives, a book like this is a reminder to slow down and savour beautiful moments that will go on to make the foundation of a child’s life.
The book is filled with many pictures and short snappy ideas on fun projects that children can do in their own backyard. These are real images of things done by real children and hence will definitely be inspirational.
Some of the projects may require a little bit of help from adults, if the children wish that is! There are some big projects such as building a fort or tepee, or a hideout with straw bales and tree branches, or a cardboard castle, complete with instructions. Then there are other executable ideas such as making creative sandboxes. There are instructions and suggestions on how to set up ‘tinkering’ areas such as a science lab or a musical studio, again by using easily available material. Children are also encouraged to make a ‘giant mess’ in some specially designed experiments. For those with a green thumb there are hints as to what they can grow. Some of the ideas involve messing around in the wild, or doing science experiments, again often messy! Another set of tips revolve around how kids can capitalize on their backyard space in the dark! (hint- it has to do with glowing objects!)
The materials required for these projects are simple things that one uses at home. In fact, most of the things are recyclable and these projects are all eco-friendly in that sense. Children can make use of waste and old stuff to indulge in these!
In all, the book is filled with easily executable ideas. Older kids (tweens) would be able to do these by themselves while younger ones would need some help from adults.
Some ideas for backyard fun that appealed to me:
Take a pick from your favourite ideas and bounce them off on your kids. You will soon discover that the backyard is a blank canvas…. paint your fun the way you like! And who knows, backyard adventure may not just stop with the kids!
Title: Backyard Adventure
Author: Amanda Thomsen
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Genre: Self-Help, Non-fiction
When you think of writing exercises for children you don’t really expect them to be moving around, looking and things or manipulating them. But, Rip All the Pages- 52 Tear-out Adventures for Creative Writers by Karen Benke does not recommend the usual stuff. Yes, it is a book that has creative writing exercises for children. But, what these lead to is another exciting adventure.
The physicality of the reader’s interaction with this book is something that really stands out. As you navigate the book, you rip a page, deal with it and then move on to the other. There is also a sensory aspect to the activities mentioned. For example, one of the activities is ‘detonate a memory with flammable words- I remember’. Such activities add a sensory dimension to the act of writing.
Each page has a specific writing exercise. Words of encouragement are woven very neatly into the exercise. This is helpful and motivating to the writer.
There is a ‘call to action’ after most of the writing activities. Many ideas are given on how the writer can display the work…..and quite a few of these are out-of-the-box ideas. For example, in one activity, the child is required to write down sentences on how people can be kind. Then, they need to tear these into little chits and ‘leave a trail of kindnesses. In another, the child has to talk a walk and write in the intermittent pauses. Yet another involves nibbling a snack while writing and taking binoculars and writing from a different perspective. Activities such as these make writing a pleasure, and they also make writing purposeful. Needless to say, they make writing an element of fun.
The writing exercises in the book call for shorter pieces of writing that include slogans, poems, free associative writing, writing words, writing with colour, writing about deep feelings, concocting words and phrases by just bringing them together randomly and so on.
Rip all the pages is a great book to use for:
And as you ago about the journey of implementing these writing exercises for children, it helps to keep the author’s parting advice in mind, “Keep your heart brave and your mind curious”!
If you are interested in creative writing for children, you may also like to read this: https://www.bookedforlife.in/books-and-ideas/writing-is-fun-and-yes-we-mean-it-a-new-writing-activity-book-by-jeanne-perrett-brings-a-dose-of-fun-to-creative-writing-for-kids/
Author: Karen Benke
Publisher: Roost books
Genre: Children/ Activity
Age group: 6-12
Mia is a young girl and she knows that she is born out of her parents’ hearts. Mia sets off to find her biological mother, that is, her ‘tummy-mummy’. The story follows this journey. But, as she goes through this process she uncovers the immense love that her ‘heart’ parents and her extended family holds for her. Her ‘heart parents’ lovingly support her search at every step, gently walking with her on the path where she seeks to know the truth.
Explaining the concept of adoption to a child requires understanding, open and heartfelt communication. Very often adults may be at a loss of words. The book gives words to the very sensitive topic of explaining adoption to a young child. The terms “tummy-mummy” or “heart-parents” immediately give a voice to these unique relationships. The illustrations by Ruchi Mhasane do justice to the deep feelings of love and belonging that pervade the book.
In My Heart, quite perceptively opens up the reader to the fact that there are many different kinds of families. Some connections are those of the heart. It is a story filled with love and poignancy, and the joys of familial bonds.
This book is a wonderful addition to any child’s library, as well as for schools. Adopted or not, all children need to know that ultimately, families are bound by heart!
Title: In My Heart
Author: Nandana Dev Sen
Illustrator: Ruchi Mhasane
Publisher: Puffin books
Age group: 3 – 6
Sera Learns to Fly, written by Vinitha and published by Katha, tells the simple and delightful story of a little ant living in a big colony of ants. Sera has a deep desire to fly. Does this manifest into reality?
All around her ants are very busy working hard.The book provides a glimpse into the vibrant colony of ants which has a busy buzz to it! However, despite all the movement around her, and despite all the work she keeps doing as a member of her colony, she never stops wondering. She is always on the lookout for the moment when she would fly.
Would Sera be able to recognise that moment when it comes? It turns out that, one night, Sera and her sister Hira are sitting on the top of their ant hill and Sera catches a glimpse of dry Peepal tree leaves floating gently down the tree. This gives her an idea. Would that idea actually make her fly? Would Hira fly too? Would it change their lives forever?
The simple story is replete with a deep message- how we sometimes ignore our dreams and believe that they are impossible just because we are used to a different way of being and a different thought process that does not belong to us in the first place! It also shows us how it is best for little minds to sometimes believe in their own convictions. This can lead to some very creative ways to fulfil their dreams!
The artwork by Nirzara Verulkar complements the story beautifully. The little ant is in the colony, looking at the world beyond. The illustrations show varied perspectives- within the colony and the world outside it to create a very enthralling setting. Sera is a very lovable character and young readers will easily identify with her.
In a subtle but poignant way, the book shows that perhaps the way to achieving your dreams is first believing in them! And, it takes a little ant to teach us that!
PURCHASE THE BOOK FROM KATHA WEBSITE: https://books.katha.org/product/sera-learns-to-fly/
Title: Sera Learns to Fly
Illustrator: Nirzara Verulkar
Genre: Picture books/ children
Age group: 3-5
Get off that Camel follows the story of Meena, who gets a cuddly toy camel when she is a baby. And, she loves the camel so much. So much so, that she refuses to sleep without it. As Meena grows, so does her affection and dependence on the ‘camel’. She then gets a rocking camel and finally a real one!
The short and snappy lines that take the story forward are lyrical and musical in a sense which makes the reading experience very enjoyable. Quite expectedly, as Meena’s obsession increases and reaches a worrying state, people just tell her one thing- Get off that Camel!
But, Meena is not a child to pay heed to what others say. For me, this is the most endearing aspect of Get off that Camel. Books normally portray ‘good’ children as those who ‘listen to elders’. I am glad that Meena has her own mind! In her own way, she is an assertive child, and I feel she is a positive role model for younger children.
As the story moves forward, Meena realises that her obstinate approach is making the camel unhappy. Then comes a moment of self-realization, when she makes a crucial decision and decides to let the camel be where he is most happy- in the stable.
The manner in which this realization has been portrayed in the book is beautiful and poignant. The strength of the book lies in a captivating storyline, wonderful illustrations that bring the story alive on the pages, and capturing of the varied emotions that mark Meena’s journey and her self-growth.
There is also an element of humour that runs throughout the entire story. This humour comes out through the storyline, the illustrations and the ending as well, making it a funny book to read and savour.
I think that Get off that Camel by A.H. Benjamin is an enchanting and enjoyable picture book for young children. As they read and re-read the book over time, there will be something new that they can take-away!
Title: Get off that Camel
Author: A.H. Benjamin
Illustrator: Krishna Bala Shenoi
Publisher: Karadi Tales
Genre: picture book
Age group: 3-6 years
The Lies We Tell by Himanjali Sankar (Published by Duckbill Books) is a YA novel in touch with the pulse of young adults today. Irfan, Uma and Rishi are ‘besties’, until they form the proverbial love triangle. Uma breaks up with Irfan and starts seeing Rishi. But then, someone circulates an image of Uma. Naturally, Irfan is the suspect. Sounds predictable? Well, hold on because this is not a frivolous love story talking of puppy love! What follows is an intense tale of human emotions, with unpredictable twists and turns.
The Lies We Tell takes a deeply honest look at the millennial generation and what ails them. The book is written in a simple and lucid manner, but grips the reader completely. WhatsApp conversations between Uma and Rishi as well as emails that Irfan writes to his sister, Appi, form a part of the narrative, moving the story forward and indicating what is in store.
Many themes interwoven in the narrative will resonate with the YA readership- the constant struggle between parental expectations and what the heart truly desires; the impact of a disturbed society and societal ills on young minds; the challenges of being a teenager, but above all the issue of mental illness.
A sense of suspense catches the reader right in the middle of the book. Who has sent a picture of Uma to a group of boys in the class? The climax is poignant and the entire narrative has been very beautifully crafted!
Title: The Lies We Tell
Author: Himanjali Sankar
Publisher: Duckbill Books
Age group: Young adults
For more recommendations of books for young adults you may want to read:
Katha is an NGO that works in the field of community development, child welfare, education and literature. The commendable grassroots work done by Katha is also aided by some great stories and books that they publish. A new series of books, have supergirls take on a mission of cleanliness and hygiene.
Bookedforlife converses with Geeta Dharmarajan, Founder President and Editor, Katha, to know more:
The issues that the books deal with are general and applicable to both genders (including the one on menstruation, and so on). However, I understand the series has been specifically designed for girls. Is there any way you would also take it to the boys?
Girls hold up only half the sky! But they do hold up HALF the sky, which is something that we all forget! So, the books are meant for girls and boys so they can equally participate in working together to build a fair, free and fearless world of the future. Yes, the books have social and environmental issues that are meant for both boys and girls to take into their communities. All these books have ideas that will help young people work towards positive social and behavioural changes. Katha is strong on community action and believes that children can be agents of change as they learn about big ideas.
The books are rooted in the idea of (SHE)2 – double girl power! (SHE)2 stands for Safe water and Sanitation. Health and Hygiene. Education and Empowerment. If we want girl power, boy empowerment is equally important. This we know!
Katha has been working with children, on the (SHE)2 ideas in our low income communities. We know, in Katha, that empowerment does not come without knowledge, and the demand from within. Many times, India thinks that by giving we achieve targets. Yes, maybe to show others, but if we want real change, then the demand should come first before governmental or non-governmental supply. And, this means hard work which Katha has not been afraid to do.
For instance, a narrative like Dabba Dol has boys as the protagonists and other stories are intended to raise environmental awareness, understanding and promote a clean and healthy environment. For the very specific stories which deal with female health and hygiene and matters, such as menstruation – yes, we think that these issues can be introduced and discussed in a co-ed classroom but this would also require a sensitive approach on the part of the teacher and a healthy environment that promotes discussions among boys and girls.
Who is the target audience for the books?
Girls and boys, from classes one to twelve, both rural and urban from varied socio-economic backgrounds and communities. The books are designed to bring about behavioural changes through a discussion about and reflection over Big Ideas. The books foster and inspire positive social changes within communities.
Are the books to be purchased individually or as a collection?
They can be bought separately, or as a set.
Each book is meant for a certain age group — starting with Supergirls Play A Trick, which introduces young readers to the whys and the how’s of taking care of their bodies. Written in very simple imaginative language, the book uses vivid illustrations, big font size and few words to a page. The second book, Supergirls Make A Difference, fosters the basics of personal hygiene, ways to stay healthy, through playful stories and poems. Supergirls Lead The Way, the third book, gives a practical plan and tips for making things happen in a village/community! Last but not the least, the fourth book, Supergirls Find A Solution moves young readers towards finding a solution themselves instead of waiting for government or elders to make their lives better. Each book has a section at the back that rests on our StoryPedagogy.
The Think, Ask questions, Discuss and Act leading to ACTIVISM, is a special teaching tool of Katha that takes forward our bold and singular idea that children can be the change when surrounded by Big Idea books and people.
However, it would make sense to purchase them as a collection – and take young readers on a journey of exploration on health and environmental sustainability. The series comes with a Teachers’ Action Guide, to help SuperGirls explore big ideas. The Handbook contains plenty of tips for teachers to keep children keep engrossed by way of TA-DAA! (Think, Ask, Discuss, Act and ACTION!) activities and experiments to do at home and in schools.
Are translations available or are the books only in English?
All the books, including the teacher’s manual, are available in English, Hindi and Telugu. We hope to soon do the Bangla and Tamil versions also.
Many of our readers who work with children may find it interesting to use these books as teaching aids. Would you like to share any tips or suggestions that they should keep in mind?
I would recommend The Teachers’ Handbook is for every teacher who wants to encourage her class towards self-empowered action. Designed with specific sections for mentors in primary, middle and high school, it has varied tips and suggestions for teachers, educators and school health assistants to implement the Katha’s (SHE)2 Big Ideas. We all need to push governments to act for us citizens, and this series, like most other Katha Think Books, does just that!
Can you talk about the process of curation for the material that is included in the book? It has a very interesting mix of stories, poems, Indian folk art and case studies…
A good deal of thought and hard work has gone into the making of this series. Moreover, action research is an ongoing process at Katha while curating content. To go back to the beginning of the project: a team from Katha had visited villages in Chittoor to do their research and better understand the lives of girls in the area. Our Katha members engaged in ethnographic research via participant observation. During the research process, the Katha members interacted with several teachers and students and heard their stories. Armed with actual knowledge of practices like open defecation, scarcity of water, unavailability of sanitary napkins, and lack of education about health and hygiene we chose the topics and then wrote the stories, poems and case studies.
Katha has been consciously using folk art drawings and paintings for a long time. The feature of Indian folk art is probably a constant feature in Katha books. For the WASH series, Indian folk art has been carefully aligned to make individual stories, poems and narratives a cohesive and holistic reading experience for our readers across India.
With the short and impactful text and powerful illustrations the series will find great application. India is at the cusp of change. It seems that the need of such books is perhaps more pertinent than ever!
TAKE A LOOK AT THE SUPERGIRLS SERIES:
Today, more than ever before there is a need for the right kind of sex education for children. With all kinds of information available at the click of a mouse, parents need to ensure that kids have access to correct, age-appropriate facts.
Every parent wants to educate their child about sex but they often fail because they do not know how to present facts in an age appropriate manner. When it comes to sex education for children, parents (understandably!) get goose bumps and may need help on broaching the topic. How I Got My Belly Button by Anju Kish fills this lacuna and is a great tool in the hands of parents! It not only gives the right information in the right manner but also increases bonding and trust between parents and children…a very pleasant side-effect of open communication!
Bookedforlife chats with writer Anju Kish, who wrote this book out of the personal need to educate her own children in the right manner. She also runs an organization called Untaboo which does commendable work on sex education for children. Excerpts…
I am interested in knowing how exactly you planned the flow of the story. It very cleverly incorporates concepts, hygiene tips and values all neatly packed in story format!
I was clear from the beginning that my sex education book for children will cover all facts but will also be lighthearted and fun to read. I started writing the book with just that one thought in mind. I opted for a fictional non-fiction format – all the information is presented through an adventure this family goes on which ensures that kids get hooked. Who says that you can’t have fun while learning serious stuff? So, my book follows that format of fun and lightheartedness.
The characters of my book -basically the parents and twins Neal & Kiara reflected me and my kids, the kind of relationship my husband and I share with our kids, the little everyday pranks, fun, conversations and warmth. So, the characters were not too difficult to create. There were however certain additional titbits of information I wanted the kids to know, but it wasn’t fitting in the narrative. From that predicament, the Cat character was born! The cat “Pepper’ is a total smart alec and says the wittiest of things or offers great titbits of information.
Sometimes, a chapter would have a lot of information and I felt, the kids may not be able to retain all that information. I was looking at a way to summarize each chapter for them. So, I hit upon the idea of having the young boy’s character write a diary every day. Hence, Neal keeps a diary of what he learnt and this diary entry of his at the end of each chapter acts as a refresher for the young readers.
I think, besides being a sex educator and having dealt with thousands of children, being a parent helped me write this book better, because I could cover all the topics I as a parent want my kids to know. And an Indian parent never loses an opportunity to slip in their value system into any conversation with their kids! So, automatically, this book has all of that! However, if all this is delivered in boring lecture format, kids will disconnect. I had to devise clever ways to incorporate them within the story.
What is the right age at which you would recommend parents read your book to children. It is never too early to start talking about our bodies, but at the same time there are some concepts best appreciated at the right age. So, what is the right age in today’s times of information overload?
The book is for ages 9-14. The language used is easy and very child friendly. I have always felt strongly about the fact if the child has asked a question, then you should answer that question, even if you feel the child is too young. What should change is just the language you use to give that answer. The book follows that format of simplicity of language which is required at this age to explain certain complicated concepts at time.
In these times of information overload, the kid’s curiosity is at its peak. Some kids will vent that curiosity through questions, but some might not openly voice it. But that curiosity might lead them online to get answers and that can prove disastrous. It is better that the kids get the information from a reliable and age appropriate source. The way the information is presented in the book, the initial few chapters can also be read to 7-8 year olds. However, if the parents feel that they want to wait a little bit before tackling the other topics with the kids, they can do so.
How do you suggest parents use this book? Read it at one go? Or, take time and go over it bit by bit across few weeks? Or let the child read independently and revert with questions?
The beauty of this book is that it can be read in one go or bit by bit across few days. While the latter may be more practical in terms of absorbing all the concepts discussed in the book, it may not be possible because the story is very engaging. For very young kids, you could probably read the initial few chapters and then wait for the next level of questions to prop up from them, before tackling those via the book.
The parent can read the book out to the child or a child can even pick it up himself and read independently as it is written in a very lucid language. The answers to most of the follow-up questions are in the story itself so I recommend that parents also read through to enable them to answer those questions.
It is also a book which parents of very young kids can read and equip themselves to answer their kids queries.
I think the illustrations substantially enhance the understanding of the concepts explained in the book. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Most kids these days are visual learners which is why they prefer to read comics or watch videos. Hence, I was insistent that my book have illustrations the kids can connect with. I spent months identifying the right illustration style, creating the characters and then writing the brief of each picture and finding reference images for each illustration. There are more than 150 illustrations in the book and my illustrator Aneesh Date was super patient and did a fantastic job.
Are you planning any follow up books? While this book beautifully addresses sex education, I feel your approach will work very well for other key issues such as sexual abuse, STD’s, pornography, and so on, more specifically for teenagers and young adults. Are you thinking of anything on those lines?
I have concept notes written for five more books! Two are for pre-teens, one for teenagers, one for parents and one for young adults. I am excited and impatient to work on all together, but will have to pace them out. And yes, the book for teenagers will tackle pornography, masturbation, STD’s, sexual abuse, consent et al.
Your organisation, Untaboo, holds many awareness workshops for parents and children. Through your extensive experience with the same, what would you like to alert our readers to, about the current scenario of awareness/ experimentation amongst teenagers and children? Any other observation you want to make?
Kids today are very aware of things these days owing to the kind of media exposure they have to adult content. However, this awareness does not mean that they have accurate information. The statistics are quite scary – the average age at which a child in India watches porn is 11 and the average age at which a child in metros first sexually experiments is 14!
I’d like to appeal to the parents that if your kid asks you a question and you defer it, he or she will turn to the internet to satisfy his curiosity. The internet will not filter the information according to the level of your kid and will give your kids information which could be way beyond his years, along with unfiltered videos to watch. This can potentially scar your child for life.
To avoid this distress, make sure to give your child age appropriate sex education. It is no more enough to have just one chapter on reproduction in biology or have a period talk with the girls. Research worldwide has shown that a kid who is distracted by questions about his/her body and sex-sexuality is likely to underperform in school, experiment early on and watch more porn to satiate the curiosity. Sex education is a fantastic tool at parents’ disposal to combat this & they must act now.
And, please don’t say that the kids today are a net savvy generation and will learn on their own or they know it all! I have seen firsthand the kind of wrong information they have and the source of that information. Please have conversations and give them accurate sex education, even if you feel they are resisting having those conversations.
Is it important for parents to be equipped with teaching children about sex education even if they can rely on or organize inputs for the same vis a vis schools, teachers and professionals?
Most of us grew up with no formal sex education, so it’s absolutely okay to have inhibitions about broaching this topic with kids. A lot of parents today realize the importance of sex education and want to talk to their children, but don’t know when to begin, what to say and how much to say. So, it’s absolutely ok to reach out to experts or depend on the schools to take on the onus of this education. However, as parents, one should keep the doors of communication open and have discussions on these topics at home, so that the children know that they can turn to you and no topic is taboo at home.
How I Got My Belly Button by Anju Kish
Published by Om Books International
Age group: 9 years onwards
How much do grandparents influence their grandchildren? A lot, as we all know. Xerses adores his grandfather. His mother Sonji wants Xerses to be like JRD Tata. But, for the young child, no one could be more ideal than his grandpa, his beloved Mamavaji. His interactions with his grandfather are filled with pure unadulterated fun. The relationship between the boy and his grandfather has been very beautifully evoked in Flying with Grandpa.
However, Sonji, like most parents is always looking at disciplining Xerses and ensuring that he makes the best use of his time instead of fooling around with Grandpa. Thus, follow a turn of events where each family member grapples with their own unique realities. How does the bond between the grandfather and his grandson play out? Is Sonji ultimately able to balance between her expectations of her son with his natural inclination to do completely the opposite of what she wants? How does Sonji’s husband, Noshir, balance it all?
The book conjures wonderful and familiar images of a Parsi household. However, the theme of the story is universal. The setting of the story could well have been any household in any part of the world. The human emotions it induces are indeed common to all. The interactions between the various relationships depicted in the book- mother-son, father-son, mother-father and grandparent-grandchild, are quite authentic and relatable. The influence of grandparents on children; how this may sometimes come in the way of what parents want….and how to balance it all- these form an integral part of Flying with Grandpa! This family story will touch your heart and also entertain at the same time.
Title: Flying with Grandpa
Author: Madhuri Kamat
Illustrator: Niloufer Wadia
Publisher: Duckbill books
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Age group: 8 onwards
Amra and the Witch is a story about the adventures of a boy called Amra and his friend Veerma. This book takes young readers into the lush fields of North India in a beautiful village environ. The simple day-to-day lifestyle of the people, their language and their mannerisms are evoked quite beautifully in the story. Besides the story itself, I found these elements quite fascinating. They would present an authentic setting to the urban child who would most likely be the reader of this book.
The villagers believed that whoever needed an answer badly went to Jeevti Dakkan, a witch who lived in a haunted hut. The kids were so scared of her that when they went to school they would take a route two kilometers longer because they did not want to go near that hut. Amra had a question that was unanswered, and a serious one at that! Veerma told him to go to the witch. Do they meet the witch? Do they manage to solve their problem without getting into another one?
Amra and the Witch is a story for young readers, about the age of 7 to 9. The language that is used in the book is very simple and easy to understand. It has got plenty of humorous bits that keep on popping up and that keep readers chuckling all the way till the end.
It is a very catchy story as the suspense is held till the end of the book. The climax is revealed in a very simple way. The illustrations enhance the experience of reading the book. They are simple, but say a lot.
Other hOle Books
Title: Amra and the Witch
Author: Arefa Tehsin
Illustrations: Chetan Sharma
Age group: Younger Readers