Of Festivals and Conferences

Last month, we were having so much fun at Bookaroo. We also got to catch up with Tharini Viswanath who interned with us previously. Tharini wrote to us about her Bookaroo experience and added a note about another conference she attended recently.
The last week has been super hectic and crazy with LOADS of fun thrown in. First there was the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival in Delhi, which I wouldn’t have missed for the WORLD! Naresh and I arrived in Delhi on 25th morning. We had been informed in advance that Friday’s events were open only to schools, but we decided to take a chance and walk in anyway. Turns out, the Bookaroo organizers didn’t have any problem with us listening to stories and moseying around in general. What’s more, we walked in just in time to hear Jeeva Raghunath’s story about the little girl who tricks the Lungwama who comes to her house in the middle of the night to crush her bones! And guess who was in the crowd, chanting “Lungwama, Lungwama, don’t eat me!”? Mala Ma’am of Pratham Books of course! After quick round of introductions (I hadn’t as yet met Manisha Ma’am who works from the Delhi office), we rejoined the storytelling session, and chanted and sang louder than all the children in the group!
26th and 27th were tons of fun as well. On both days, we came in early and left late. I got to meet Maya and Mala Ma’am after one and a half years! There were several amazing sessions – story telling, art, crafts, debates and discussions… It was crazy! Anyone could sit in anywhere and be a part of anything that caught their fancy. We read aloud with Adeline Foo, danced with Margaret Read McDonald, sang for Ramendra Kumar, drew pink dancing elephants on the doodle wall (that was me!) and got tons and tons of books signed. Wow, what a weekend! We met several authors, publishers and book lovers, we were introduced to a lot of new story telling methods and techniques and to cut a long story short, I didn’t want to go back home! This was one AMAZING experience! Can’t WAIT for next year’s Bookaroo!
After a relatively stress free week of introducing a new employee to BLPS, we attended The Reading 
Child conference in Chennai on December 3rd. Organized by Spring and Zoom for parents, teachers and educationalists alike, the primary focus of the conference was to discuss how we can instill the reading habit in the children of today. All the speakers that evening were from different walks of life. They had different jobs and different interests, but they all shared the love of reading. Each of them shared some of their valuable childhood experiences with books and talked about how they developed the reading habit. Novelist and playwright Shreekumar Varma stressed on the importance of parents taking neither the “Hiter” or “Hippie” version to books and to reading. The Hitler version being complete control over what their kids read, and the Hippie version being absolute freedom. He advised a middle path – giving children freedom to choose what they want to read, and at the same time, intervening when they feel the book is not right for the child.
Praba Ram, the Founder of Saffron Tree and mother of two, provided the audience an insight into the games adults can play with kids, as they read a book. This way books are not daunting and become part
of a family activity. She talked about reading Harry Potter with her older daughter. We played a version
of 20 questions with the characters in the book, she said. Games and fun activities give children a chance to discuss what they like or dislike about a particular book, the characters, the plot, etc, without being under any pressure to read and critique a book. Two other speakers who stole the show were Manasi Subramaniam of Karadi Tales, Niveditha Subramaniam of Tulika Books. Manasi started a debate on old media v new media, which soon got everybody riled up and eager to share their points of view. Despite some strong opposition, it was finally agreed that it doesn’t matter what medium you choose to expose your child to – so long as he or she gets the exposure, it is perfectly fine. Having said that, do movies based on books allow the same amount of freedom of thought and imagination as books, or are we restricted by the film makers imagination and thought process? The sessions were open to debate and discussion, where parents and teachers voiced their views on what each speaker said and the difficulties they face in getting their children to read.
Overall, the conference was a good experience. It was heartening to know how many people there were interested in instilling the reading habits in their kids – some mothers started reading to their children at the ages of 6 and 7 months and the children are now voracious readers.
Aah, what a week! Looking forward to more such events! But for now, back to work!

 Tharini currently works with the Book Lovers’ Program for Schools, Chennai. BLPS designs modules comprising of storytelling sessions, theatre workshops and book based activities in schools to inculcate the reading habit in children.


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