At the very face of it, One Dark Cloud is a Counting book. Counting books are quite important and interesting for young children in that they develop math and number awareness.
As a counting book, One Dark Cloud tackles a specific area- it is a counting book for a rainy day! So right from one dark cloud in the sky on a rainy day, to blankets and umbrellas and gum-boots, the author Shobha Viswanath incorporates a theme to the numbers. She gently weaves in the concepts of counting with the art of storytelling, building up to the essence of a rainy day.
The arty feel
While the concept and the counting that follows definitely delights the child, there is something else that makes this book special- the arty feel that the design brings with it. Illustrators Ashwathy P.S and Anusha Sunder have used a combination of art techniques in order to bring out a very arty and textured feel. Each number from one to ten is beautifully depicted on a jute mat. Lightly painted newspaper cut-outs in different shapes and sizes illustrate the city on a rainy day. The illustrations are a heady combination of collages, photography and design.
The design of the book is exceptional and it is these nuances that contribute to the enjoyment of the book. For example, in terms of content the objects which are to be counted generally assume more importance. The child has to identify these. Each object to be counted, such as the frogs, raindrops, umbrellas and so on are highlighted in their own special way since that they stand out against the backdrop of the page. Little details such as the steam from the samosas made of newspaper scraps or the clouds themselves which are a collage best described as a merry mishmash, could well be a good initiation into art appreciation!
The book has an Indian ethos in terms of design and content. Hence, tea and samosas also form a part of the rainy day list!
It is a timeless book that shows visual storytelling at its best. Much after the children have learned the numbers, they can still look at the book for its beautiful art. One Dark Cloud also makes for a good gift to an early reader.
Title: One Dark Cloud
Author: Shobha Viswanath
Illustrators: Ashwathy P.S and Anusha Sunder
Publisher: Karadi Tales, 2017
Mathematics can be very cool. But, if you’re got a set of math techniques up your sleeve, that can be supercool and impressive. Yes, even in this day of calculators and computers, math prowess does score points! Maths Sutras from around the World: Speed Calculations on your fingertips by Gaurav Tekriwal takes a shot at bringing some marvellous math techniques from around the world.
A mathematical world
Have you ever spared a thought as to how exactly math is taught in different countries? Tekriwal has explored and studied math systems world over. He picks out the best amongst the lot and presents a fairly diverse range of math techniques drawn from different cultures.
The concepts of Indian Vedic Mathematics have been given key importance. The bar modelling technique from Singapore is another system that the author talks about. Then, there is the famous Japanese grid puzzle culture (think Sudoku!) that finds expression in the book through the description of Kakuro and KenKen puzzles.
The book has ten chapters covering different math concepts through specific and well-researched math techniques.
Turning conventional math over
I always thought that addition and subtraction are only done right to left. However, the chapter on Addition highlights a left-right method of mentally adding large numbers! The Super subtraction method described in the book also does likewise. He describes the Base Method of Multiplication derived from teachings of the Indian saint Tirthaji in the early twentieth century. Besides the four basic computational skills the book also tackles word problems, fractions, squares, percentages, square roots and times tables.
This adage is probably most true for mathematics! The book has numerous activities and worksheets for all the concepts and techniques described.
Yes, this is a book about math, but do look out for some interesting stories inside as well! Wherever relevant, Tekriwal has included some interesting stories and facts related to the mathematical concept. For instance, I found the story of Jakow Tractenberg who built a new system of mental arithmetic whilst at Hitler’s concentration camp quite inspiring!
Age no bar
While this book is primarily addressed to school going math learners, it would be of interest to anyone interested in mental arithmetic.
With gadgets at our finger tips, many people actually wonder at the relevance of mental calculations. As the author describe in the book, the brain behaves exactly like a muscle. It needs regular exercise. Besides impressing people with your skills, metal math prowess lead to a sharper mind and better logical reasoning skills! So, it’s time to sit back and let these Math techniques work up some mathe-magic!
Good financial habits, like most good habits are rooted in childhood. Unfortunately, teaching children about money is not something that all of us do consciously in an organized manner. We may take financial literacy for granted, but we live in a consumerist and unsure world where it is important to be equipped with sound financial skills.
How much does your child know about money? My first book of money by Ravi Subramanian and Shoma Narayanan talks about money specifically in the Indian context. In short, look at it like a sort of guide to financial literacy for children.
The money story
The authors approach the task of dispelling financial knowledge in a manner that children connect to the most – a story. So here’s the way the narrative progresses- twins Aman and Anya are visiting their grandparents. A small incident related to paying the milkman sparks off a discussion on money.
From barter to digitalization
The book starts with explaining the concept of barter system and the evolution of money. It ends with the idea of digitalization. Well, the rest of the book contains everything in between!
Values and practicality
As the story progresses one can see that the information about money is either linked to ‘values’ or ‘facts’. This balance is really important. After all, what’s the sense in having knowledge if one can’t use it in the right way?
Some of the value based concepts the book purports include judging how much money one really needs, the difference between needs and wants, the importance of planning expenditures, not spending more than you have and setting money aside for charity.
Of course, the practical knowledge expressed in the book is vast and some of the key points include knowing about the concepts of banking, ATM, banking transactions, currency exchanges, loans and savings, deposits, credit cards, investments, interest and so on. There is an entire chapter devoted to demonetization and mobile wallets. The chapter on inflation and investment simplifies these concepts for children and teenagers.
Ready for some Financial exercises?
Teaching children about money must entail practical experience. At the end of each chapter there is a well thought-out exercise which reinforces the concept illuminated in the chapter. This exercise is best carried out with an adult in tow!
When it comes to the story of money and its evolution there are some pretty interesting facts to share. The book has these facts neatly boxed and these make for some interesting side reading as well.
There are some vivid illustrations by Bombay Design House that add to the element of interest.
The book is aimed at the 9 – 14 age group. However, in order to make it an interactive experience, we feel it’s best read with an adult. If you’re looking at teaching children about money, this book is an apt start.
Title: My first book of money
Authors: Ravi Subramanian and Shoma Narayanan
Reading level: 9 – 14 years
Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2017
Man has always been creating art. It is a vital part of our lives. Right from cavemen who illustrated the walls of their caves with natural colours to modern artists who have digital installations, the story of art mirrors that of man’s evolution. Why is art full of naked people and other vital questions about art by Susie Hodge takes us through the story of art through some really relevant questions.
The book has many questions about art. These cover an entire range of art periods and styles. Right from cave art to the renaissance and modern masters, up to the more recent developments in digital art, the book picks key points. It also gives the answers in a humorous and irreverent way.
All the questions have been answered in a brief but comprehensive manner. There are quite a few images and pictures to add. The book has extremely vivid illustrations and representations of artworks. In that sense it is quite a delightful read.
One does not really need to go through the book in a chronological order. Each page has a separate topic and question and one can read as one pleases.
The language is lucid and it really simplifies the supposedly complex subject of art into simple digestible bits of information that will be of interest to adults and children.
This is definitely a book you want to keep in your collection and keep going back to. It’s a great buy for children from 7-12 years of age. However, I feel this is a book apt for anyone who wants a basic knowledge about art.
Title: Why is art full of naked people?
Author: Susie Hodge
Publisher: Thames and Hudson, 2016
Age: Young readers, 7-12
We have all heard about the Tirupati Balaji temple, a sacred pilgrimage site in India. There are many myths and legends woven around this famous temple, which is one of the most visited places of worship in the world. Amma Take Me to Tirupati by Bhakti Mathur follows a storytelling format to gradually reveal and uncover the stories behind the famed pilgrimage site.
‘Amma’ and her two boys, Shiv and Veer, are on the foothills of the Tirumala range. As they ascend the mountain, Amma tells them about how the ranges came to being. She narrates the story of how the seven mountain ranges are the seven hoods of the great snake Adisesha.
This is just the first of the many interesting myths and stories that follow. There is actually a wealth of detail in the book. Right from stories on how Vishnu came to reside here, why people follow certain rituals like shaving their hair to interesting facts about the temple, the book has a lot of information.
The author, Bhakti Mathur, has already penned the Amma Tell Me Series which talk beautifully about the stories behind Hindu Gods and festivals.
With this new series, Amma Take Me, she sets her eyes on famous sites in India and weaves in the stories behind them to make the experience of visiting or knowing about the site a more interesting and informed one for the child. Along with Amma Take Me to Tirupati, there is another book in the series: Amma Take Me to The Golden Temple.
The beautiful illustrations and text together make for really interesting reading. The illustrator, Priyankar Gupta has interpreted the text in a very fascinating, captivating and colourful way.
The text is relatively detailed, and children between 9 to 13 could be fine with it by themselves. For younger readers, it’s a great read to read along with children.
There is a very fine balance between history, folklore, mythical tales as well as facts about the temple today. This makes the book a detailed and interesting travelogue of sorts!
If you’re planning a trip to Tirupati temple with the kids, Amma Take Me to Tirupati is indeed an indispensable book!
LOOK AT THE POPULAR AMMA TELL ME SERIES, THAT TALKS ABOUT FESTIVALS:
Before we get on to the list of Mark Twain’s books that will appeal to the modern reader, including children, let’s look at a bit of information about the man himself. Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He was born in Florida in 1935, when the Halley’s Comet came in and incidentally, died on April 21, 1910, one day after the Comet’s closest approach to earth.
He started his career at the Hannibal Journal, which was a newspaper owned by his brother. He worked as a typesetter, besides contributing articles and sketches for the paper. Later on in life, he worked as a printer. He was self-educated and read widely to gather knowledge.
He pursued a career as a steamboat pilot. This experience has had a deep impact on his writing. Indeed, the river Mississippi assumes an integral part of a lot of his work. He also travelled a lot and wrote humorous accounts of these travels. He is considered to be amongst the greatest figures of American literature.
He has written a vast collection of books, non-fiction and articles. Here are the most popular ones, and children will definitely like them. While older children (age 14 onwards) can read the originals, abridged versions of his books are also available for younger ones (10-14 year olds). However, whether you choose the original or abridged versions, be sure to consider the needs of your child. Sometimes, even when older children read abridged versions it preserves and retains their interest.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Tom Sawyer is any young boy’s delight. It is said that this novel has autobiographical streaks in it. Tom, an orphan lives near the Mississippi river. This enterprising youth rises to riches after a series of adventures with his friend Huckleberry Finn.
There are more books in this series. “Tom Sawyer Abroad” is an adventure story in which Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn travel in a hot air balloon and fight dangers in the form of wild animals, robbers and so on. They also learn and see a lot on their travels. “Tom Sawyer, Detective” is a murder mystery.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: This is probably one of his most successful novels. It is known as the “Great American Novel” and has been a favourite choice as textbooks in schools. Huck Finn and Jim, a runaway slave, flee from their home and go floating on the Mississippi where they have all kinds of adventures. They are separated and reunited. Tom Sawyer also comes in to help them at a later stage in the novel. This book has been criticized because of the use of the word “nigger”. It was a common term when the book was written, but of course, now it is considered derogatory. That apart, the book remains a classic and retains its charm.
The Prince and the Pauper is the story of two boys born on the same day who also look the same. One is the prince and the other a commoner. They switch places with each other and then an exciting series of events follow.
A Dog’s Tale is a short story that was expanded into a book much later. It traces the life of a household pet dog right from the time it was a puppy till she becomes a mother herself. It is quite tragic in a way and exposes the hardheartedness and selfishness of human beings.
Mark Twain was a humourist and a social commentator in that. The themes of the books described above are related to children and they are written in a way that appeals to children. For example, the Tom Sawyer books and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are all adventure stories where young children encounter difficulties and go through all kinds of adventures before finally emerging victorious.
The children are also full of mischief and pranks. Mark Twain in his writings reveals his deep understanding of the psychology of his characters. Exploration, adventure, carefree play and little tragedies and triumphs of childhood have an integral place in these novels.
His wit indeed contains a lot of wisdom. He uses sarcasm to comment on the wrongs that were happening at that time in the society. He especially takes the case of slavery and treatment of Afro-Americans very seriously. Reading Mark Twain books is also like taking a lesson in the social changes and attitudes of America in the 19th century.
The series is all about school life. We all know that novels set in boarding schools, are almost a genre in themselves. School children relish this ‘boarding school literature’. The Hill School Girls takes on this genre. It is set in contemporary India.
Elizabeth, Mahrukh, Maitreyi and Ayesha are the Hill School Girls. Well, they go to the Hill School, which is a boarding school, that also has day boarders. This series follows each of the girls through a term at school. We get a glimpse into the lives, troubles and triumphs of these girls as the series of events unfold.
There are instances that make boarding school exciting and heart-warming. There are also challenges both personal and otherwise which these young girls navigate. The Hill School Girls is a school for holistic learning. Children do not have exams here and they are encouraged to be close to nature, think and give opinions rather than memorize stuff. It is in this environment that these girls lose themselves…and find themselves too!
In the first book of the series, Elizabeth is the protagonist. Hill School has now become Hill School for Holistic Learning. As a result of the change, her best friend has left school. Elizabeth is ‘alone’ so to say. But, is she? For the class project, Elizabeth is teamed with three girls. One of them, Mahrukh, she is acquainted with. But, Ayesha and Maitreyi are two new girls whom she does not like. To add to her troubles, she loses a historic journal! Will she find it? And will she find elusive friendship as well?
In Secrets, Ayesha is the protagonist. It’s the second year at Hill School and there is an important introduction to the curriculum – information technology. The school gets a new computer lab. The girls have to navigate the big bad world of the internet. Simultaneously, Ayesha hides a secret buried in her heart. If the secret is revealed, it could damage her friendships. Or so, she fears. But life has other plans. A girl from school is harassed by some boys in town. The friends take it on themselves to make sure that the culprits are punished and the girl does not have to suffer for no fault of hers. Will Ayesha share her ‘secret’ to save the day? Will the four girls be able to help the victim?
Upcoming-Two more books, Strangers and Trouble will soon be joining the list in May 2018.
It is rather nice to have our very own Indian boarding school series, that resonates with Indian children who will identify very easily with the characters. The Hill School Girls is a vivid portrayal of boarding school life for the middle-years. The situations and issues that seep into the story are relevant to the modern Indian child. The books are a simple read as well. A great series to curl up with over a weekend!
Title: The Hill School Girls
Year of Publication: December 2017
Reading age/level: 10-14 years
Written composition is often perceived as one of the more “difficult” areas of language. We may find grammar easy to understand but when it comes to writing and composition, many people feel uncomfortable and incapable. Journal writing for kids comes right in as a way to enhance and improve creative writing skills.
Teachers and parents often wonder how they can get their children to “write” well. Once, on a similar thinking spree, I encountered some information about “writing journals” as a way of making students more comfortable with and better at creative writing. It is worth going into some detail of how journal writing for kids works to make children better writers.
What’s the matter with writing?
A system of journal writing works slowly but surely towards making children better writers. It involves a set period of time (preferably the same time, so it is a part of the routine) every day when students write something on a given topic in their special “writing journal”.
When any writing task is given to children, a majority of them face two major hurdles. The first one is a question of what to write and how to organize the material. While implementing a regular Journal writing for kids program, teachers (or parents) can start by giving very simple topics (ones that the child can write easily on) and then move on to more difficult ones. Gradually, the child will become more confident about managing difficult content and will be able to handle more challenging topics.
Another hurdle is the fear of evaluation. The most important aspect of a writing journal is that the teacher does not “correct” the work and point out mistakes. She just ensures that children complete their work. This removes the fear of being judged and criticized for their writing – a fear that prevents many children from expressing themselves through writing. Journal writing for kids is a long term technique that works slowly but deeply.
Topics for the journal activity need to be planned in advance. If one topic is to be given to the student daily, the teacher needs to have a list of topics ready. The topics can be written on the board daily, given as a print out, dictated or even kept in an “idea box” as chits that children can pick up.
Depending on the age and level of students one can generate a list of topics. The topic must not be difficult. Remember, the purpose is to give the child a task that he enjoys doing – not something that will put him off writing.
The greatest benefit of a “writing journal” system is that it provides students with a writing experience where they are free to express themselves without any pressure of being evaluated. This leads to a more positive attitude towards writing.
This is not to say that there is no assessment involved at all. In fact, an overall assessment can be taken at the end of the term or the year to gauge many aspects of the child’s writing. For example, the teacher or parent may not correct each written piece that the child writes daily. However, they can glance through his work and identify common areas of weakness or strength in his writing and then take action on that. For example, they may notice that his spellings are poor though his ideas are good. They can then give additional practice on spellings to him. Alternatively, they may see that he is good at grammar but his organization of ideas is not up to the mark. They can then give him practice in that area. At this stage, it will be easy to actually gauge where in the area of language the child needs help. This collection of the students’ work will show exactly where he needs help. Is his punctuation alright? Does he need vocabulary development? Does he make grammar mistakes?
Over a period of time, by sheer regular writing practice, children will improve their writing and thinking skills – not to mention their attitude towards writing. When teachers go through journals over a period of time they will see a pattern unique to each child.
Here are some resources for journal writing for kids: A selection of journals with ready prompts, or a practice-oriented book exploring the therapeutic power of journal writing, or simply a selection of beautiful journals to spark-off the project!
This should provide a great start to journal writing for kids!
Journalist and author Shabnam Minwalla is well known for her fantasy fiction for children. She was recently at the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest where she conducted a workshop titled “A Little Bit of Magic”. Designed for children between the ages 9 to 11, the session took on writing fantasy fiction. Bookedforlife caught up with the author, for a sneak peek into this fascinating world! Excerpts from our conversation..
More and more children lead structured lives today. They have school, then classes, then homework. Even their entertainment these days is organized and packaged. Fiction, especially fantasy, allows them the freedom to imagine, to visit worlds beyond the one they inhabit. This is a space in which creativity and imagination have free reign. Here, they can break and twist and experiment with the rules.
The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street is an adventure story set in a building in Mumbai. Six children live in this building and are enjoying a great summer holiday full of giggles and cricket when something terrible happens. Two mean old residents of the building decide to ban cricket in the compound, and to cut down the two beloved bimbli trees in the garden. When the adults are unable to help, and the authorities like the police and BMC refuse to help, the children realise they will have to save the trees themselves. So they decide to try their hand at magic.
Spellmakers, like all my books, is rooted in the very real Mumbai of today. The backdrop is familiar to urban Indian children. So, they are specially delighted when magic, fairies and fantastical elements pop up in their grey, crowded, bustling world. Spellmakers really touched a chord with Indian children. Many schools use it as a reader. Two Mumbai schools performed it as a school play. But what makes me happiest is the delighted response from my readers. Stuff like: “Aunty, I loved the fact that the fairy is called Mr Paritosh Makhija” or “Aunty, now I also keep looking for magic all the time,”.
The Strange Haunting of Model High School is set in a strict Mumbai school. There are three BFFs in Std 7B who need to outwit the wicked assistant headmistress. In the process, they receive unexpected help from the resident school ghost. Here too, the backdrop is realistic, with only a couple of elements of fantasy thrown in. Model High School is a dreary place, full of rules. The students often feel helpless in this unfriendly world. But the presence of the ghost helps the children to tackle the baddies, and to realise that they are not as powerless as they imagine. This book was a big hit as well. I keep running into children who can actually quote entire paragraphs! They also remember details that I have long forgotten. Many children tell me that they were inspired to write their own ghost stories after reading the book.
The Shy Supergirl is for younger readers, but also has an element of fantasy. it is about little Nina, who can tell whether a person is good or bad, happy or sad by looking at the colours that surround him or her. Nina uses this power to crack a mystery and to find a stolen silver owl. Supergirl is a simple story meant for children between 6 and 8, but so many parents have told me that their shy children now believe that they too have a hidden superpower and are very thrilled about it.
My new book (What Maya Saw) will be out by end December. It is meant for children between 11 and 14 and is about a girl named Maya who starts to see strange things when she attends a summer school at St Paul’s College in Mumbai. She see horns bulging out of the head of a college girl. Then she sees blood trickling out of the eye of a boy in her class. Soon she finds herself in the middle of a big adventure and historic clue hunt across Mumbai. In this book I have used fantasy as a tool to introduce children to their vibrant city — and to see the beauty that we often overlook.
My workshops are about imagination and creativity. The first thing that I tell children is that everything that they do for the next hour MUST come only out of their imagination and observation, not from books or movies that they might have read or seen.
The next thing that I tell them is that here there are no rules. The children are creating their own worlds and characters. Only they can decide what works and what doesn’t.
I also tell them that when they are trying their hands at creative writing, they shouldn’t worry about stuff like spelling and grammar. They should allow the ideas to flow. The rest will come later.
I tell children that it is very important to watch the world around them. This is because only if they understand people and their own reality can they write convincing fantasy fiction.
I usually encourage children to start writing about places and situations that are familiar. They can use this as a springboard from which to leap into fantasy. Personally, I like stories based in reality that have a few elements of fantasy. But this generation has an insatiable appetite for more hardcore fantasy. I always warn budding writers that if they want to create an alternate world that is purely fantastical, they will have to imagine it very carefully and set the rules of this world. And then, they must stick to them. That is a massive exercise!
Guided writing prompts help initially. They get the ideas flowing. Also, they show budding writers that a single scenario can lead to a hundred stories. They show that the world of fiction is limitless. Of course, once the ideas start coming, then guided prompts are unnecessary.
Starr, the young black protagonist of The Hate U Give is just a normal teenager. But, one event changes her life completely. A white police officer shoots her unarmed best friend. Following his death, Starr struggles to come to grips with the situation.
She is torn between two realities- the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered with this fatal shooting. Starr has been aware of these kind of radicalized killings. But, they always happened to someone else. Now, it has happened to her best friend.
I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being black, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.
That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?
She is drawn towards activism and wants to make her voice heard. But that’s no easy path either.
Intentions always look better on paper than in reality. The reality is, I may not make it to the courthouse in the morning.
The debut young adult novel is a timely look at some realities of our world right now- of which teenagers are very much a part of.
The beautiful relationship that Starr shares with each of her family members is also a running thread in the story. How they help her deal with the scenario in their own ways, is also a touching portrayal of family, and the role that family members play in our lives, no matter how flawed they may be.
This is a poignant story that deals with a conflict faced by a young teenager, in a social setting that young adults all over the world can identify with. Even if the incidents described in The Hate U Give happened in the USA, thematically and emotionally it is a novel that will connect with all people across cultures and social scenarios. In my opinion, it is a book that adults would love to read as well!
The Hate U Give, a National Book Award Longlist title is one book that lives up to the hype!
The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas