Two weeks ago, I asked the children at my Writers’ Club whether they would like to make readers laugh or cry. Three girls said they wanted to make readers laugh. 12 said they wanted to make readers cry. When a few said they would like to do both, those who had already raised their hands dithered.
Finally, though, most agreed that making readers cry was more important. This was both surprising and not.
Funny books that sparkle with humour are wonderful. Yet, I do know that the books that stay with me are books that make me cry. The best ones do both. I then asked the children what makes them cry in books.
These were difficult conversations, by the way, and I was warmed by how much the girls opened up. A 12-year-old is not always comfortable talking about crying in front of a 9-year-old. The fact that they did – and passionately – was lovely.
They spoke of happy moments making them cry and tragic moments too. And then, we started naming books about war, love and all the contradictions involved in being human.
“I don’t want to read only superb books that make me cry,” one girl confessed. This was one of the best parts of the conversation, for me. “Sometimes, I want to read other stuff, too. Those are good stories, but they’re stories that I forget about soon because they are too … light!”
That got me thinking about all the books I’ve been reading (and the books I’ve written, of course, but I’m not going there).
Not long ago, I read The Tigers of Taboo Valley. It was a fun book that kept surprising me with its irreverent humour. Lighthearted, crazy and surprising, I was struck by how oral storytelling tropes can be brought into such a different kind of story. I enjoyed it – and though it didn’t make me cry, ideas in the book did touch me.
Too light? Not light enough? Human beings are so unpredictable!
Then, I read The House with Chicken Legs. I was a bit wary of it because in the first few pages, it seemed as if it would have an element of horror, and I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to enjoy horror. But it didn’t. It was a warm, powerful story about a search for identity. It also addresses the most unusual friendship I’ve ever read about – the friendship between a girl and her house. I loved it!
But was that because in more than one place it brought me close to tears?
There were other books – many picture books on Storyweaver. I loved Ammachi’s Amazing Machines, I Am Not Afraid, The Elephant Bird … And every day, I read more. And I love that so often, I cannot understand that thing called ‘taste’. What kind of book do I like? I don’t know! That’s what makes art wonderful!
And art, of course, leads me to dance. We performed on Monday, and as usual, it was a performance that I know could have been better. Why I dance is so different from why I write. I rarely dance alone. The joy of dance, for me, is in the emotions that fill us up as a troupe. I love dancing with people, who become closer to me each time we perform together.
And dance is also about the range of emotions we experience as dancers. The negative elements include mockery, arrogance, greed and lust. I feel those when I play Dusshasan and Mahishasur.
And then we feel all those wonderful emotions of awe, wonder, love and peace.
At the end, there’s joy. Another performance successfully completed. All those things we could have done better, but didn’t. That leads to longing for our next performance. Together.
About three years ago, I began working on an exciting project with the National Rail Museum in New Delhi. The idea was to create stories set in and around trains in India.
It was challenging but fun. I dived into details of engines and their working in a way that I had never done before. Among other things, I needed to ensure that the story led naturally to the technical pages, while also being independent of them. In other words, a reader who was completely uninterested in technical details could still enjoy the story and cheerfully skip the technical pages.
So, I launched into intensive research. What trains could I write about? What would my characters do? How would they go on an adventure while also discovering how an electric locomotive works?
I set the first of the stories on the Duronto, a train with which I am very familiar. Among other things this is what I kept in my records – a list of technical halts.
Ultimately, my characters didn’t take this train for reasons of the plot and narrative. They took train number 12261 instead. Even so, the only thing I knew about Bhusawal (sometimes Bhusaval) was this – Chitra and Priya peered at the train time-table to see where the technical halts were and where a potential thief was likely to escape. No spoilers here, but yes, Bhusawal was a place where things could happen.
And so, when I went to Bhusawal two days ago for a workshop, I was unreasonably excited. How could I not be? It is a place that featured in my first published middle-grade story, a place that was part of the setting for an adventure of my own making … Who wouldn’t be thrilled?
It helped that the workshop was fun too, full of laughter and enthusiasm. The teachers took part in every activity right through the four hours I spent with them. Speaking, reading, writing, word puzzles … When teachers are interactive, workshops are fun!
The pop-up reading at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content is a fun event organised by Denise Tan of Closetful of Books. Authors who are willing to brave the chaos of the book fair read out a short excerpt of one of their books. Though I had not registered for this in advance, I jumped at the opportunity to read from Dragonflies, Jigsaws, and Seashells. It was a brand-new experience for me – reading from a book of mine that I was seeing for the first time!
I read an excerpt from “A Drawing Lesson”, the story of a colour-blind girl who triumphs in art class. Here’s a sneak peek into Dragonflies, Jigsaws and Seashells!
Celebrating Our Stars
An evening event, this was where all the shortlisted contestants were given certificates. I loved it!
When I was shortlisted for SABA in 2016, the award ceremony was held on the day before the festival. This meant that right through the festival, I was one of those who was “shortlisted but didn’t win”.
At AFCC 2018, on the other hand, the reveal came much later – at the closing ceremony. The energy was completely different because I was now a shortlisted contestant who didn’t yet know whether she had won. Each of us was called forward and given a certificate, which is what made the event special!
There was such a wonderful spirit of celebration around this event that the feeling of not winning the Scholastic Asian Book Award was fleeting. My only thought was everyone else feeling bad for me. I didn’t have the time to feel bad myself!
This was partly because of the warm people I met at AFCC 2018, including the Scholastic Asia team, authors, illustrators … It was also lovely to see many familiar faces again and speak to everyone.
The event was held at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, and we spent the evening gazing at the lights across the waters. A culture of excess, yes, but beautiful all the same. Isn’t it confusing?
And that’s how AFCC 2018 came to an end for me. I wonder when I’ll go again. What other lit fests are in store for me? So much to explore, so much to do, so many people to meet … Life is good!
On day two, I attended a session called ‘Rhyming Round Reading’, which touched upon ideas that I use all the time at workshops on reading: rhyme. Focussing on a book titled Rhyming Round Singapore, the session had a lot to offer even to non-Singaporeans like me, primarily because of the concepts behind the book.
How many of us have found nursery rhymes morbid? Think about Three Blind Mice and Humpty-Dumpty.
Yet, like so many morbid fairy-tales, they have stood the test of time. Easy to sing, supported by elaborate gestures, these nursery rhymes have been taught for so many years that they’re part of the bedrock of the education of so many children. Rhyming Round Singapore puts together familiar tunes and familiar ideas, rather than obscure images of Miss Muffet sitting on a tuffet, when most people don’t even know what a tuffet is. It uses ideas that are familiar to Singaporean children and brings them to tunes the teachers (and perhaps, the children) already know.
Rhyme, rime, alliteration, syllables … All these will find their way more often into my workshops, I think!
A session that nearly made me cry was ‘The History Hunter’. Mark Greenwood is such a wonderful storyteller! Simpson and the Donkey to Diamond Jack and The Happiness Box … he told us so many stories that I simply had to buy a copy of at least one of his books. I haven’t read it yet, but it is special to have an autographed copy!
The book I bought, The Last Tiger, reminded me of another book that Maria Alessandrino spoke about at the AFCC last year, another that made a powerful impression on me – The Dream of the Thylacine. I think that’s part of the reason why I chose to buy this one!
And of course, each year, the book fair is part of the energy that courses through the festival. All those unaffordable, gorgeous books staring at you and asking to be bought …
AFCC 2018 was a bit of a whirlwind experience for me. For one, with work commitments that I could not break, I got to Singapore only on the day that the festival was to begin. So, sleep-deprived but fuelled by adrenalin, I arrived at the National Library Board after the keynote had begun. Exhaustion took its toll on me, though, so on days two and three, I was barely able to attend any sessions. Despite that, AFCC 2018 was wonderful, full of new ideas, energy and the urge to create more.
I began AFCC 2018 with a session conducted by Australian author Pamela Rushby on making the perfect pitch. I hear so many stories about authors meeting editors and publishers at lit fests and then signing contracts for books. Learning how to pitch would definitely be useful.
For me, there were two big takeaways. One, I discovered again how essential the word count of your novel is. It helps publishers determine whether the work you are pitching suits their publishing programme at all. This is something I did know, somewhere at the back of my mind, but having it brought to my attention again was important.
Secondly, Pamela Rushby gave all of us a simple but effective way of taking things forward. Hand your visiting card over, sure, but at the back of the card, put down the name of the novel you’ve just pitched. That creates better recall!
After that was a lovely talk by Sarah Mounsey and Fleur Vella-Chang. Both of them come across as such lively, warm people! The session was particularly useful to me because of how organised it was. As a writer, how does one begin school visits? What can we offer to schools that is unique and allows us to publicise our books while not being pure marketing propaganda? And from the point of view of the school, what do teachers have to gain from an author visit?
Sarah Mounsey is a writer and a teacher-librarian, so she was able to provide multiple perspectives. Fleur Vella-Chang, a children’s author, spoke about her transition from unpaid school visits to a stage where she recognises her worth and expects to get paid for it.
School visits aren’t really a huge thing yet in India for the most part, but they’re just coming into Singapore too, so hearing about how to get in and work was inspiring. Authors’ work does not have to be gratis if it is promotional! The important idea here is to be clear about how children will gain from your visit, and communicate that effectively through your website. That’s something to work on for me!
After that, I had a pop-up reading, as Denise Tan of Closetful of Books calls it. But more of that in a separate post, when I talk about all the evening events and about SABA 2018.
The next event on my agenda was the launch of Srividhya Venkat’s latest book, The Clever Tailor, published by Karadi Tales. Last year, I attended the launch of her book Pickle Mania (Tota Books); this year it was the next one. I love the way she engages the audience! From wearing a saafa to finishing with a quiz, she has the audience involved at each stage. At the end of the day, the festival bookstore, Closetful of Books, had no copies of The Clever Tailor left, and that speaks for itself!
That was day one of AFCC 2018, followed by the evening event, Celebrating our Stars. That’s for a subsequent post!
Four years ago, I had not heard of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. I did not know that Singapore’s National Library had 16 floors of books. And then, I was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award 2016, which was momentous enough for me to buy a festival pass and attend my first AFCC. I didn’t win the award, but that was the beginning of a new journey – one that has led to my first Scholastic publication, Dragonflies, Jigsaws, and Seashells (originally Dragonflies, Jigsaws and a Rainbow).
Then, in 2017, I answered a call for papers and was invited to speak at the AFCC. I spoke at a panel on writing about us, as Asians, something that I have started coming across much more frequently. At the AFCC 2017, I experienced the energy of the festival once more, as I went from session to session, making the most of an event that brought writers, illustrators, editors and publishers together.
In 2017, I also signed a contract with Scholastic Asia for my shortlisted manuscript, which was due for release at the festival in 2018. So, I was all set to attend the AFCC once more!
Except that the book was not ready in time for a formal launch at the festival. Oh well, I thought, I’ll skip the AFCC this year.
And then, I was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award 2018 too!
Joel Donato Ching Jacob won the award this time, and no runners-up were announced. The award ceremony was a much grander affair than in 2016, celebrating 50 years of the Singapore Book Council, while also honouring the winners of the Scholastic Asian Book Award and the Hedwig Anuar Book Award. More about that in another post.
When I was offered a festival pass as a shortlisted contestant, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the festival. I spent three days with wonderfully creative people – and I had a bonus in store for me in the form of my book Dragonflies, Jigsaws, and Seashells hot off the press!
There’s so much more to write about – the sessions I attended, the people I met, the holiday that followed … I’m still on a high!
Imagine that you are writing to a reader who has not yet been born. Perhaps you’re writing to your own grandchild or great-grandchild. Or maybe you’re writing to someone whom you don’t know at all. What would you say?
Here are a few of my favourites from this year’s Writers’ Club. There are many, many more!
- I do believe that a good book can change a life. Perhaps even yours
- Read if you like, but I’m sure both my GOGGLERS know the whole story by reading it many times. If you really want to find out what GOGGLER means, find other mysteries.
- How exciting it is to have a dog, but how hard it is to name it (him)!
- You would probably have shifted to Mars by now. I truly love to read Harry Potter and would totally recommend them to you (if at all they are found in Mars)
- Think before you read this book. You can roll down the chair with laughter!
Also, many made lists of their favourite words. Here are a few:
- thoughtless (This one surprised me!)
- unuttered (I never thought of how much fun this word is!)
What would you add?
The Writers’ Club at St. Mary’s School is now in its fourth year!
We started so that we could commemorate the sesquicentennial year with a collection of work put together by the children, but then just carried on from there.
Today, we discovered how we have stories within us, just waiting to be told. This is an activity I love to conduct with children and parents. I divide the children into pairs and each one narrates an anecdote to her partner. Never do I have more than ten seconds of silence – everyone has a story to tell. What comes after that is even more fun, where you pretend the story you just heard happened to someone else in the room … We began our year with laughter; I hope to keep it going!
In the first year, we had a collection of stories and poems published – Flickering Flames. In the second year, we were somehow too busy with a writing competition to compile the work, but we remedied that in the third year with a homemade collection, handwritten by the children. We’ll make sure we put something together again this year, and I’m looking forward to reading everything the children come up with!
Every so often, I think about doing a monthly round-up of workshops I’ve conducted and books I’ve read. And then I think, maybe next month. But the month that went by was just so full of wonderful things that I want very much to share everything that happened and everything that’s coming up!
Last month, I was invited to a teachers’ conference in Bengaluru. It was one of the most heart-warming events I conducted. I shared a few pictures already, but what made it special was how involved the teachers were. I conducted two sessions – one on reading and one on writing, and both were lovely!
Then came the sessions I look forward to each month – my workshops at Just Books Baner. During the last session, we worked on magical stories, and played with lovely new ideas.
Then came workshops with teachers at Universal High Malad, Sanjay Ghodawat International School (Kolhapur), Father Agnel’s Vidyankur School (Pune), St. Jerome’s Convent High School (Mumbai) and Yashodham Secondary School (Mumbai). They were all energy-packed sessions, which left me longing for more!
And of course, all the travelling led to a lot of reading … But I’ll write about that in another post.
Instead, I’ll write about all the happiness that’s blossoming in my writing world. Writing is sometimes such a slow and painful process that when something wonderful happens, it’s time to celebrate!
My story “Wilderness” won the Juggernaut Books Travel Writing Contest! And you can read it for free – so please do. I’d be terribly delighted if you reviewed it too.
“Wilderness” is also the Editor’s Pick of the Week, so the Juggernaut Blog features an interview with me.
If that’s not enough, I have two picture books coming up on Storyweaver – more about that when I have more details. And finally, here’s the cover of my next book. Published by Mango Books, it will be available for purchase very soon.
My cup runneth over!
The huge, purple monster is on the loose! It has 12 arms, 12 legs, one eye, one horn, two mouths and 43 teeth, and it’s going to take over the town. It eats 12 people every day: it ate my neighbour and my children; it even destroyed a nearby building! It stinks to high heavens, and people are trying to kill it with fire. So far, they have been unsuccessful because after all, what can kill a monster who is so enormous that even an elephant is like a rat to it?
Meet the Crushing Monster – this one can be destroyed by just one person in the world, a young boy named Krishant.
Meet the Destroying Monster. Vikas and his younger brother Vishnu are going to kill this one!
Meet Mono. Vishnu and his friends will triumph over this one.
And finally, meet Tide. We don’t know yet whether this monster can be destroyed at all!
What fun the workshop at BookMark Coimbatore was! Looking forward to more!
The next one on the agenda is at Just Books, Pune!
I have never been a huge fan of Goa, especially as I’m not particularly fond of beaches. In addition, we went on a banana boat ride at Baga once, and I was disgusted by the amount of dirty seawater I ended up swallowing. Plus, New Year’s eve at Calangute eight years ago was a nightmare.
So, when a workshop in Goa came up, I was happy, but not overly excited.
But this time for me, everything was different. Panaji is so beautifully green! I love the wide pavements and the relaxed lifestyle that seems to permeates into your skin as you walk the streets of Goa. It belongs to a slower world, a world where you can take time out to look around and breathe.
For dinner, we went to a charming place called Villa Panjim and feasted on Goan rice and curry while listening to Konkani music.
Our stomachs full, we walked back to our hotel slowly, looking at old pink and purple buildings, Portuguese-style bungalows and doors with arched tops. I realised that when I drew a house as a child, I drew something like a Goan house, with a door that was curved on the top!
On my way to the airport, I found myself grinning at something else, something that belongs to a book I wrote. Adventure on the Konkan Railway isn’t available yet, but Zuari Rail Bridge features in it and there it was! It’s called Zuari Rail Bridge because there’s a road bridge that runs parallel to it – and I was foolishly excited to be on the road, trying to photograph the rail bridge!
And yes, when I said goodbye to Goa, I realised that I would actually like to go back and spend some time there. Not to ‘chill’ at the beach or to visit all the churches, but to take it in slowly, the way the place wants you to.
A priceless necklace has been stolen from a museum and you are one of the suspects. How can you convince the jury that you’re innocent?
“I was on a plane to Kashmir,” said one girl. “I can show you the ticket!” A little later, she added, “And I even have a photo that the air hostess took to prove that I was there!”
And immediately, the cross-questioning began. “Why did she want to prove you were there? What air hostess takes a photo of the passengers? It looks like you’re trying too hard to prove you were somewhere else! You’re involved in the theft in some way!”
And so, we examined how we can create characters that convince readers that they’re innocent. At what point does an alibi begin to sound like the character is needlessly justifying herself? Also, how can you leave clues but still surprise the reader at the end?
The children at the Young Writers’ Club at Just Books Baner threw themselves into creating mystery stories together. We wrote backstories and alibis. We created narrative hooks and then critiqued each one. We didn’t have the time to write complete stories, but we spoke about building suspense and keeping the reader involved.
With the inimitable Shel Silverstein, we solved a cryptogram and analysed how we could write a secret message.
And with the story “Dusk” by Saki, we spoke of twists and turns in the plot, which make for a wonderful story.
I can’t wait for the next session – magical stories on the 19th and 20th of May!
The Lit Bug Fest, Pune’s own literary fest for children, was held yesterday, and I’m sure everyone who was there is still on a high. For me, just like last year, it was a delightful experience interacting with readers, talking about my books, sharing ideas, and even being interviewed by two child-journalists for My Paper!
The energy of a lit fest is unmatched. I kept sneaking away from the stall and attending bits and pieces of events, hovering on the outside sometimes, and sitting in at other times. Each session I attended was lovely!
I began my day with a story with which I was familiar, retold by Yamini Vijendran. Using puppets and all the drama of her expressive voice and face, she drew us into the story, so much so that I didn’t realise that she’d kept us engaged for half an hour!
I wanted very much to attend Bhavna Menon’s session because I loved her book, Welcome to the Forest. It was as lovely as it promised to be, reminding me that I haven’t visited a forest for over two years now!
And finally, my favourite event of the day – Dharithri Krishnamurthy’s workshop on creating stories. Last year, I was blown away by the stories she told, and this year, she gave us a peek into what goes behind the stories. Best of all, I liked how she tweaks traditional stories to make them more empowering and give the girls, especially more agency!
I wish I could have attended more, but then, the stall was fun too, especially meeting children who have read my books and want more … I wanted to be everywhere, doing everything. I want a time-turner!
Yes, I was a bit sceptical about doing a workshop for children to mark International Women’s Day. What would I do? How much would I say? How would I even begin to talk about the inequality we see around us every day without even noticing it?
Talking about equal pay means nothing to these children. Pay is something far, far in the future. Unequal opportunities and conditioning do not ring true to them. Believe me, I’ve tried. Most are too idealistic to think that these could be true – and perhaps that’s a good thing.
So, I began with home.
How many of you have mothers who work outside home?
Six out of seven.
Who cooks at home?
Two children said both their parents do. The others, you know the answer.
Three said both parents. Then, as an afterthought, another agreed.
Who buys groceries?
Who does ‘extra’ cleaning – windows, dusting, cobwebs …?
Who notices when you’re running out of sugar or salt?
Who manages the house?
Mm … Mainly mother.
Despite this, many children did not feel it was a question of equality. That’s just the way things are, right? The father is the ‘main’ breadwinner, and well, what’s wrong with that?
I don’t know how much of a change I made, if I made a change at all, but in places, I think there was a ripple. I made them come forward and write about women who inspire them in any way.
We read about women – fantastic women who changed the world, but many of the children weren’t convinced that these women are relevant now. Sure, they were important in history, but the work is all done now. I mean, we have the right to vote, right? And we can all work, right?
I think I got through to a few when we spoke about privilege. But poverty and environment are things they can see and work on; the other things – we’re just making them up. They want to create change. They want to change the world.
And optimist that I am, I know that that is a good beginning.
Featuring Jane Austen, Gertrude Ederle, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie, Mary Anning, Mary Seacole, Amelia Earhart, Agent Fifi, Sacagawa, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks and Anne Frank, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World is an absolutely lovely read.
With wonderful illustrations and an engaging layout, I think it’s a delightful book, no matter how old you are, and this despite the fact that it is an ‘educational’ book.
(Oh, and I just had a look at a related activity book, and that looks fun too!)
|Title||Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World|
|Rating (out of 5)||5|
Based on this book, I will be conducting a (hopefully) fun workshop for children aged 8-12 on Saturday the 10th of March from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at the British Library. Entry is free!
The Writers’ Club at St. Mary’s School has been running for three years now! The third year ended on a high, with children (and me on the inside) running, shouting and celebrating. All through the year, we played games around writing, kept inspiring one another, wrote and rewrote – and this was the result.
In 2016, the children had their work published in a collection called Flickering Flames. This year, a fourth standard child suggested the title that we finally chose – The Book that Speaks.
To add to the excitement, the children took part in a competition that was judged by two ex-students of the Writers’ Club, and we announced the results during the last session. Here’s the winner of the first prize.
Thanks to all the poetry we read together, many children played with style and form. Here’s a poem that received a special mention from the judges.
The warmest, tingliest sensation of all is when children ask, “Why can’t we be part of the Writers’ Club again next year?”
Six workshops with six different batches. Six hours of workshopping, one session after another. And it was so much fun!
MIT Gurukul is using a mixed bunch of reading challenge books this year. Some children are reading Space Hop, some Creepy House, and some The Big Friendly Read.
So, beginning with Grade V, I decided to move away from all the stories they’ve been reading, and I read out Bholu and the Thief, followed by a word puzzle. The children read, participated … And absolutely loved the Word Search!
With Prep-II, I read out a delightful book by Sir Quentin Blake – The Five of Us.
Angie can see very well even from a distance. Ollie, who wears round dark glasses, can hear very well. Simona and Mario (who happens to be in a wheelchair) can lift ridiculously heavy things. And Eric … I won’t tell you what makes him amazing! Participative, enthusiastic children make storytelling so much fun!
And then, we spoke about vehicles of different sorts – including planes and boats and wheelchairs. The loveliest moment was when I gave children this activity sheet.
One child decided to colour it like this.
Her logic was, “It’s a reflection in a river. It has to be sparkly-sparkly. This blue is the sparkly-sparkly.”
With Grade II, I remembered one of my favourite jokes of all time. I’m terrible at telling jokes because I usually mess up the punchline. This was one of the few jokes I could tell with confidence because I never forgot it halfway through. It goes like this:
Why did the elephant paint its toenails red?
I don’t know!
So that it could hide on a cherry tree. [Pause] Have you ever seen an elephant on a cherry tree?
That proves how well that works!
And why did I remember the joke? Because of a charming book I read called Have you seen Elephant?
With Grades III and IV, I went back to an old favourite – The Enormous Crocodile. We spoke (of course) of the wonderful Sir Quentin Blake and the pictures that he very kindly allows people to download and play with.
Ah! Working with children is just so much fun!
There are so many things I love about conducting workshops! I just finished a five-day creative writing workshop at Baner, and it was, as always, good fun. We began with limericks, that are always exciting. Sometimes, they’re funny; sometimes, just fun. Here are a few the children came up with during the session.
Day two introduced the children to the wonderful Shel Silverstein. Every time I introduce his poetry to children, I fall in love with it all over again! I used his poetry workshop kit, and here’s an epigram that one of the children wrote.
And that leads me to what always makes me laugh with delight during each writing workshop I conduct – imaginative spelling! Here’s some more:
Surprises. Workshops are full of surprises. This creative writing workshop led me to a comic inspired by Monty Python!
And the sense of satisfaction at the end when you realise that ten hours can lead to quite a tidy volume of work!
“The circus has come to Pune!”
“Yes, and it can fly!”
“Yes, and there are gymnasts jumping from the ceiling!”
“Yes, and there is a flying unicorn!”
“Yes, and there are singing koalas!”
“Yes, and the tiger can bark!”
“Yes, and the dogs are miaowing!”
I love playing ‘Yes, and …’ with children. They are just so imaginative. We created a crazy circus together, full of dancing dragonflies, flying kangaroos and a robot or two thrown in.
With the older children, we spoke about animal rights and bullying, with one group presenting a very balanced idea of the circus – as entertainment, as a home for strays, and as a nightmare for wild animals.
I ended with a story from The Story-Catcher, “The Circus Boy”, which led to a lovely conversation about child labour and bullying.
“How many of you have never been bullied?” I asked.
Not one child raised a hand.
“How many of you can honestly say you’ve never bullied anyone?” I asked.
One child raised a hand and then slowly put it down again.
When you deliberately exclude someone from a group, it’s bullying, they realised. I loved this telling of “The Circus Boy”. It brought so much wonderful conversation in!
Have you ever played Chinese Pictionary? I used it as part of my junior workshop for the British Library’s Reading Challenge this year. It’s a combination of Chinese Whispers and Pictionary, and it promises to be hilarious. Especially with young children, or people who cannot draw, it becomes a crazy game that is loads of fun.
Here’s how it goes.
The first child got this chit:
He had to draw it, and this is what he drew:
(In his defence, he’s not even seven years old)
The next child looked at the picture and tried to guess what it was. She thought it was this:
The next child saw just this word and tried to draw it. This is what he drew:
And the last child had to guess what it was. She guessed it was this:
Each time I play this with children, it’s just so much fun! Here’s another one:
Of all the workshops I conduct, the ones at the British Library remain special. Maybe it’s because that’s where it all began. For the Animal Agents Reading Challenge, I conducted my first pair of workshops at the new premises. Logic, imagination and laughter are such a delicious combination!
For the seniors, I conducted a session called Solve the Mystery! The children began by being detectives themselves. Each one took on an alias. Then, by asking one question to each other participant, they had to figure out who was who. Everyone was unmasked quite rapidly – we have many detectives in the making!
What was most fun was the logic puzzles. Based on three or four clues, they had to solve puzzles I gave them. I was astounded by how quickly they did it!
The workshop for the younger ones was fun in completely different ways. Will put up that story soon!
I can’t believe that this is the fifth year that I’m conducting workshops for the British Library’s Reading Challenge!
I began with …
Then came the challenge that probably has my favourite set of books:
I thoroughly enjoyed the workshops in my third year with the Reading Challenge:
With Dahl, you can’t go wrong, so of course the challenge last year was exciting:
And now, for this year, we have:
I’ve read a few of the Animal Agents books, and they were good fun. I’m all set for my workshops this Saturday too – puzzles, games, creative writing … Here’s a sneak peek of what we’re going to do.
How many animals can you find? All the hints will be put up after the workshop!
“I know that,” I said, irritably. “But that’s no reason to lose our heads. People are being downright careless, out on the streets in broad daylight, not even dressed in Muggle clothes, swapping rumours.” I threw a sharp, sideways glance at Dumbledore, hoping he was going to tell me something, but he didn’t, so I went on. “A fine thing it would be if, on the very day YouKnow-Who seems to have disappeared at last, the Muggles found out about us all. I suppose he really has gone, Dumbledore?”
Who am I?
I live in Oxford College in Jordan. My Uncle Asriel is researching something called Dust. There are evil people in my world, people who snatch children and cut them away from their daemons. I’m going to find out who they are.
Who am I?
I followed a rabbit down a hole because I was curious to know what I would find.
Who am I?
I live with my parents and my brother. My favourite teacher is Miss Honey.
Who am I?
Ooh! I need some more foundation on my fur!
Who am I?
My father works in a toothpaste factory – fitting lids on to tubes of toothpaste. My mother makes the same thing for dinner every day – soup. And I get a gift only once a year, on my birthday.
Who am I?
You’ve never used an Unforgivable Curse, have you, Harry? When you say it, you really have to mean it! I am the Dark Lord’s most faithful servant. Crucio!
Who am I?
I want a Golden Ticket! Where’s my Golden Ticket? I have canaries and puppy dogs and rabbits … But I want my Golden Ticket!
Who am I?
It’s not Wingardium Livo-saa, it’s Wingardium Levi-o-sa!
Who am I?
How does one pick a teen book for a five-year-old? I have never before met a five-year-old girl like this one. How did she finish reading a book with 111 pages?
Who am I?
I am Geronimo Stilton’s nephew!
Who am I?
I am a bestselling author on New Mouse City.
Who am I?
Hello, I am your new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. We’re going to begin the lesson with a little test – about me! How wonderful Miss Granger, you have scored full marks! Ten points to Griffindor! Hardly any of you remembered that my favorite color is lilac. I say so in Year with the Yeti. And a few of you need to read Wanderings with Werewolves more carefully …
Who am I?
We went on and on and on – what fun it was! How many of the above can you guess?
Happy Children’s Day!
New characters, new stories and comics – today’s session at JustBooks Baner was lovely!
During the ice-breaker, I met all kinds of new characters. I usually encounter only Geronimo Stilton, Thea, Greg and Harry Potter. Today, I met Xan, Rafe and Joe, whom I don’t know at all! And I was also delighted to find the charming Fantastic Mr Fox, Small Fox, Matilda, Bella, Arjun and Chota Bheem … It was so much fun!
Working with listening exercises brought music to the workshop, and then, before I knew it, the morning was over!
A note to parents who read this: don’t send your children for a workshop if they don’t fit into the age bracket! They feel horribly left out! They can’t cope; they feel inferior – don’t put them through that!
“I jumped into the swimming-pool today.”
“Fortunately, the pool was heated.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot swim.”
“Fortunately, it was not deep.”
Which beginning do you find more entertaining? I was very surprised to find that many, many girls at the Writers’ Club find the second story more promising. I would choose the first, any day.
How does this activity work? It’s a hugely entertaining one, which I learned from the book Creating Stories with Children by Andrew Wright. Someone begins the story, and then each of the other participants must contribute one sentence, alternating between beginning with ‘Fortunately’ and ‘Unfortunately’. It helps to introduce the idea of plotting and the wonder of surprising the reader.
Limericks are fun! Very often, during a short session on creative writing, we work with limericks. They’re good fun, sparking much conversation and laughter. Many, many children love limericks too – one of my students even wrote a short story in limericks, which is part of Flickering Flames – An Anthology of Poems and Short Stories. But that one deserves a post on its own, so I’ll come to it some other time.
I put a ten-rupee coin into the bubblegum machine
Soon, bubblegums flew out and hit my head!
For a moment, I wondered; then I realised
That I’d put a hundred-rupee coin into the machine instead!
– adapted from a poem written in about seven minutes by one of the participants at yesterday’s workshop.*
*If anyone who reads this knows the name of the writer, please share it in the comments below!
I love the Reading Challenge, and The Big Friendly Read is among my favourite themes.
“Could you name a book you enjoyed?” I asked.
“Grrr,” replied a serious-faced young participant.
For a moment, there was silence; then everyone burst out laughing.
“I’ve read it too!” cried one.
“I liked No!” said another.
Laughter and madness go hand-in-hand when we explore Roald Dahl, a range of other stories in the collection, and Sir Quentin Blake’s illustrations – what a lovely Sunday!
If you think children don’t find reading interesting anymore, think again. At Vidya Valley School’s Literature Festival, it was absolutely delightful to see children running around, roaring with excitement, thrilled to bits with the very idea of a lit fest! This was my second year at the festival, and it was even better than the first.
I was asked to talk about my railway adventures to class V, and the experience was invigorating. I was astounded by the number of children who knew how bullet trains run. I didn’t know a thing until I began this project!
“Magnets,” many said, quite coolly.
Still others said, even more comfortably, “Mag-lev – magnetic levitation.”
When I read out an excerpt from The Toy Train, I realised that bullet trains, being new and exciting aren’t the only things that are familiar to the children. They knew about the steam engine and the toy trains in Matheran, Ooty and Darjeeling.
I loved the rapt attention with which they listened, completely involved in the story, giggling at all the right places. The best part was the question, “But what happens next? How do the kids save the toy train?”
They have to read the book to find out!
I always come away from sessions like this charmed by the questions I’m asked. Here are a few that are still buzzing in my head and making my lips twitch:
Are you famous?
Are you going to make your books into movies?
If you do, can I act in them?
Why don’t you just tell all the bookstores to sell your books?
Can we buy your books now?
Can we buy all your books and get them signed?
My heart is full!
Every time I work with children, I realise how much I enjoy it! They are much more imaginative than others, and much less inhibited. When The Story Station asked me to conduct a writing session with children over the age of eight, I knew it would be fun.
For me, the highlight of the session was the story “The Dictionary” from my The Story-Catcher. It’s not the first time I’m working with this story, but it’s fun each time. I told the story of ten-year-old Sana, off to visit her grandparents for her holidays. In her favourite room at her grandparents’ place, the library, she discovers an old, old dictionary, in which she finds three letters. The first is from her great-grandfather, the second is from her grandfather, and the third is from her mother. They all begin with ‘Dear Reader’. Charmed, Sana begins to write a letter of her own.
At this point, I ask the children to write letters that they would like to put into books for others to read. My host Vaishali was wonderfully enthusiastic. The children wrote letters that they hid in books all over The Story Station. Here’s a glimpse of a couple of them. I wonder who’ll find them, and how the story will go on!
With children writing imaginative letters, poems and stories, I had a perfectly delightful morning, and I look forward to many, many more workshops like this!
The Story Station turns two!
The Story Station is a reading centre in Aundh, Pune, where adults and children can discover the love of books. A space that’s always bursting with energy, it hosts all kinds of activities, revolving around reading, storytelling and creative writing.
I’m delighted to be part of their birthday week fest. ‘The author in you’ is a creative writing workshop that I will be conducting this Sunday for children over the age of eight. See you there!