Thursday, March 28, 2013

Our own Willy and Hugh!

 If there’s one thing that Abhay misses the most about our life in the US (which was almost two years ago!), are his friends outside of school! Every kid needs a social circle outside of his school, be it near home or in a hobby class/sports club. Had we lived in an apartment complex, we wouldn’t have faced this problem at all and  the problem would have been the converse - too many friends and too much playtime! But one of the biggest drawbacks in living in an independent house is the lack of social interaction and safe recreational facilities. Of course there are exceptions and you are indeed lucky if your house is ideally located near a park or most of the neighbors have same age kids. But by and large, an apartment life in Bangalore fosters greater social interaction that can prove to be extremely beneficial for kids, if not for adults! J Anyway, off late Abhay is glad to have made friends with our neighbor’s four year old son, Sudhanva and both of them now take turns to play in each other’s house. Though younger, more rounded and temperamentally very different from my six year old, Sudhanva looks forward to playing with Abhay and vice versa… least so far so good!

So when I chanced upon this book by Anthony Browne, not only I had to grab it as Anthony Browne is our favorite author but also for the obvious similarities between Willy and Hugh in the book and our very own team closer home! “Willy and Hugh” by Anthony Browne is a charming tale of friendship between the two most unlikely individuals! Willy, the same chimp from the other Willy stories, is a lonely chimp in a Gorilla world! He laments that everyone seemed to have friends, everyone except Willy. No matter how hard he tries, no one lets him join in any games as everyone feels he is useless. One day when Willy walks in the park, and a huge gorilla is seen running towards him in the opposite direction and their paths collide resulting in Willy falling flat on the ground. The gorilla insists on apologizing, taking Willy by complete surprise. Willy then learns the gorilla’s name to be Hugh Jape and both Willy and Hugh hang around the park for some time when Willy bumps into Buster Nose who has always been bullying Willy. “Can I be of any help?” asked Hugh. On seeing that Willy has company of a formidable fellow gorilla, Buster Nose quickly leaves the scene. So Willy and Hugh decide to go the zoo…which in most Anthony Browne illustrations, shows humans chained in cages, looking sad and lost! They go the library, where Willy is seen reading to Hugh, much to Hugh’s delight! As they leave the library, Hugh stops suddenly as he spots a terrifying creature – spider. “Can I be of any help” asked Willy as he carefully moves the spider out of the way, cementing their symbiotic friendship! “Shall we meet up tomorrow?” asked Hugh, to which Willy replies “That would be great” and guess what? “It was”! This story beautifully demonstrates that friendships can be formed when you least expect it!  Here’s to our very own Willy and Hugh!  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Abhay at Wonderla!

Children’s summer vacation is hardly a vacation for parents! Of course, we are free from following up on their homework/school work and projects, but life as a parent doesn’t get any easier! How do you keep them occupied for two whole months…..??? Believe me, drawing a two month vacation plan for a six year old that is fun and at the same time creatively or kinesthetically engaging is no joke! Yes…there are summer camps and swimming or sports camp, but this is also a time when your little one is at home more than usual, and when they are home, you don’t want him to fall prey to the idiot box. So this is the best time to plan vacation, picnics or day-trips with your little one, but the flipside being just like you, everyone else has planned the same with their little ones, making every child-friendly destination fall prey to vacation rush!
So kick starting Abhay’s summer vacation 2013, yesterday we took our adventurous little one to Wonderla, an amusement park near Bangalore. Well, after having frequented Disneyland and Universal Studios in the US, I must say that we were quite impressed with Wonderla as it was almost on par with the amusement parks of the West. Be it water rides or dry rides, the park is well maintained and equipped with well trained personnel who are ready to assist you at every juncture. When it comes to amusement parks, I am proud to announce that my darling son has taken after me and not his dad and thoroughly enjoys the thrill rides as much as the regular attractions! In fact, as and when he was permitted, he even got on some of the adult thrill rides!   On rides he wasn't eligible for, he watched his parents (read mom) go on them while enjoying an icecream! 

So a day before the visit to Wonderla, I had him read “Berenstain Bears Ride the Thunderbolt” a Level 1 Early Reader from the Step into Reading series, by the Berenstains. The Berenstain family visit an amusement park and decide to ride a rollercoaster named Thunderbolt. So they wait in line, buy the tickets, and get on the ride. As they buckle up and are ready to go, the four seater ride climbs up the rollercoaster track making a clickety clack sound reaching the top. As they slide down with a clickety clack sound, everyone except papa bear is shown enjoying the hi-speed descent. As they go around, upside down, into the dark and finally slowing down, papa bear looks relieved to be getting off. As soon as they get off, both sister and brother bear scream for an encore. (Again! Again!) After a few minutes break, the Berenstain family gets ready for another ride on the Thunderbolt, but this time, its minus one- Papa Bear! Looks like Papas all over are not exactly thrilled about the thrill rides! J

Friday, March 22, 2013

School summer vacation!

Yesterday was Abhay’s last day of school before the unbelievably long summer vacation. School summer vacations or a summer break in between school years is probably a tradition as old as schooling itself! Although most educational institutions close down during summer, a vacation of two long months is typical only to schools. A tradition that I was all gung-ho about as kid  but not so much as a parent!  In my defense, I must say that those were the days when life was much simpler with less distractions for kids and a lot less hectic for us parents! At the same time, life is expected to turn a lot more competitive for our kids than it was for us!  So whether it’s  from mid-March to June in South India or mid-May to August in Northern India or mid- June to mid-September in the west or from December to February in Australia, its time for our  little ones to make the most of it now before their vacations get eschewed by tuitions and coaching classes as they move to higher classes!

To celebrate Abhay’s start of summer vacation 2013, I had him read “School Holidays” by Leanne Wells and illustrated by Celina Korcak, a level 1 Early Reader from Cambridge University Press. Narrated by three kids who indulge in different activities every day of their school holidays - skating on Monday, fishing on Tuesday, swimming on Wednesday, riding on Thursday, watching  Television on Friday (All day?? asked Abhay!) and playing on computer on Saturday, sparing just enough energy to clean up for Sunday and …….just like that ......they get ready to go to school on Monday! ( If only it were that simple!) Not much of a story, but this series provides guide notes in the end to improve your little one’s critical thinking and language skills, and help them reflect on the story that they have just read. “School holidays” for the kids in the book last only for a week but Abhay has over 76 days of summer holidays this year!'s wishing everyone who have either started their summer vacation already or are going to in the near future......Happy Holidays!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The story of the pleasant rakshasa!

Last weekend saw the celebration of World Storytelling day that falls on  March 20th, and for once we had more than one event revolving around children’s books on the same day! I mean…how often does that happen? On Saturday, Hippocampus (a children’s library and activity centre based in Bangalore and Chennai) had organized a story hour on “The Pleasant Rakshasa” that coincided with Bookalore’s ( Bangalore’s first book-club for children) March meet-up hosted by Hema Vaidyanathan of “Amma’s tales” fame! So in an attempt to have the cake and eat it too, I made inquiries for both and pre-registered for the event that mandated registration (just in case!) leaving the last minute logistics and decision-making to Abhay’s daddy, since I work on most Saturdays and last Saturday was no exception! So where did they go, finally? Faced with a prospect of driving across the city on a lazy Saturday morning for Bookalore versus taking the usual route to Koramangala where Hippocampus is located, it was given that the “Rakshasa” would take precedence over “Amma”…..sigh! J

To be fair, my husband was under the impression, thanks to me, that the event at  Hippocampus was a book reading session by the author Sowmya Rajendran herself. I had even sent a copy of the book with him hoping to get the author to sign on it. It was only when the story teller (whom we mistook to be the author) signed as “Aparna aunty”, did we realize that we were mistaken!:-) Anyway, “The Pleasant Rakshasa” by Sowmya Rajendran and illustrated by Niveditha Subramaniam is a Tulika publication for children aged 3 and above. Beautifully illustrated, this book questions the conventional ideas of beauty and happiness in a subtle manner that is most likely to appeal even to  older kids. This is a story about an adorable creature named Karimuga, a pleasant and ever smiling rakshasa. Karimuga is purple in colour with bright pink cheeks, yellow teeth that glowed when he smiles at night. Other Rakshasas were jealous of his purple skin, red eyes, huge belly, hairy legs and wished they could be like him. Karimuga felt a sense of pride in himself but also worried as he didn’t want his friends to feel bad about themselves because of him. So he goes to the Tree of Wisdom, the old tree in the jungle, a tree that can grant anything except immortality, invincibility and …….idlies! Anyway, Karimuga who liked dosas better came straight to the point and asked the Tree to take away his beauty and give it to other rakshasas as he claimed to have gotten bored of his beauty! As the Tree of Wisdom grants Karimuga his wish, Karimuga watches his purple skin, hairy legs and red eyes distributed amongst other Rakshasa who can’t believe their luck. But does that make Karimuga happy? Read on about this unusual creature with an unusual request, as I decide to keep the suspense, against my usual practice! :-)

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Abhay's pictures!

Abhay’s passion for drawing and colouring has its highs and lows. In fact, not very long ago, I had lamented over Abhay’s waning enthusiasm for drawing only to have him take a cue and resume his hobby with a renewed interest and shift in focus. So far, each of Abhay’s pictures can be catalogued in terms of the time, place and the prevailing phase of his creative curve! From houses to scenery to birthday parties, Abhay has drawn inspiration from various sources. So there was a time when Abhay Inc. (as he was drawing pictures on a mass scale!) was into churning out pictures exclusively of birthday cakes and later diversified into farm houses (or rather Abhay’s vision of a farm house) and eventually settled for pictures of automobiles! Off late Abhay seems to have switched allegiance from automobiles to mythological or superhuman characters. So instead of drawings of buses, cars trucks and ships, Abhay assiduously turns out sketches of Hindu Gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva or mythological characters inspired from the cover pages of Amarchitra Katha books or super hero characters. So if you want to catch Vishnu holding a club with Brahma and Shiva looking'll find it in Abhay’s pictures! :-)

Amused by his latest inspiration, today I picked out  “Willy's Pictures” by our favorite author Anthony Browne from the British Library.  This book is centered around an anthropomorphic monkey named Willy whom we met in "Willy, the Dreamer", also by the same author-illustrator. Well…you must have guessed by now that Willy is an artist and each of his paintings has a story to tell. As you flip through the pages that adorn the smartly captioned paintings, you see Willy and his friends in all of them. In fact all of the paintings are parodies of famous works of legends like Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Frieda Kahlo, Vermeer, etc. I found the author’s version of “The Arnolfini marriage” by Jan Van Eyke downright funny! Of course nothing beats Willy’s version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” wherein his friend Buster Nose poses in Mona Lisa garb sporting her “Mysterious Smile”! The book  ends with a fold out page with original pictures that can double up as a find and seek or spot the differences activity for your little one as he or she can attempt  to match the original works with Willy’s versions and interpretations. Though not your average run of the mill picture book, “Willy Pictures” is a great way to introduce your little one and get acquainted yourself with world famous works of art. Abhay was particularly fascinated by “The Turkish Bath” by Jean Auguste and Dominique Ingres and Willy’s version titled “At the Swimming Pool” where Willy is shown to have entered the wrong changing room! Well…..I only hope he doesn’t reproduce the same in his pictures!:-)



Monday, March 11, 2013

Picture books and more....!

Last week saw the celebration of books and reading with World Read Aloud day on March 6th and World Book day on March 7th. I have always enjoyed reading since childhood and it is now my endeavor to have my son follow the same footsteps, in so far as cultivating the reading habit is concerned. Children learn by imitation and so watching their parents read will surely get them interested in the written word. Of course, by now you must know that it is never too early to start reading to your little one. But once they learn to recognize the alphabet, it is a different ball game to initiate them into reading on their own, apart from the picture books! Initially, reading on one’s own requires some effort whereas being read to require none! Parents play a significant role in helping the kids slowly transition from picture books to early readers, then to chapter books and then eventually to fiction! Parents thus have the dual responsibility of not only picking out graded early readers on subjects that are of their children’s interest but also appropriate for their children’s reading level. So Abhay is at a stage now where he can read through most Level 2 Early Readers, but just like everything else, he is choosy about the books he wants to read. So if the Early Reader is on a subject that doesn’t interest him, he doesn’t even bother reading and instead prefers me reading to him as if it were a picture book! Well….its not enough that he is a picky eater…must he be a picky reader too?

Anyway, progressing into Early Readers doesn’t have to mean the end of picture books. So on the occasion of World Book day, I was looking for a book titled “Bookworm” by Lavanya R.N brought out Karadi Tales at a local bookstore, and instead stumbled upon “Song of the Bookworm” by India’s original children’s book author, Anushka Ravishankar and Anitha Balachandran. As her other books, this one too is in rhyming verse and is humorous and thought-provoking at the same time. Narrated in first person, this is an account of a bookworm who describes the pleasures of reading and how it’s head is full of odd things like rockets and earthworms, rabbits and kings, monsters and muggles ( ala Harry Potter) and donkeys who sing…… a girl with biceps and boys who like girlie bling, all thanks to the books it feeds on (a worm is seen turning the pages of a giant novel) and the earthworm ultimately declares that books are rather yummy! This poem has a universal appeal to all kids, with younger children finding the illustrations funny and older kids most likely to appreciate the underlying humor and identify with the popular titles that the bookworm and its friends excitedly devour! So here's hoping our little ones turn into little bookworms too! :-)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Men on Women's day!

Well, what does International women’s day mean to the men of today? It all began this morning when I took a local bus to commute to office when a fellow male passenger, who appeared to be an educated professional occupied a seat next to me, in reckless disregard of the “For Ladies” sign screaming out in red above the seat. It was only after being nudged by the lady conductor, that the man next to me offered the seat up to a lady passenger who was standing. Now a repeat of the same situation a few minutes later at a major junction when there were no women passengers standing, but the difference was that the man who sitting next to me was a rustic villager who vacated his seat as soon as a female passenger climbed in!  While my post on women’s day the last two years had been a reflection on what it means to be a woman, this time I decided to pose a few questions to the educated men reading this post!  Seriously, does it hurt to follow a gender based law without being told? Or do you resort to the same insipid argument on reservation being an antithesis to equality when you may have no qualms in being admitted to a college on a reserved seat? Why should gender play a role when you are on the road….why should you be more piqued about being overtaken by a woman driver than your own tribe? Similarly, do you grudge a woman colleague who turns out the same work as you, but doesn’t stay as late as you do?  Do you have a dormant “Asaram bapu” lurking in your subconscious that surfaces as you read reports on violence against women that has you blame the women instead? Finally, did you wish the women in your life “Happy Women’s day” today?? J

Anyway, true respect for women can arise only when you understand and value the intrinsic differences between and a man and a woman as opposed to simply getting judgmental about it. Similarly, true respect for women has to be inculcated early and as parents of young kids, especially boys, it is our responsibility to ensure that our sons don’t end up like the accused in the December 16th Delhi incident. Children also learn by imitation and it is therefore important that we imbibe the spirit of gender equality in our actions for our little ones to emulate therefrom. Today being Women’s day, I couldn’t find anything specific to read to Abhay, but would like to refer to an Ethiopian folk tale narrated by Madhu Bhushan of Vimochana at a seminar on “Popular Responses to Violations against women” held in Jyothi Nivas College last month wherein I had presented a talk on the legal responses. The dramatization of the folk tale was a part of “One Billion Rising” a global campaign against violence against women held on 14th February.  The folk tale goes like this - when  an Ethiopian tribal woman is married off, she is presented with a stick ( please feel free to correct me if my terminology is not right). Why, you may ask? The stick was meant to protect her from abuse, but in the most unusual manner. When a woman is subject to abuse at hands of her husband or his family, she takes her stick and leaves her house to protest silently in the village square. When other women notice her seated with the stick, they too leave their domestic responsibilities behind and join her to express their solidarity. When the women of the entire village stage a protest in such a manner, everything in the village comes to a standstill leaving the men and children to fend for themselves. With work in the whole village coming to a grinding halt, the pressure is on the husband to own up and apologize in front of everyone and when he does, the entire womenfolk go back to their respective houses with the dignity of their sister restored! We can only hope the world turns into one giant Ethiopian village, where the men value and respect our presence and contribution as women!  A beautiful story that went slightly above Abhay’s head for now…..but hopefully went into several others reading this. Cheers to Womanhood! Happy Women’s day!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Indian spring!

Come March and it is officially the end of winter. Come March and it’s time for a sneak preview of this year’s summer! Come March and work gets hectic for the accountants towards the closing of the financial year.   Come March and it is officially the exam season, at least here in Bangalore. So much so that this time every year, my mind races back to the time of my exams (the last one being almost a decade ago!), like a pavlovian response to this weather! Abhay too has his quarterly assessment next week, but I guess he still has a couple or more years to go before the real exam fever sets in…..until then I can still breathe easy in March! For those of you who are already there …..All the best as parents need it more than the kids!

For parents of young children who are yet to feel the pressure of exams, here’s a look at some of the pleasant things around this time of the year. “Everything looks new” by Mala Kumar, Manisha Chaudhry and Priya Kuriyan, a Level 2 Early reader by Pratham publications and a part of the Rituchakra series on seasons, is a nice little book on spring. A  little girl named Meenu (who is the same girl in all the books in this series!) is excited to welcome Vasanth Panchami, which is supposed to be the first day of spring, called Vasanth Ritu in Sanskrit, a season between winter and summer. She notices the changes around her - new leaves growing on trees, flowers blossoming in the garden, birds and squirrels chirping around making the surroundings beautiful and pretty. Meenu's grandpa plans to a tree as spring is a good season to start something new.  Spring is also the time to celebrate Holi, the festival of colours. But the best thing about spring, according to Meenu is that spring is not cold, not hot and not wet and that she can play all the time! Enjoy this year’s spring, everyone (after your exams of course!).