Exploring the Magic of Stories with Ken Spillman

Last month brought us a visitor all the way from Australia. The visitor was none other than Ken Spillman. Last year, during Bookaroo in the City, we had the opportunity to attend an awesome storytelling session conducted by Ken Spillman (You can read all about that session here). This year we found Ken on our Twitter stream and when he showed interest in the Skype storytelling sessions we were conducting between community libraries in Bangalore and a school in Pennsylvania, we asked him if he would be interested in conducting one himself. But the answer we got was even better! Ken said that he would be coming to India soon and would love to meet the kids. A few months after that exchange, we received an email from Ken and were overjoyed that he had remembered that tweet.
The dates were finally decided and Ken was going to conduct storytelling sessions in two of the community libraries run by Akshara Foundation.
20th July 2011 – D.J Halli Community Library
The first library we visited was the D.J Halli community library. While we were trying to get the kids to settle down, Ken jumped into the library in his kangaroo avataar and before we could even introduce him to the kids, the session had started! After grabbing the attention of around 25 kids, Ken proceeded to talk about the ‘Jake series’ of books written by him. Soon, everyone had dived into Jake’s world as Ken started reading from ‘Jake’s Gigantic List’- a book where Jake is making a big list of things he wants for his birthday. The children marvelled at some of Jake’s ambitious choices and giggled at some of Jake’s silly (and almost impossible) choices. The kids were in splits as Ken entertained them with his theatrics and modulated his voice to sound like Jake’s aunt’s voice. By the end of the story, the library was echoing with the sound of ‘books are magic’. Ken magically produced a balloon and demonstrated how reading books can expand our mind with knowledge and how knowledge can make our imaginations fly.

The children were then introduced to two of our new titles. ‘Subbu, the Signal’ is the story of a traffic signal who gets tired of standing in the same place everyday and decides to leave. The story illustrates how all of us have some purpose in life and how each person’s work has an important function. The next story that Ken read out was ‘Lenny and Tweek- Wanted A Friend’ – a book about friendship. Ken didn’t stop at just reading the book. His questions made the children think about the story, think about their lives and come to their own conclusions about the story. By the end of the session, one could see how Ken had kept the children engrossed throughout the session. Their initial shyness was replaced by a magical curiousity.

In the question and answer sessions, Ken urged the kids to ask him tough questions. The next question which was asked was probably something that he had never expected. A boy raised his hand and said – ‘What is the largest prime number?’. Stumped by the question, Ken told them that he was not capable of answering such tough questions. The next question came from a girl who asked Ken to name hundred words in a minute. The catch was that none of them could include the following alphabets – a, b, c, d. The bewildered author admitted that he couldn’t and asked the girl if she knew that many words. She said yes and started rattling off the words – one, two, three, four, five ………. Smart eh?
In true Pratham Books tradition, sweets were handed out to the children and Ken gave them balloons to remind them about the power of books and imagination. Though the kids were getting late for their tuition classes, all of them stopped to take pictures with Ken and said goodbye to us a multiple times. As the crowd of kids trooped out of the library, I picked up a book to read it and a little girl promptly pointed at it and said – ‘This is magic!’ and showed me the little magical book in her library.

21st July, 2011 – Rajendranagar Community Library
Following the success of the previous storytelling session, we were all excited to visit the library in Rajendranagar. This library was even smaller than the D.J.Halli community library and level of English spoken by the kids at this library was much lower than the kids at the previous library. The library was packed with kids. They watched with wonder as Ken spoke to them. Armed with equal amounts of enthusiasm, the librarian did a great job of translating everything that Ken was saying. Soon enough, the kids didn’t even need translations. They made sense of whatever Ken was saying and would respond to anything that he asked.
After a short reading session, Ken switched to a more interactive format of educating the children through question and answer sessions. The kids were eager to learn about Australia and they learnt about the Cockatoo bird. Ken’s imitation of the cockatoo bird had the kids giggling again. Soon enough, the kids had formed a cockatoo choir and were singing in their shrill ‘bird voices’.
A little later, the balloon was back in action and Ken recruited some volunteers in a balloon blowing competition while he talked about books, knowledge and imagination. The room erupted with cheers as the balloons flew across the room. Unpacking his gift of books from us, Ken found one of our newest titles, ‘A King Cobra’s Summer’ and proceeded to show the kids the wonderful illustrations in the book and talk about the different animals depicted. At the end of the session, one boy went up to Ken and gave him a gift – a mobile paper bird made by his sister.
But I think the biggest gift that Ken may have got that day was when all the kids promised to learn more English before he comes back to visit them. And after he left the library, Ken promised to come back in November. Ken’s session was such a success that kids were flocking at the door of the library to listen to his stories. One girl stood silently and watched him. When we asked her to come into the library, she said that her mother would not approve of it. So, she stood at the door and witnessed the entire session with a big smile on her face. The magic of stories indeed!

Thank you Ken for conducting these wonderful storytelling sessions with the kids!
A big thank you to Nirupama from the Akshara Library team who helped coordinate the sessions and to the awesome librarians at both the libraries who are doing a superb job of spreading the joy of reading amongst the kids.

Note : If any of you want to conduct storytelling sessions with kids at the community libraries run by Akshara Foundation, please mail us at web(at)prathambooks(dot)org.

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