Kids & Teens

“Literacies for the 21st century” was the theme of this year’s International Literacy Day (September 8), chosen to highlight to the evolving range of literacy skills required to full participate in today’s connected societies. For over 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning.

An international colloquium on “Literacies for the 21st century” was held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters on September, as part of the celebration for the International Literacy Day. Opened by the director general, the event brought together ministers and deputy ministers of education, development and culture from Afghanistan, Benin, the Republic of Chad, India, Namibia, Pakistan and Senegal, along with representatives from other intergovernmental organizations, NGO’s working in education and literacy, and the private sector. The colloquium laid the foundations for a Global Coalition, a multi-stakeholder partnership for advancing the literacy agenda, to be launched in November.

UNESCO Literacy awards...

The award ceremony for UNESCO’s annual literacy prizes also took place following this event. This year’s awards were being presented to winners from Bangladesh, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, India and Namibia. From India, The Saakshar Bharat (Literate India) Mission will receive one of the two UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prizes. Run by the National Literacy Mission Authority of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt of India the programme aims to promote and strengthen adult learning in India.

Literacy facts...

Over 84 percent of the world’s adults are now literate, according to the latest data from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS). This represents an eight percentage point increase since 1990, but it still leaves some 774 million adults who cannot read or write. The new data released for International Literacy Day on September 8, show that most of the world’s illiterate adults live in South and West Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. On the basis of current trends, 743 million adults (15 years and older) will still lack basic literacy skills in 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. Two thirds of these people are women.

Illiteracy also remains a persistent problem in developed countries. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one in five young people in Europe had poor literacy skills in 2009, and some 160 million adults in OECD countries were functionally illiterate. This means that they do not have the skills needed to function in today’s environments such as the ability to fill out forms, follow instructions, read a map, or help with their children with homework.

“This situation is exacerbated by the rise of new technologies and modern knowledge societies that make the ability to read and write all the more essential,” said UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova in her message for International Literacy Day.

“Literacy is the first condition for dialogue, communication and integration into new connected societies. Young people need new skills to enter and succeed in the job market: knowledge of several languages, understanding of cultural diversity, lifelong learning. Literacy is the key for acquiring knowledge, interpersonal skills, expertise and the ability to live together in community – all skills that are the foundations of modern society. In the twenty-first century, more than ever before, literacy is the cornerstone of peace and development,” she added.

Combining education with entertainment, BPI India Pvt Ltd, is all set to offer a series of magic and mischief games and a range of stationery – all related to the favourite cartoon character Doraemon. The new media of communication and education have greatly influenced children’s publishing today. As the reading habits in the young have taken a plunge, the communicators have been forced to take the media into account.

Research shows that television programmes and cartoon serials are instrumental in directly communicating with children today. Many international and Indian cartoon characters have been ruling children’s primetime slots for a long time now.

BPI India Pvt Ltd, a S. Chand Group Company, has been successful in reaching and educating children through popular cartoon characters that children identify with. A lot of cartoon brands owe their popularity to the visibility and recall value offered by the publishing ventures of BPI India Pvt Ltd today. Doraemon is one such cartoon character that is popular among children and adult alike.

The merchandise…

BPI India Pvt Ltd has conceptualised, designed and published a large number of books and toys for children based on the beloved Doraemon and his friends. These include colouring and activity books, slam books, die-cut colouring books, preschool workbooks, early reading and writing books and books on Sudoku and word search. These books have been doing considerably well with preschool kids. Besides these, BPI India Pvt Ltd has also created a broad range of interesting puzzles, a lot of innovative and educative board games and creative activity packs with Doraemon. These products have been hugely successful because of their unique concept and design.

What’s new?

Creating toys that are out of the box has always been a plus at BPI India Pvt Ltd. In tune with the magical properties of Doraemon, the company is soon going to release a series of magic and mischief games with Doraemon. These games are sure to engage children in the fun world of magic and illusion.

The company is also in the process of launching a range of stationery and ‘back to school’ products based on Doraemon. These items will include pencils, erasers, sharpeners, rulers, crayons, pencil boxes, pocket diaries and a lot more. The brilliant design of the items combined with the mass appeal of Doraemon will surely make the items a hit with children.

Riding on the popularity of Doraemon, BPI India Pvt Ltd continues to create and launch diverse range of books, puzzles, board games and other products that aim to combine education with entertainment.

Once upon a time...these four words take us back to our childhood days, when most of the stories started with these words. We still remember the stories that were told by our parents or grandparents. We loved the way they chuckled between the story, their lows, highs and depths in the voice, their hand movements – all made the story interesting...well that was the art of storytelling. Savi Sarin of Weave a Tale discusses the art of storytelling and its importance in the development of children. What hooks you to a book till its very last page? Ever appreciated a commercial on TV or a good movie? Why would you like a presentation in office? We like them because they are “Stories well told”. Yes, they might be good stories but the process is not storytelling.

What is story telling?

Over the ages, storytelling has become an all-encompassing term. The art of telling a story with the use of the written word, song, acting, mime, dance and other mediums come under the umbrella of Storytelling. But, at its core Storytelling is the art of using language, vocalization, and/or physical movement and gesture to reveal the elements and images of a story to a specific, live audience. It is the live, interactive, oral and physical presentation of a story to an audience. No more, no less.

Let us talk about children. Children have an innate desire to learn and are packed with abundance of positive energy inclined towards seeking knowledge. Few common traits at this age are - they want to know, observe others and try it out themselves. But a very important thing with children is that they are sensitive to the “packaging” of how learning is given to them. Children are very partial to the “fun” part of learning. Ergo, storytelling is a very powerful educational tool which can make learning fun. It can act as a catalyst and propel their creativity and imagination.

How is the medium of oral storytelling unique?

  • Storytelling allows the story to develop and mature because of the interaction between the teller and the listener. It gives the story the freedom to live and change, in the way a living organism changes, according to the circumstances and community it finds itself in.
  • Storytelling is an interactive performance art form. Direct interaction between the teller and audience is an essential element of the storytelling experience. An audience responds to the teller’s words and actions. The teller uses this generally non-verbal feedback immediately, spontaneously, and improvises to adjust the tones, wording, and pace of the story to better meet the needs of the audience.
  • It is a co-creative process. Storytelling audiences do not passively receive a story from the teller, as a viewer would receive the content of a television programme or motion picture. Both the teller and the listener have active roles to play during the process of storytelling. The teller provides no visual images, no stage set, and generally, no costumes related to story characters or historic period. The teller’s role is to prepare and present the necessary language, vocalization, and physicality to effectively and efficiently communicate the images of a story. Listeners create these vivid, multi-sensory images actions, characters and events in their mind based on the performer’s telling and on their own experiences and beliefs. The completed story happens in the mind of the listener, unique and personal for each individual.
  • Storytelling is, by its nature, personal, interpretive, and uniquely human. Storytelling passes on the essence of who we are. Stories are a prime vehicle for assessing and interpreting events, experiences, and concepts from minor moments of daily life to the grand nature of the human condition. It is an intrinsic and basic form of human communication. More than any other form of communication, the telling of stories in an integral and essential part of the human experience.
  • It is a process, a medium for sharing, interpreting, offering the content and meaning of a story to an audience. Because storytelling is spontaneous and experiential, and thus a dynamic interaction between teller and listener, it is far more difficult to describe than is the script and camera directions of a movie, or the lines and stage direction notes of a play. Storytelling emerges from the interaction and cooperative, coordinated efforts of teller and audience.

Advantages of listening to stories

How does listening to stories help, why not just watch a movie or let children enjoy a cartoon? Below are some key advantages of listening to stories:

  • Develops concentration, attentiveness and sustained, active listening skills.
  • Activates visualisation and imagination.
  • Develops an understanding of orality, and the use of spoken story language; rhyme and repetition; narrative patterns, conventions and structures, etc.
  • Extends vocabulary and models the articulate use of oral language.
  • Develops sequencing, comprehension and prediction skills.
  • Develops memory.
  • Presents an opportunity to experience, respond to and participate in live performance.
  • Develops social cohesion through shared experience.
  • Offers access to the vast range of traditional and historical narratives, from innumerable cultures, religions and points in history.

Why should I or my child tell stories?

The process of retelling stories provides children with opportunities to:

  • Secure and consolidate memory.
  • Develop an ability to stand before peers and strangers and speak freely and with confidence.
  • Experience and self-order events, using oral language, narrative conventions and exploring rhythm, rhyme, repetition and other word-play.
  • Explore themes, settings, role play, identification, empathy and characterisation through improvisation.
  • Learn how language changes with purpose, such as in persuasion, conflict and resolution and in decision making.
  • Develop vocal and physical confidence.
  • Experiment with the use of dialogue, voice, tone, expression, characterisation and other vocal effects, etc., combined with gesture, facial expression and body language.
  • Develop spatial awareness in terms of imagined geographies and in creating relationship with audiences.
  • Consider how mood, atmosphere and tension can be created in live performance using music, and other dramatic effects.
  • Present stories to classmates and to younger, older and adult audiences, taking account of the different needs of the listeners.
  • Invite, listen and respond to suggestions from classmates to refine and develop storytelling techniques.
  • Experience intergenerational and intercultural exchange.

Storytelling/Reading vs TV

It is perturbing to know that TV viewing, video games, and net surfing outplace reading as a “fun” activity among young children. It is easier for children to flip channels than the pages of the book. How can reading be more engaging and fun? Storytelling helps in providing a tangible hook for the children to get into the world of books and reading. By exploring the world of stories, children can travel to faraway places, many of which they might not be able to visit physically. They can take endless trips to distant lands and imaginary worlds while learning about history, science, and people.

Many would argue that T.V. does the same. Well then, it is just a matter of choice!!!! Freedom as well as onus of making an informed and educated decision for children lies with parents.

It is perturbing to know that TV viewing, video games, and net surfing outplace reading as a “fun” activity among young children. It is easier for children to flip channels than the pages of the book. How can reading be more engaging and fun? Storytelling helps in providing a tangible hook for the children to get into the world of books and reading.

Will paper books remain as ‘alive’ and ‘holy’ tomorrow in the big wheel of digital media, finds out Sahil Gupta, director, V&S Publishers. Indian publishers need to realize that it is not a question of ‘Print’ vs. ‘Digital’. It is in fact a question of the survival of the ‘book’ as a concept, as a bundle of knowledge, as an expertly edited masterpiece. The Indian book publishing industry, valued at nearly Rupees 11,000 crore, is witnessing a healthy 15 percent annual growth despite the slump in the worldwide market and threat from digital media, says a recent Frankfurt Book Fair study. The India growth story presents a unique scenario much like its culture that allows both the old and the new to co-exist. Digital publishing here complements conventional publishing unlike western nations where ebooks have edged out printed ones or are close to doing it. With the widespread use of computers and computer-assisted book production, publishers have truly entered the ‘electronic age’. With print runs for each title getting smaller and fixed printing cost remaining unchanged, the cost of production goes up proportionally, making books expensive for consumers. Besides, small printing that doesn’t allow for economies of scale means higher unit prices and lower sales - thus falling into a vicious cycle.

Innovation has blurred the boundaries of books and digital media so much so that a question arises as to what constitutes a book in the digital age. Right from the time of early hand written books to Gutenberg's printing press to this day, a book continues to be a compilation of bound pages, holding content that is expertly written, correctly edited containing some valuable information or insight. That’s the concept we have grown up with. However, with the advancement of technology and its ever-increasing adoption (especially in the publishing industry), the concept of the ‘Book’ has changed completely both from the point of view of the consumer and the publisher. And as has happened with other media forms, digital technology has started altering the image of books we are used to. By facilitating navigation to digital media through CDs, even Indian publishers are trying to adjust to the shape of things to come.

Are printed books becoming a part of the whole gamut of reading sources available on different formats? With various options becoming available in the market, has the time come to debate if printed books moving to a higher degree of convenient reading? Or are losing their touch and feel charm among technology-driven reading platforms?

Technology is a boon for any industry. However, it must be adapted with caution so as not to sacrifice the human touch or the human expertise from the whole process. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in the Indian publishing industry. They are adopting the latest technology in their publishing processes and have shifted the focus from publishing a ‘book’ to creation of a ‘project’. Now how to distinguish between the two? Simply, a book forms a small part of the whole project. Yes, the project, with its various multimedia and interactive elements, might prove to be a better experience to the consumer. However, the basic idea of a book and its sanctity is lost. The book has been in existence since long solely because it became a tool for delivering knowledge. Shifting the focus to delivering more of ‘junk’ and less of expert content is a controversial choice.

Would a person a few decades down the line consider the appearance, aroma, feel and weight of a book the way we do today or visualize it as one of the many options available among reading entities?

Media formats likewise are switching to other frontiers for fast, easy and improved access. Digital publishers are utilizing new tools to create a variety of formats to dazzle readers with novel outlook. They are inventing ways to enhance the utility of a traditional book, with things like hyperlinks, embedded videos, games, conversations, etc. They plan to go further to offer experience of pleasant reading unhindered by the present day limit of one shape, one font, and one size of the book on paper. The meaning of story-telling has changed drastically.

Doomsayers may wonder if books would continue to be printed on paper. Will printed books survive the multimedia onslaught? Books, as we know today will not vanish in the foreseeable future in India. It would be presumptuous to consider that books -on-the-web, e-books or other digital formats are a looming threat to paper-printed books in India. Digital media available today act as a fanciful complementary for Smartphone or Kindle owning readers and nothing more.

Indian publishers need to realize that it is not a question of ‘Print’ vs. ‘Digital’. It is in fact a question of the survival of the ‘book’ as a concept, as a bundle of knowledge, as an expertly edited masterpiece. The importance of the editorial segment should not be neglected. It’s not about how flashy or attractive the title is. What ultimately matters is content. The bottom line is that ‘The Book’ must remain as HOLY as it has always been.

This is the success mantra popular illustrator Priya Kurian follows. This artist has brought smiles to numerous children through her illustrations, which form an integral part of the children books. Here, in conversation with Varsha Verma, she reveals how she became a children book illustrator and how she comes up with a perfect illustration every time. The beginning…

Priya KurianPriya Kurian is an established children artist, who is trained as an animation film maker at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. “An important aspect of conceiving animation films consists of creating 'Concept Art' which involves illustrating various scenarios for the main characters of the film by using different visual techniques, mediums and treatments that really inspire one to think freely. Not all the scenarios created during this process are always included in the film. I enjoyed this stage of the film making process immensely and my interest in illustrating books was really an outcome of this. In my final year, I wrote to the people at Tulika Books on a whim and they were kind enough to give me the chance to work on a sweet story about an elephant called Bahadur who forgets how to sleep. The book is called I'm so Sleepy and is written by Radhika Chadha. The book turned out to be quite popular and I went on to illustrate a series of books with the same character. The series was called 'The Baby Bahadur' series,” tells Priya.

Later, Priya worked as an animator in a production house in Mumbai and then Seasame Street in Delhi. “Working at an animation studio didn't leave me with much time to pursue illustration very seriously, but by the time I decided to become a freelancer, which was after a year of working with Sesame Street Preschool, I had a small body of work that I compiled into a blog which I still maintain, and sent it to various publishers in Delhi. Since the first few books that I worked on were for a children's book publisher, I think most publishers assumed I illustrated only for kids books and the kind of work I received was mostly in the same area,” she recalls.

“Infact, I illustrated a few books for Puffin and Scholastic, and slowly over the years, more people in publishing got familiar with my work. So far, it's been really satisfying working on different kinds of projects with so many different people and I have realised how much I like working on children's books rather than illustrations for grownups,” she adds.

Hardest part of illustrating…

“…Getting started, I think. Because, that's the point where one needs to take the most amount of decisions and face the maximum number of choices in terms of what needs to be done with the characters and the treatment of the book. Sometimes, I find that these decisions can't be made in one sitting, but can take over a period of days and sometimes weeks,” replies Priya.

“Also another challenge is to put yourself back in the shoes of the child that you were. I think adults (including me) sometimes have a poor memory of what they were as children and what they felt like as a kid; what hurt you; what made you feel insecure. It is important to be able to tap into that,” adds Priya as a matter of fact.

Factors kept in mind while illustrating for children…

“I always try avoiding clichés, especially when it comes to creating characters. I like illustrations with enough details so that a kid can come back to it again and again, and perhaps spot something new each time he or she does so. I always like adding a touch of humour wherever possible in the details; something like a side joke which might really be part of the text. Also, one has to keep in mind that your audiences' experience of the world would cover the last 8 to 10 years as opposed to the last 20 and above. So, one should always keep up with what children find fascinating and be careful to use examples from popular culture and metaphors in your work that they understand,” she explains.

Real life influences…

“I love travelling and keep a record of places I visit. However small or big the city/village /town, one always comes back with quirky stories. Sometimes, the interesting characters I meet later find their way into my illustrations. So, I like to keep memories of those people and places in my notebook so as not to forget these,” she adds nonchalantly.

Advice to aspiring artists…

“Continuously keep at what one likes doing, work earnestly and honestly and don't compare yourself to another. Also, do some projects just for the love of it without thinking too much about what it would lead to. Compile your work online as well so that people can access it easily,” she advises.