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Building bridges through the power of storybooks

  • March 9, 2022
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Nivedita Bedadur is a volunteer with Read-a-Story, an initiative that helps children from underprivileged communities become proficient in reading and speaking English. During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic when schools all over the country were closed, she worked closely with four children – Yogita, Arjun, Vishesh, and Ashiyana – who live in remote areas in Maharashtra.

Connected only by a mobile phone, Nivedita used Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver to read storybooks to the children, sending a PDF of the selected English story to them every week. She helped them translate the ideas they expressed in Marathi to English and summarise the story. Then they poured over every detail of the picture books – describing, comparing, evaluating and analysing. They started in June 2021, and by December had read nearly 20 storybooks, making tremendous progress from Level 1 books to Level 4 books.

Nivedita chose from the wide variety of storybooks available on StoryWeaver, to introduce the four children to topics like diversity, friendship, inclusion, and gender. Stories like A Helping Hand, Chuskit Goes to School, and The Mystery of the Cyber Friend helped them understand compassion, representation, and at the same time explore the world of science, maths, and technology.

The transformational power of storybooks

Arjun Bhillare from Maharashtra reads a Pratham Books storybook on StoryWeaver during lockdown

Arjun Bhillare from Maharashtra reads a Pratham Books storybook on StoryWeaver during lockdown

Bravo Burli!, a Pratham Books storybook written by Nabanita Deshmukh and illustrated by Rohit Bhasi is the story of Burli, a little girl from the Kondh tribe indigenous to Odisha, and her brave encounter with a tiger deep inside the forest. Although the children had read numerous stories over the six months, Burli’s story struck a chord. The children could see themselves represented in Burli, and were able to relate to her life and adventures. The location the story was set in looked a lot like where they themselves lived, in remote rural Maharashtra, and their own knowledge of the forest and wildlife helped them further analyse and interpret the story.

Yogita (aged 11) and Arjun (aged 14) in particular loved Bravo Burli! So when Nivedita proposed turning it into a play, they eagerly agreed. Although they had never written a play before, they were keen to learn and explore a new format of storytelling.

Yogita Bhillare from Maharashtra, who with her brother Arjun adapted a Pratham Books storybook into a play.

Yogita Bhillare from Maharashtra, who with her brother Arjun adapted a Pratham Books storybook into a play.

The Creative Process
The children began by creating and naming new characters, and coming up with a suitable title for the play. With Nivedita’s guidance, they divided the story into scenes and discussed each scene before writing it. They retained the original dialogues and wrote some new ones as well, thus adding their own voices to it. As they wrote each scene, they read it out to Nivedita.

Finally, they organised a Reader’s Theatre, where they combined reading with performing. The four children chose the parts they wanted to read and performed the play twice. This is how Bravo Burli! brought five young readers, separated by distance, closer together during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Click here to read the play inspired by Bravo Burli! written by Arjun Bhillare and Yogita Bhillare on StoryWeaver!

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