Books to pack in your child’s suitcase this summer vacation

BOOK REVIEW: The Beebop series

Published by: Harper Kids (A Harper Collins imprint)

Ages: 4-7

Price: Rs 75 each

So things happen when you write your first children’s book. Other children’s books start appearing magically in your mail. So when the Beebop series (a Harper Kids imprint) of four charming little story books accompanied with four equally charming activity books showed up, I handed them all over to him, declaring it as his first official review.

The books are about Beebop, the friendly Bee, who takes four friends, Sarah, Jay, Zoya and Zubin on many exciting adventures.

The Beebop series And although I am no book reviewer and I am at that stage in life where I find it tiring to have an opinion on everything, I do have a point of view on what kids should be doing in their holidays and I think reading should form a major chunk of it. Or doing nothing. Or allowing the fertility of boredom.

And now that Re has started to read, it is such a joy to watch him staring letters into words and words into sentences. His first pick was Zoya and the Bee, and it’s a lovely little story of a little girl who chases a bee and “a lot of useful things happen while she is chasing the bee,” as Re put it.

It’s about the magic of friendship, he declared, since he is still heady from Rainbow Rocks. And family, he added.

Although I am not a great one for “activity books”, I would particularly recommend this set  (each book is priced at Rs 75) to carry along on your summer vacation, because the stories are simple in plot and their telling, and the books are a perfect, compact size to slide into your suitcase. Each of the set of activities accompanying every book – including little puzzles, drawing and coloring projects, word scrambles, spot the differences and other brain teasers – has been very thoughtfully put together, and makes you look at the story in a new light, enhancing the reading experience.

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Is your reality getting in the way of your child’s imagination?

child's imagination

Mermaids are just the beginning of a child’s imagination

I have always believed that a child’s imagination is a place where anything can and must be allowed to happen. But earlier last week, Re came home one day and said, “Mamma, teacher said that there are no fairies. And no mermaids also.”

My heart sank. I cried a little. I was angry, disappointed, depressed and sad at the same time. A revelation of this kind can only make a six-year-old’s world come crashing down. I found her words not just insensitive, but also dangerous. But I had to do something about the damage, although I could sense that Re’s voice was incredulous even as he said it.

“May be she hasn’t met a fairy called Imagination,” I said.

Re has never asked me if fairies, unicorns, mermaids exist. He just believes they do, and I have never, for the purpose of “letting him know the truth”, told him that things like that are only fantasy. I hope he never loses his sense of wonder, his inner fairy, and most importantly, his ability to fantasise. Because I don’t believe one must take fantasy lightly. And I don’t really know what the “truth’ is. 

Exchanging stories with your child is a key part of parenting; Re tells me his, I tell him mine, we read some together and nurture our little world of wonder. And how can we tell good stories if we don’t believe in fantasy? It’s our prop, our muse, something that comes to our rescue each time, even after we are all grown up. 

Oh, the things a child’s imagination can do!

When we discovered rainbows, Re began finding rainbows everywhere. In bubbles we blew. In petrol trails drenched with water. In doors, windows, streams, elevators. He found them in different shapes. Triangles, squares. octopus-shaped. Even a circle rainbow (we spotted a sundog last year from our school campus). For months, he only drew rainbows. It opened up a whole new world for him. It made our home a happier place. We are still looking for our pot of gold and we believe it exists.

C.S. Lewis once wrote a letter to his granddaughter about The Chronicles of Narnia that began:

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again…

I think I am. I had reached that point where I felt too old to believe in miracles. Growing up with Re has made me believe in fairies all over again. And for that, I am thankful. He is six now, and I have already started to feel that he is growing up too fast. Very soon, he will be “too old” to build his dream castles, wear his mermaid suit, make Playdoh dresses and picnic with his princesses and fairies. He will soon be too grown up for his own good. He will soon morph into a person that says, “I’m-too-old-for-fairies!’. And yes, he will lose some of his wonder. But as a mother, I don’t want to be the person who led him there. I don’t want to be his fantasy-squasher. If that makes me an over-indulgent, removed-from-reality mother, so be it.

The gift of wonder and imagination is the right of every child and we have no business to deny them that. Because our thoughts, ideas and more importantly, our imagination are just another dimension of who we are. And whenever I lose hope, I remember this by Roald Dahl:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

For all those who told me to not read happily-ever-after stories to my child, including teachers at school, I have this to say: Sometimes our reality hinders us from believing in love and wonder, but that doesn’t mean we stop our children from believing in it. The fact that we have started listening to TEDtalks on how to dream and how to imagine explains that we are already bankrupt in our minds as a race.

So I am going to allow him to dream for as long as his heart will allow him. If we believe that things don’t exist just because we haven’t seen them, that’s bordering on arrogance. I really worry for us as people. I worry for his teacher too. As a start, I wrote her a note:

“Dear teacher. I know you don’t believe in mermaids or fairies, but we do. And maybe you should give it a shot as well. Because the world would be such a boring place if we didn’t believe in magic.”

She hasn’t replied to it. But if she says, “I don’t believe in fairies,” one more time, I am going to unleash some bad pixie dust on her. And introduce her to a certain Miss Tinkerbell.

Meanwhile, Re and I are working on spreading pixie dust all over the world. And we need all the help we can get.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 16th August, 2015)

Reading aloud and why it must never end

Long before I had a baby, long before I was even in the reckoning for it, I had developed an appetite for children’s books. Perhaps it had to do with my diminishing attention span or inability to focus those days. I would read them aloud, imagine someone reading them aloud to me, buy myself a copy, and buy extra copies and gift them to friends who were having babies when babies are meant to be had. I remember buying The Caterpillar who grew a Mustache for my friend Rashna’s daughter Shibumi and relishing it so much, I didn’t want to give it away.  Needless to say, I was everyone’s favorite aunt, but the whole process created a whole new world for me to live in, where things could be the way I wanted them to be.

I don’t remember too many books from my early childhood, and the earliest books I can remember were from the time I was seven or eight. This was because a large part of my early years was spent listening to stories told by my grandmother, rather than being read to. When I recently tried to put together a book of family stories for Scholastic, I realized I remember each and every story that my grandmother told me, (except one, which I have forgotten the twist to). It’s been nearly four decades, but such is the power of listening.

I began reading to Re quite early, even as I was nursing him. My friend Abira gifted him his first book – Karen Katz’s Where is Baby’s Belly Button?. It was a book he ate, read, played with and listened to, over and over. Reading aloud became our nighttime ritual and it seemed to soothe him and me equally. We moved on to Spot’s antics, Dr Seuss’s delightful journeys, Arthur’s strange neighbours, Pippi’s fascinating adventures, the colorful world of the Mudpuddle farm and many other books, unfolding many new worlds as we grew up. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allen Ahlberg is one baby book we have been reading for five years, and there is still that magical moment when we spot Mother Hubbard in the cupboard. We have read aloud brochures and inflight magazines on planes, when a book was in the overhead compartment and clumsy to access; we have read aloud road signs and hoardings and bus shelters on bumpy rides that made reading difficult. We never tired of reading aloud.

Of course technology, the not-so-silent predator, was lurking around everywhere, sometimes in the next room, where his father consumed hundreds of hours of screen time, watching television or gaming. But I carried on, trying to dilute the effects with my nighttime ritual which lasted half hour to an hour, every single day, and still does.

Some days, his father would abandon his controller and join us, and just the fact that the three of us were huddled together, reading aloud, transporting ourselves, took us to a warm fuzzy place. It was like we had coalesced into the family we were meant to be.

I know it’s very easy for any child (even Re) to be completely usurped by technology. It is designed to do that. But as long as I stick my neck out and read to him every day, and as long as he knows that he cannot go to bed without hearing a story from his mamma or dadda or aunt or grandma, all will be well.

Spoon-feeding is easy, and there are just millions of ways of doing so and the iPad is just one. But allowing our children to create their own magical worlds exercising those imagination muscles is harder. It takes time, it takes work, but is oh-so-rewarding in the long run.

The husband, who has been wholly consumed by technology, wanted to do his bit and downloaded glitzy story books on the iPad (something he legitimized the buy of by saying, “it’s for story time”, much to my chagrin). Sure the iPad offers visual, interactive story-telling. But it can’t allow your child to paint the land of Carabas or hear him giggle when he touches his belly button or says “Rumpelsliltskin”. The iPad can’t answer why.

How long do you read aloud? Forever, if you ask me. Weaning a child off reading aloud time just because he can read is like weaning a child off breastfeeding just because he can eat solids. Even social media-infused, technology-deformed people and children come alive when they are read aloud to. At a recent storytelling event I attended at the Loft in Pune, which was packed to the gills, I realized how starved adults are of listening to stories unfold.

Of course the Internet is winning the books vs Internet war. Which only means we have to work harder on our children. Like Megan Cox Gurdon wrote recently in her article in the Wall Street Journal, “In an epoch in which screens of one sort or another have become ubiquitous, it is more vital than ever to read aloud often, and at length, for as long as children will stay to listen. Without sustained adult effort, many kids won’t bother going through the gateway at all.”

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 20th July, 2015)

Rapunzel as told by a 4-year old

Once there was a mamma. She wanted to eat some cabbage. So she went and ate some cabbage in the bad lady’s garden. Then the bad lady got very angwy. She shouted at the dadda. “Why you ate my cabbage?” Dadda said, “Sorry, I did it by purposely. I will send Rapunzel to play with you.”

So Rapunzel went to the bad lady’s tower. The tower was bigger and bigger, but it had no doors. Ony one window for letdowning Rapunzel’s hair. One day Rapunzel was let downed her hair and a Pwince came. He climbed and climbed and reached her tower. Then he aksed her to come down and play with him. “Why don’t you come to my palace? I have somany horsis, somany cabbages, somany new dwesses and shoes and bangles!”

So Rapunzel said ok. “But I have to aks my lady,” she said. So she aksed the lady. But the lady got angwy. “No more letdowning your hair!” she said. And then she cutted her hair. Then Rapunzel cwied and cwied, and runned and runned. Then she reached the beach. And then she met the pwince and the horsi. And then the hair came back and she wore new dwesses.

Finish.

 

 

 

 

 

My first short story: The Lion who loved strawberry oatmeal

(So I wrote this for a friend’s child and boy, I have never been so nervous!)

Onceupatime, there was a Sheep called Purple. He had purple wool, because when he was a little baby, one day he went to play Holi with some children in his building.  He saw these big mounds of color that the children had heaped up to play color-color with, and he got really excited. He really liked the purple mountain, so he decided to roll in it. He did, and when he came out, he was all purple. When he went home that day, his mama said, “Go have a bath quickly, otherwise you will be purple for the rest of your life.” He said, “But I like being purple. Can I stay like this only?”

“Okay, if that’s you want. But people can be annoying, and they will keep asking you why you are purple. So you better watch out.”

And that is exactly what happened. Every time, Purple went out to play, or to eat grass and shrubs (which he did very often), all the goats, pigs, cows, horses, ducks and geese on the farm always asked him, “But why are you purple?” “Your mama and dada are both white. Isn’t that odd?”

One day, Purple got fed up of this constant questioning, so he decided to wander off to the jungle to make some new friends. By the time he reached the jungle, it was night time, and he was tired and hungry, so he found a nice warm cave and went and slept in it. In the morning he woke up, stretched himself nicely, and as was his habit, called out to his mom,

“Mommeeeee, I want to eat something. Can we have strawberry oatmeal?”

He didn’t see or hear his mommeee. Instead he heard a rather gruff voice.

“Grrrr… who is this mommeee who makes strawberry oatmeal?” the voice said. It was a LION!  A HUGE LION, WHOSE HAIR COVERED ALL OF HIS FACE AND EARS AND FOREHEAD AND ALMOST HIS EYES!

Purple was very scared, but he remembered what his mommee said. “Don’t be afraid of anyone, even if they are much bigger or louder than you. Be calm, and you will always be ok.”

“Oh, that’s my mommee in the farm, she makes the most yummy strawberry oatmeal. Slurp slurp…!”

“Really,?” said the Lion. “Can I also have some?”

“Yes, sure, I can take you home, my mommeee will make some for you.” Purple really liked Lion. What’s your name? I will have to tell her who’s coming.

“I am Punk,” said the Lion.

Purple really liked Punk. He was the only friend who didn’t ask him why he was purple. He was also big and strong and he could learn how to roar from him.

So Purple and Punk went to the farm, and Purple noticed how long Punk’s steps were, even though he was much bigger. “I must do some yoga, like my mommeee said, he thought. It will make my legs stronger.”

As they approached the farm, Purple saw that all his farm friends were nowhere in sight and he wondered why. He then called out to his mommee. “Mommmmeeeeee, where are you? Look I brought a friend for breakfast. He loves strawberry oatmeal too.”

His mommeee slowly came out from hiding, and walked up to him slowly, cautiously.

“Where have you been, Purple? We have been so worried.”

“Oh, just went for a walk mommeee, sorry I forgot to tell you. This is my friend, Punk, the Lion. Don’t you love his hair?”

His mommeee then took Purple aside and whispered to him, “Do you know who he is? He is a lion, and he eats animals like us. Why have you brought him here? See how you have scared the other farm animals away?”

Purple thought deeply. “But mamma, he is a good boy. He let me sleep in his cave, and we’ve been having such a good time. I am sure he will not harm us. Let me talk to him.”

So Purple went and had a little chat with Punk. “You see, my mommeee and friends are scared of you. They think you may eat them. So you will have to promise me you won’t do that. Else mommeee won’t make you any strawberry oatmeal.”

Punk laughed really loudly. It sounded scary and funny at the same time.

“Oh that…. I should have told you, I have turned fruitarian. Doctor’s advice. I have too much bad cholesterol,” he said.

Purple couldn’t believe his ears. “Really? That’s great!”

“And guess what, I really like fruits. I mean there are over 500 fruits in the jungle. So much variety! I was actually bored of eating the same old meat,” said Punk.

“Yay! High five,” said Purple.

Soon they both said down and shared a huge bowl of strawberry oatmeal. Punk said he had never had something so delicious. Purple was so happy.

 (Do you have a story to share? Mail me at mommygolightly@gmail.com and I will put it up here with due credit. I also promise to read it to Re!) 

Tell me a story

It’s story time. We are reading Lucky Duck. Correction. Re is helping me construct the story of Lucky Duck through his questions. I never realised that this is harder that the actual reading of the story which doesn’t take much more than a clearing of the throat, faking a deep interest (don’t tell me you don’t fake it) and some degree of voice modulation and animatedness, which above all, should be consistent. Which is quite hard, considering that by page four, one is normally, well, tired!

So here is how our reading of Lucky Duck, a story of a boy Lenny who loses and finds his duck, all of 22 pages, by Jonathan Shipton and Suzanne Diederen goes:

Mamma, what’s this baby’s name?

His name is Lenny.

And what’s his doggie’s name?

His name is Zack (made up on the spot)

And what’s his mamma’s name?

Her name is Zoey. 

And why is the baby nangu (naked)?

Because they are all on the beach and making sandcastles, so he can wear only his trunks, otherwise he will get all dirty.

Oh, but the poor ducky’s feathers will get all dirty!

It’s ok, she can dust it off. 

Oh, ok…

Where’s the baby’s dadda?

He has gone to office.

And where is that crab goving? 

(I just notice a crab on the page)

The crab is goving to find food. 

What is the crab goving to eat?

Well, it will find some worms in the sand (by now, I am not sure what crabs really eat)

And what is the baby’s mamma dooving?

She is trying to spread a towel on the beach so that they can all sit on it.

That’s not a towel mamma, it’s a blanket. 

Ok then. 

We are still on page one. Some day, we will get to page 22.