Stories to the rescue

Swati Sanyal Tarafdar | Updated on April 03, 2020

Yesterday was International Children’s Book Day, and an occasion to go through the many online platforms offering free audiobooks and visual stories for young readers confined indoors

If you are of a certain age — or even if you are not — you would remember the joy of turning the pages of stories written by Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author with over 3,000 tales to his credit, translated across 125 languages. The 19th-century writer of fairy tales such as the Princess and the pea, the Ugly Duckling and the Little Mermaid is also the inspiration behind the International Children’s Book Day (ICBD), celebrated across the world on April 2, Andersen’s birth anniversary.

Since 1967, the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), a global non-profit dedicated to children’s education and books, has been sponsoring ICBD. Every year, a member-nation of IBBY commemmorates the event, choosing a theme, and inviting a prominent author and an illustrator from the host country to write a message and design a poster to mark the event. Slovenia is sponsoring ICBD 2020, with the theme “A Hunger for Words”.

“The hunger for words manifests itself differently: As gloominess, obliviousness, arrogance,” Slovenian writer Peter Svetina said in his message on the occasion. “A part of their world is running away from them without them being aware of it. This type of hunger is sated by poetry and stories.”

Though the Covid-19 pandemic has confined people to their homes, children’s Book Day is an occasion to go through the many online platforms offering free audiobooks and visual stories. The magic of stories is within reach as most digital publishers of children’s book have thrown their virtual doors open for young readers. Publishing house Amar Chitra Katha, which has regaled comic book lovers for years with their Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle series, is offering a free 30-day subscription to their entire archives. You can register on the links here and here to access the series.

Story Weaver, the digital reading platform for Pratham Books, has a wide variety of children’s books (all free) to choose from. Bijal Vachharajani, senior editor at Pratham Books, suggests picking up picture books for the young. “There are wordless ones, concept ones and many complex ones as well — books on anxiety, for instance. Fiction is a lovely way of helping children navigate the reality outside,” she says. Storyweaver’s readalong audio-visual picture books are also available in multiple languages. The platform also has a six month-long free programme for schoolchildren up to Std VIII, on exploring concepts of science and maths. “It’s a great time now to read nature books, as well as those on humour, compassion and empathy,” adds Vachharajani.

All through last year, Bengaluru-based writer and editor Neelima Vinod conducted writing workshops for young authors. The children wrote about their pets, their relationships, war and conflict, fantasy, sci-fi and more. Later, Vinod selected the best stories from the workshops and put them together in the Young Author Program Anthology, an e-book titled Ice Creams and Time Machines. The book can be found here.

Speaking of children writing for children, publisher and content company Bookosmia hosts a collection of audio stories on their site. Co-founder Archana Mohan says, “Our audio stories section is curated from some of the best young writers in India.” Mohan says children’s literature is no child’s play. “From tackling regressive fairy tales, re-imagining a world 200 years from now, to promoting inclusivity, these kids stun us with their original tales. Their stories reflect their unconventional ideas and optimism untouched by the cynicism that we adults invariably get pulled into,” she says. The audio stories can be found here. Mohan especially recommends looking up The Great Race, Radha And Krishna Switch Clothes, and The Story of Diwali.

Chennai-based Karadi Tales, the independent children’s publishing house, specialises in picture books and audiobooks. During the lockdown, they are allowing free streaming of their most popular titles, read out by the likes of Usha Uthup, Nandita Das, Vidya Balan, R Madhavan, Soha Ali Khan, Jaaved Jaaferi and others. Their picture books are also available for free and their arts and crafts resources, colouring activities and fun fact sheets can all be downloaded free from here. Karadi Tales is also conducting live Facebook events at 5:30 pm every evening.

Seasoned travel writer Supriya Sehgal debuted with her children’s collection A Tigress Called Machhli: And Other True Animal Stories from India and immediately caught the attention of the young readers as well as the older ones. She followed it up with Let’s Go Adventuring: 25 Exciting Trips Around India. Both books are full to the brim with quirky and fun real-life stories that not only entertain but also inform, educate and encourage compassion and understanding for the environment and all living beings.

The book Bookworms & Jellybellies: More than 50 fun recipes inspired by children’s books by authors Ranjini Rao and Ruchira Ramanujam is a joyride through the various kinds of food associated with some of the best-loved children’s books. The recipes — from ‘Scoop ‘n’ Drop Currant Scones’ from The Famous Five to Tamarind Pops from Swami and Friends — can be easily whipped up. The book is packed with simple instructions and fun trivia.

Though the lockdown can be a drag for young minds confined indoors, there has never been a better time to rediscover the sheer magic of stories. Happy reading!

Looking to read more with your child during the lockdown? Here are more resources

1. Follow #ThodaReadingCorona daily across social media. Look out for the hashtag on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. To help you start, here’s a link

2. Karadi books on Audible’s free section: Recommend Anushka Ravishankar’s The Boy Who Drew Cats and Bijal Vachharajani’s A Cloud Called Bhura and So You Want to Know About the Environment. Click here

3. International children’s book authors and illustrators such as Mac Barnett and Oliver Jeffers are reading a picture book a week day live on Instagram. 

Swati Sanyal Tarafdar is a freelance writer

Published on April 03, 2020

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