Thursday, March 31, 2016

At Holiday House with Enid Blyton!!

The end of March signifies the end of exams... for most primary and middle school kids as there's still time before we lose sleep over big exams ( Thank God!)! The end of March also ushers in the beginning of summer holidays ... again, mainly for younger kids as with the syllabus getting tougher year after year... You never know when summer vacations get eschewed by tuitions and advance classes!! Similarly, with all kinds of summer camps-cricket camp-sport camps-science camps starting from April, March-end is probably all there is left for unstructured play for the kids today!:-) 

So before the madness of summer vacations begins, we stole some quiet relaxing time at our very own holiday house, Shristi, my parents' farm at Dharmasthala. Of course reading snd relaxing always go together... So as our first read for the summer, we chose an an author whom I and many from my generation grew up reading..."The Riddle of the Holiday House" by the original children's author, the one and only, Enid Blyton!! Gifted by a dear friend over a year ago, this book couldn't have been any more apt for Abhay as he begins his summer vacation at his favourite holiday house!! 

For most of us who grew up in the eighties, we made our first foray into reading with Enid Blyton's books. Those were the days before the advent of satellite television, and in many ways, Blyton's books also served as our window to the western world. Though the stories are set in what now appears to be a little parochial and privileged backgrounds, and more often than not, a predictable storyline, Enid Blyton's adventure or fantasy based stories are a great way to get kids into voracious reading. Be it the Famous Five or the Secret Seven series or the Malory Towers series, you can't just read one ... you have to read them all!!  Believe me, Blyton's bold and daring characters, lighted hearted humour, and stories of friendship and loyalty often backed by a strong moral framework continue to interest children even today. We began reading the first couple of chapters together after which I had to break for the day.. and by the time I got down to resuming reading, I had discovered that Abhay had finished the book all by himself.... he simply could not stand the suspense!!!!! Now doesn't that sound familiar????

Originally published as "The Holiday House" in 1955, this book has been altered and edited by her daughter Gillian Baverstock to become a part of the Riddles series. The first book in this Young Adventurer series, the protagonists being the young brother-sister duo, Nick and Katie, who are excited to spend their summer holidays at a  beachside kids -only "Holiday house" run by one Mrs. Holly who takes in unaccompanied kids along their pets (Wow!) The story follows their experiences at the holiday house, including their run-ins with the insufferable Clare, Mrs. Holly's nosy daughter and other fellow guests like the mysterious boy Gareth. As the daring duo go on to explore the surroundings, the plot thickens and falls into a pattern typical of Enid Blyton mystery series, with a stray discovery leading on to uncovering ugly truths and dark secrets from seemingly innocuous characters who try to deliberately mislead the protagonists into doubting a mysterious character who surprisingly ( or rather predictably ) turns out to be a Good Samaritan! Replete with page turning plots, fascinating adventures, red herrings and  roundabouts, follow the tween siblings as they ultimately save the day sending out the usual  "triumph of good over bad" message common to most Enid Blyton's stories. Of course like most Enid Blyton's stories, the Holiday house transports you into a different world altogether ... On reading the book, Abhay wanted to know if he and his sister could stay all by themselves at a holiday house and gorge on hot scones and fruit cake:-))) 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Exam fever!

We are yet again approaching the end of an academic year and it’s the dreaded exam season in most parts of the country…that happens to coincide with the T-20 cricket season, much to the anxiety of ….probably not the kids but their parents! Though the month of March has always brought back memories of my own exam nightmares, I drew comfort from the fact that I still had a long way to go before I start stressing over my son’s tests and assessments. Little did I realize that this comfort feeling comes with an expiry date…..Grade 4 !!!  Most schools today peg Grade 4 as the year of reckoning ….when full-fledged academic assessments are introduced and kids (and their parents of course!) are expected to pull up their socks and catch up with rest of the studious world! So all of a sudden….it’s all about checking up on the syllabus, studying, revising and looking up practice questions…..making me relive my exam days once again and it’s only worse this time! It turns out that you are never free from exams and it was only a temporary respite after all because as a student, you may have been casual towards your exams but you cannot afford to be so as a parent! So whether you choose to wake up early or get off from work earlier than usual, or split the subjects between your spouse and yourself to coach your children, exams are a serious business ….. at least for parents!

So amidst his Maths, Science and Social Science subjects, I had Abhay scale back to reading an Early reader simply because it seemed perfect for the exam season! “The Worry Monsters” by Sally Rippin and illustrated by Stephanie Spartels is one of the twelve titles from the “Hey Jack” series for young readers brought out by Euro books. This is a simple story of how Jack, who is terrible at spellings, procrastinates and forgets to prepare for his spelling test and is thus hounded by what he calls “the worry monsters”. Its only when he opens up to his dad does he realize that playing truant with school is not the best of solutions to deal with his fear of tests. With a little help from his father, Jack not only manages to practice his spellings and drive away the worry monsters but also learned to deal with the worry monsters should they reappear again! So here’s hoping all our kids learn to overcome their own worry monsters too!

Another great read that makes for a refreshing break from the monotony of studies for both parents and kids is a story from R.K.Narayanan’s “Malgudi School days”, the complete collection of Swami and Friends brought out by Puffin classics. In fact, the story of Swaminathan “Before the examinations” couldn’t be any more similar to Abhay’s situation at home! Though we’ve read this book many times and I had featured this classic sometime ago, life and times in the fictional town of Malgudi  as narrated by the one and only R.K.Narayanan never fails to charm the reader, whenever and whatever the time may be! 

From Swami’s grim realization that his father was changing for the worse in the run-up to the examinations ( mother Abhay’s case!), or the highly distracted Swami doing everything possible to escape from studies, including perpetually hovering around his baby brother (baby sister in Abhay’s  case!), or spending hours together mulling over the crooked boundary of Europe during his study of geography ( Ditto, more so when Europe is not a part of Abhay’s Social Science syllabus at all!)  and approaching his father with a list of required stationery just a day before examination( ditto-ditto!) …… it’s amazing how Swami’s tales are evergreen and are relatable even to this day and time, even though it’s almost a century since they were first published!!! Also goes to show that nothing much has changed when it comes to parent-child attitude towards exams! Here’s wishing everyone all the best during this exam season! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Gender - Degender!

First appeared on Parent Edge blog

Every year around this time, we find numerous write-ups and discussions in the media, symposiums and talks in educational institutions, and musical/cultural events revolving around what has now become an extremely symbolic ‘Women’s day’!  Why….even retailers and restaurateurs have jumped into the bandwagon and are offering ‘women only’ offers and happy hours!  While symbolism is important to make a statement and it was indeed a proud feeling watching the women legislators dominate the Lok Sabha session today, what really matters is to see if we can sustain the same momentum, in other areas as well. While celebrating our differences from men on one hand, and striving for gender equality on the other, as a way forward, it is but most significant to break free from gender stereotypes, gendered perceptions and gender based double standards. Why is it that no matter how successful a woman is in her professional capacity, she is still judged on the basis of how much of ‘nurturer’ she is towards her family? Why is it that a woman is expected to be a superwoman when men will be men? Why should it matter as to whether it’s a man or a woman who is driving the vehicle ahead of you? Why is it that no matter how brilliant a girl has been as a student, she is more often than not,  expected to stick to a family-friendly 9 to 5 job ? Apart from certain intrinsic differences between men and women…it’s all about individual choice and freedom isn’t it …and what’s gender got to do with it? Here's extending  this year's International Women's day theme 'One day I will'  to..........One day gender will not matter!

As parents, we owe our children the responsibility to see to it that they neither perpetuate nor feel fettered by gender barriers so as to achieve a more egalitarian society that we are all hoping for.  On the occasion of Women’s day, we picked up “Big Hero size zero” a thought provoking book by Anusha Hariharan and Sowmya Rajendran brought out by Tulika publications that seeks to shatter the societal and cultural shackles associated with gender. With its main focus on gender talk, this book also addresses various issues faced by adolescents relating to identity, peer pressure and feelings of alienation and rebellion against family, etc. Since Abhay is still on the cusp of his ‘tween’ years and he was still too young to comprehend some issues, reading this book is still a work in progress. Meant for the teenage drama kings and queens aged thirteen and above, this work of non-fiction comprehensively deals with the role of gender vis-à-vis family, society, appearances, attraction, violence and finally how each one of us deals with gender, which is nothing but an identity assigned to us by the society as opposed to sex which is an identity determined at birth. The authors attempt at challenging labels that the society in general ascribes  to how a man and a woman ought to be, including our own biases that we never knew existed or even every-day language that reveals gender biased phrases. This book flows like a candid conversation on gender issues, including the tabooed transgender and same sex relationships that are often caricatured in the mainstream culture.  “What’s the point in earning if she can’t cook for her husband?” or “Scantily dressed women should expected to be raped?” or “A bold and aggressive woman is not marriage material” are some of the comments that are often bandied around as if they represent solemn truths and this book is a bold endeavour to question such prejudices. With a breezy yet powerful narrative, frequent references to popular culture and accompanied by illustrations that parody gender stereotypes within the family and society, this book raises important questions, busts long held myths and confronts many truths and untruths that makes not just the young reader, but even adults think and reflect on whether it’s really a boy-girl thing! Happy Women's day to everyone!