Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Oregonian Christmas!!

December always brings memories! Whether it's a time to reflect on the year that went by, or the wedding season or the holiday rush or simply the spirit of Christmas that takes over everyone and everything around - the last month of the year is almost always eventful! Christmas always reminds us of our short stay in the US and while it's been quite some time since we got back, this season takes me back to those days when we used to wait in line for our older one to sit on the lap of a "Mall Santa"! Now that the malls in Bangalore have caught up and seem to be sporting their own Santas... our younger one will want us to do an encore very soon!!!

So this Christmas... we took a trip down memory lane by reading a book gifted by a dear friend on her visit to India from Portland. "The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon" by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Carolyn Conahan, is an Oregonian take on the traditional story, showcasing the specialities and highlights of Oregon.  Narrated in the form of letters written by Damon, a young boy during his visit to his cousin Liz and her family in Oregon, this book takes you on whirl wind tour of the Beaver State -from rainforest to desert to the mountains and to the beach. Accompanied by colourful illustrations, follow Liz and Damon as they begin their journey from the "Crown point" on the Historic Columbia River Highway on a trailer that looks like a cottage on wheels. As they make many a stopovers at various "must-see" spots like Crater lake, Painted hills, Mount Bachelor, and the city of Portland, the reader is acquainted with fun and fascinating facts about the state. Having visited many of the places featured, we took Abhay on a nostalgic slide show of old photos and pictures taken during what now seems to be a different era altogether! :-) Packed with light hearted wit and humour, breezy narrative and scrapbook styled imagery,  this makes an interesting read for everyone who lives, plans to live or has lived in Oregon! On a personal note.. several years may pass or we may be several thousands of miles away, but a quick read of this book is all it takes for us to revisit those memorable Oregonian days! A memorable Christmas to everyone!:-) 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Habit of Reading

The Habit of Reading
M.V. Sundararaman
More often than not I wind up recruitment interviews with my stock question “Do you read?” or “What are you reading right now?” Over the past seven to eight years, when I must have interviewed not less than thirty to forty enthusiastic, young lawyers, the answers that I have got from candidates (whose ages range from about 23 years to about 30 years) not surprisingly range from “Hmmm…I don’t read much” or “I read occasionally, whenever I find time” or “Yes. I read online” !!. Bookshelves today, in most households that I have visited, don’t seem to favour more than a Chetan Bhagat or an Amish. Rarely do I hear anyone tell me that they reading Ruskin Bond or Rushdie or that R.K. Narayan or Saki are amongst their favourites. Most children today have not even heard of their works. Yes, that’s sadly true. We will all soon start hearing of new year resolutions. “Get fit”, “Join a gym” “start cycling”, “get married” are all the usual suspects. When did I last hear “read more” or ‘start reading” or “join a library” as someone’s resolution? I simply can’t recall.
Maugham’s view that to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life, seems to be relevant today only with a rider: the strength of the refuge that you construct for yourself depends on the strength of your reading !  I have no hesitation in saying reading has greatly enriched my life, deepened my moments of solitude and has empowered my understanding of human nature, its outstanding virtues and oddities. Books have warmly welcomed me into the world of history, wildlife, warfare, culture and several other absorbing and fascinating genres.
When anxious parents ask me “How do I inculcate the reading habit in my child?” my impulsive responses are either “Do you read?” orDo you have an atmosphere of books at home?”. If the answer is “yes”, then, I tell them that the task is not difficult at all. If the answer is “no”, well even then I tell them that the task is not difficult at all!!  Over the years, my interactions with fellow-readers, bibliophiles, parents of “reading”-children and of course early readers, have led me to discover several simple techniques to help cultivate a reading habit and more importantly enhance my reading experience. Here they are:-
·        Create a reading environment at home:- Nothing is more conducive to reading than a carefully nurtured reading-environment at home. A reasonably well-stocked shelf of varied genres of different authors suitable to your child’s age is the first-step towards creating the right setting for your child. Keeping books in locations easily accessible to the child is a definite plus;

·                   Keep a couple of books with you always:- “Always a book for the road” has been my motto. Long drives need not always be laughter and chatter. They can be interspersed with quiet moments of reading from your “carbrary”. It maybe useful to carry a book that you have discussed earlier and allow the child to explore the book on his own during the drive. Waiting at the Dentist’s could never be more interesting if you carried a book along !  

·                   Never say “no” to reading:- I have often noticed parents discouraging children from bringing/reading books at the dining table or read while on the train or while driving. There is no scientific evidence of any harm being caused to the child, his digestion, his eyesight or memory because he read while eating or while in the car. Given the acute paucity of quality time and rapid decline in reading habits, my view is, anywhere is good. Just let them read. Anywhere.

·                   Dedicate an hour or two every week to spend on reading together:- Nothing can be more fun than a family activity. If you can take pains to organise a family outing, if you can find exclusive time to pray or swim or cycle together, you can then ofcourse find time to read together. If you think reading should become your child’s priority, then please prioritize his reading time too. The Sanskrit adage “Yatha Raja, Tattha Praja” is apt here. If the child grows up in the company of books, seeing reading-parents, he will become a reading-parent himself.

·                   Book Shops, Libraries, Lit fests and Book Exhibitions:- Watch out for book fests and book Exhibitions in your city. These events are almost regulars in all metros and can be marked in calendars well in advance. These events have innumerable activities to enthuse children to read and love reading. Nothing can be more pleasurable than visiting second hand books shops. Allow the child to explore the shop at his own, easy pace and you will never return unrewarded from these tours.

·                   Actively discourage mindless TV viewing and Gaming:- Reading and Television, and now Internet and gaming, have been natural enemies. It is most normal for the child to take the path of least resistance and sacrifice reading time for a cartoon show or for a round of “Clash of Clans”. Reading with the child, reading aloud to the child, continually helping the child understand the imagery, setting and background of a book will fire his imagination and help him savour a book in the place of a TV show ;

·                   Encourage borrowing and lending of books:- Nothing can be more beneficial to a child than having access to more than his own library. Never discourage your child from lending his books. But insist that he keeps track of the books that he has lent. This will not only inculcate responsibility in the child, but it would also open the possibilities of your child borrowing from his friends.
Having said all this, I must also point out that a reading habit is ultimately a habit. It depends on us. When Stephen Covey said “We become what we repeatedly do”, he ofcourse didn’t refer to the habit of reading. But reading the right book, the right author and the right genre, in my experience, is one of the easiest habits to cultivate and nurture. Never fear having picked up a wrong book. After having read a couple of pages if you are unable to continue, toss it and go for another. There are a billion others waiting to be read. Like all other habits, a reading habit will normally start as a cobweb, and can become a rock-strong cable, with tenacity and perseverance. Just go for it !!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

These are a few of our favorite books....!

 After being a devout follower of this blog since its inception, I’m so happy to be a more “active” part of it! When Divya asked me to write a post, I was wondering where I should begin…With a kindergartner and pre-schooler at home, we collectively enjoy everything from the first baby/picture books to early readers. Storytime is welcome at any time of day and the best part is when the big sis gets to read to her little brother and show off her newly acquired skills!
I’d like to share a few series that are closest to our heart and books we’ve read so often that they’ve been internalized (and memorized, even by my 2.5 year old)!! The main reason behind this is that we seem to identify so closely with the characters and see a bit of ourselves in them. Some of these series have made their appearances on this blog before since they are such all-time favorites. Anyway, here are some of ours:

1.       Llama Llama misses Mama (by Anna Dewdney)
For months (years!!??), the toughest part of the mornings for me and my son has been drop off at daycare. All the tears and drama are often just for mama, but this mama (like most other mamas) melts at the sight of her little llama waving sadly to her as she leaves for work every day. Finally, thanks to this classic, my little llama has learnt that his mama needs go to work and will be back soon. The story is so simple and yet so effective in voicing a little child’s feeling of separation- my son just can’t get enough of the little llama classic!

2.       DW’s Guide to Preschool & The First Day of School (Little Critter series)
When our daughter started preschool a couple years ago, we were very anxious since she had been through the same months of separation anxiety at daycare (and we were yet to discover ‘Llama Llama misses Mama’ at the time!). Thanks to “The First Day of School” by Mercer Mayer & “DW’s Guide to Preschool” by Marc Brown, she seemed to transition so seamlessly. Both books go through the typical preschool/big school routine and the best part, is that they make it sound like so much fun!
The “First Day of School” is extra special since it was Abhay’s book (Does he remember it, Divya??).

3.       The Pigeon Series – by Mo Willems
How could I not include these much-loved and read books of ours? We’ve recently discovered 2 new ones – “The Duckling gets a Cookie” and “The Pigeon Needs a Bath”.

In the first one, the Pigeon is clearly jealous at how “easily” the duckling manages to get something he asks for, while poor pigeon is always denied his requests (whether it’s to drive the bus, or want to stay up late or better still, when he wants a puppy). I think my older one identifies a little with this feeling…Are we slightly more indulgent towards the “baby” in the family? Does he get away with more that she does?? As parents, we never make any distinctions, but I’m sure older siblings believe that their parents are tougher on them and more indulgent with the little ones...
But here is the best part…when the pigeon asks why the duckling got the cookie with the nuts, the duckling says “because I wanted to give it to you”. How generous..? Or perhaps clever? (I suspect the duckling doesn’t care much for cookies with nuts!).

While my kids would fight over cookies (and many other things), both have one thing in common. They always seem to drag their feet when it comes to taking a bath at the end of the day…much like the pigeon who’s now clearly in need of one. And when he finally consents (after much pleading/shouting), he doesn’t want to leave the tub (so much like our own 2 pigeons who can’t stop playing in the tub when they finally make it there!).

Thanks Divya, for giving me this opportunity to share our beloved books…Wishing you and this wonderful blog, many more years of reading, sharing and learning!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gita for children!

Taking a cue from my friend and fellow blogger on “intolerance and all that jazz” that she guest posted on Onestoryaday, I found a perfect book for everyone to fall back on in these chaotic times. When in doubt or confusion, it’s not uncommon for us to turn to God or religious scriptures - be it the Gita, the Bible or the Quran. As a practising Hindu brought up and now married into a traditional household, seeking solace in religious activities like Bhajan singing, or reciting religious texts have been integral part of my life.  Though Abhay is still young, we make sure he participates in some of our routine religious activities at home, in whatever way he can afford to. While I am not sure how religious or spiritual my son will be in the future, it is our duty as parents to introduce them to our roots so that they know where to find them if and when they go looking for the same!

So when I learnt about Roopa Pai’s “Gita for children”, I jumped and reserved my copy in advance. Though Bhagvad Gita is essentially known as the single most important Hindu scripture, Roopa Pai’s rendition has a universal appeal, irrespective of religion one follows. Rated as one of the top-five selling books of 2015 in the Children’s and Young adult category by Amazon, “The Gita for children” by Roopa Pai  brought out by Hachette India   promises to be a one-of- a kind retelling of the Bhagvad Gita and I must say that it sure lives up to this promise! It starts with the million dollar question like “What’s the big deal about the Bhagvad Gita?” that opens into a quiz on the Gita that might as well serve as a preface to the book. With a brief explanation of the background facts leading up to the most important conversation in Hindu mythology, like any other commentary on the Gita, this one too is divided into eighteen chapters or “yogas” in which Arjuna learns all there is to learn about the secret of good life from Krishna! Employing a rather contemporary narrative, using catchy phrases and titles, Gita for children takes the reader through each of the shlokas or verses and explains their true essence in an uncharacteristic way that the current generation is able to relate to. For instance….have you ever heard of Lord Krishna being described as a Dark Knight??!!! With each chapter featuring the progress of conversation between Arjuna and Krishna and followed by a child appropriate analysis of the life’s lessons embedded in them, the author also throws light on lesser known facts in the form of fun trivia. Not to forget, the reader is also given a glimpse into excerpts of other works from Harper Lee’s To Kill Mockingbird to Paul McCartney’s song “Ebony and Ivory” that echo the sentiments of Gita!  In all, “The Gita for children” beautifully presents the timeless epic without oversimplifying its concepts so as to serve as a wonderful guide book to children and adults alike! A must have for every library!!!

Monday, December 7, 2015

BLF 2015!

Over the weekend, we attended the fourth edition of Bangalore Literature festival, an annual literary event that Bangalore is home to. We have been regulars at the BLF ever since it began in 2012, following it all the way to Electronic city (the venue for the event during the last two years) and splitting the two-day event between Abhay (our only child then) and ourselves. This year however we weren’t sure if we could make it with a six month old in tow!  However, with the run up to the event embroiled in controversies with some authors pulling out of the event and given that it was to be held at a near-by location, it became all the more imperative that we attend and support a community funded initiative such as BLF that we so look forward to attending each year. So there we were at the Royal Orchid hotel along with our nine year old and our six month old …shuttling between ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ discussions while keeping an eye on our older one’s activities at Makkala koota. Before you brand us as ‘reckless’ for dragging an infant to crowded event like this….hold on … as we found many such parents slinging their infants, some of whom were as little as four months old! BLF 2015 saw many workshops being held for children at the Makkala Koota wing. So much so that our nine year old was the busiest of all, perhaps to make up for his absence last year, starting with Tulika’s workshop with illustrator Sowmya Menon followed by Bookalore’s puppet party and Doodle Dhamaka where he got doodling on the doodle wall about his idea of Bengaluru. Thanks to the organizers who readily accommodated the needs of an infant, our little girl seemed to enjoy herself watching so many kids and hearing so many new sounds! So BLF 2015 was indeed a big hit with our little ones and here’s begging for more next year!  

Abhay was quite pleased to attend a Bookalore event after a long time and enjoyed the stories through puppets performed by Vijayalakshmi Nagraj, the author of many children’s books and one of whose books we decided to pick for our reading together. While Abhay is too old for   her book “Jhilmil the Butterfly”,  he is just right for her another one of her books “The Natural Wonders of India”, a publication by the Energy and Research Institute ( TERI) on nature’s bounty and beauty across the length and breadth of India. Join the twin girls Reva and Sarayu as they take your young reader on an armchair trip to the ten best natural spectacles in India. With a travel itinerary that could be anybody’s envy , from Pangong Tso, a pristine lake shared by India and Tibet at an altitude of 14,500 feet, where the twins spend their summer vacations to the salty marshlands of Rann of Kutch  and the Indroda Dinosaur and Fossil park at Gandhinagar, follow them as they explore the unique landscape and physical features, flora and fauna and the attendant conditions of living, while carrying a subtle message of environment conservation. Presented in a simple yet interesting narrative, and accompanied by vivid pictures and photographs, this book successfully manages to avoid the usual trappings of a work of non-fiction that children tend to steer clear from and sure can double up as travel book for your next vacation!! J

Intolerance and all that Jazz ! , so what's kid lit got to do with it ?

It has indeed been a tense year , the world over.

With attacks in Paris to the growing intolerance debates in India , to the latest floods in Chennai, there is a lot that the world has lost this year  - and that includes peace and tolerance !

Today , unfortunately social media is no longer a platform where you reunite with friends from school and college.

 Today we are made aware of  most national and international news through social media . There are heated arguments, debates view points  and trolls strewn all over the wall .

 Try as much as you can to keep yourself away from social media, we come back every day - only to witness more hatred and negativity ejected  around.

So what does growing intolerance , and terrorism got to do in a kid lit blog you ask?

Talking of tolerance, I chanced upon Strega nona - a story  about an aging witch and a young man , Anthony that comes to stay in her home.

Strega nona  is a friendly witch who helps her town people with their every day challenges and problems. She hires Anthony  to take care of her house and farm.  While Strega nona gives the lad complete access to her house, she warns him never to touch a pot that lies in her home.

Anthony goes about his daily routine of milking the cows and goats , washing the dishes and keeping the house clean.

However one day, by chance  , he hears her singing and on peeking, notices her standing by her pot .

As soon as she sang ....

    Bubble Bubble Pasta pot
    Boil me some pasta ,nice and hot
    I am hungry and its time to sup
    Boil enough pasta to fill me up

 he watched  the pasta pot boil and bubble and overflow with steaming hot pasta.

Curiosity gets the better of him and when she is away , he utters the same magic spell and tries his luck at the cooking  some hot pasta.

But what he didn't know was that the witch also blew 3 kisses at the pot to stop cooking more pasta.

Taking pride at his pasta magic, Anthony invites the entire village folk for a feast. But soon trouble starts to brew when the magic pot cannot stop cooking  pasta.

The entire village is flooded by the pasta spewing out of the pot and there is no stopping. Anthony tries sitting on the pot, he tries closing the pot but hard luck ! the pot continues to cook and flood the town with pasta .!

Strega Nona arrives on time to save the village from drowning in pasta

And the kind but stern witch that she was  - can you guess what punishment she gave the lad ?

She made him eat all the pasta with a fork - until he could take no more !

There you see - wasn't Strega nona the most  tolerant witch ever seen ?

In her anger , she could have brandished him with her magic spells. She could have turned him into pasta and cooked him in the pasta pot or she would have cast a spell and turned him into a lizard or a bee ! but she chose her curse carefully and ensured he had a taste of his own medicine.

What we type and post on social media in a huff ! leaves a lasting impression about us on people  who read our posts every day. After all - a pen is mightier than the sword, ain't it ?

So I hope what we choose to  SHARE and how we choose to REACT   and share on social media is sane enough for us to come back and feel proud of ,  else  who knows - one day you may have to gulp down some bitter pill  like the lad in the story .

oh boy ! I didn't intend to write something so serious as a sermon .

 The story is filled with wit and I love the illustrations as much as the story. The book is a Caldecott honor .  It was one of the "Top 100 Picture Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.[3]

And here's wishing One story a day , Divya and her kids many years of shared learning, reading and laughter !

Happy 2016 everyone !

Sunday, December 6, 2015

High Five!!

It’s been five years since I joined the ranks of many other moms and began blogging about my adventures in mommyhood through books on Onestoryaday! A lot has happened since then……. From relocating to India, transitioning from being a stay-at-home-mom to a working mom and now back to being a stay-at-home mom with the arrival of our second child..…life has come a full circle. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed ….it’s our daily reading adventures together. As a growing kid, Abhay has a mind of his own and is not exactly enthused by every book I pick out for him. As a growing boy, I now find him more drawn to cricket, sports and other kinesthetic driven activities and his interest in books slightly waning. Though, when it comes to independent reading he may alternate between reading obsessively to not reading at all, he always looks forward to our daily quota of shared reading together. 

While we try to religiously adhere to this bedtime activity, you can surely expect Abhay to extract those precious fifteen to twenty minutes from our winding-up routine that in turn transport us to different world altogether, amidst all the chaos at home that includes the idiot box blaring prime time news and a wailing six month old!:-)

Of course, this year has seen a big change in our household that has not only made our made lives busier but has also turned the clock backwards in as much as having to relearn the “Baby 101” basics and  experience those initial years of parenthood once again. Well…this could only be a blessing for a reading/blogging mommy like me…isn’t it??   For all those recently published board books and picture books that I wish I had come across when Abhay was little…’s a second chance for me to enjoy them with my little one! For all those girlie books that I wished I had a daughter to read to……I cant wait to read them to my little girl!! While Abhay has in a way grown out of picture books, I am waiting for his baby sister to grow into it!  Same time last year, didn’t I mention about finding an audience in addition to my existing one … it is!! So …long live Onestoryaday… I am all set to yet again relive my childhood!!

As has been the tradition  at Onestoryaday in December every year to invite readers and parents to share their favourite stories, books they read as a child and still loved by the child in them and so also the current favourites of their little ones. So here’s inviting all my readers to be a part of Onestoryaday……