This is the story that will unite India

Susheela’s Kolams, a book by Sridala Swamy with illustrations by Priya Kuriyan emerged out of a workshop that Bengaluru-based Pratham Books held in Delhi last year, to announce their beginner’s series books.

The book talks about a little girl Susheela who makes Kolams (floor painting similar to Rangoli) in the sky and will be read aloud to city-bred children as well as children living in remote places around India.

The book cover of Susheela’s Kolams that will be read acrossIndia on International Literacy Day

Published by non-profit publishing house Pratham Books, the book will be read at 100 storytelling sessions on September 8, to be held throughout the country. This event is part of their upcoming International Literacy Day programme. In Maharashtra, 20 sessions will be held in Mumbai while Pune will host five sessions.

Small is big
Says Purvi Shah, brand manager, Pratham Books, “We are a team of just 30 people and hence for this event we are depending on the ‘Champions’ or volunteers from every state who are keen to host the session. Thus, the book (Susheela’s Kolams), which is available in several languages including English, Kannada, Hindi, Marathi and Tamil, will be read out in orphanages, hospitals, schools, libraries and other places. ¬†Every volunteer will be provided with a free kit consisting of the book, a banner about the event and a set of activities to work upon after completion of the storytelling session.”

The project aims to reach all corners of india including the North-East

While Pratham Books organises various events every year to mark International Literacy Day, this will be the first time that they will be hosting a countrywide event. “We hope to reach out to smaller towns, especially in the North-East. It has been tough to even courier the book to such places, as they are located in remote areas.

So, our volunteers dropped them personally, or even emailed it across. The fact that all it took was to print a book (it is priced at Rs 25 only) and word-of-mouth publicity shows that one doesn’t need a huge budget to make a difference,” she adds.

Reach out to India
While there were no particular criteria to select the Champions aside from a passion for storytelling, they make for a varied bunch and include engineers, senior citizens, research students and even trained storytellers. At the end of the session the volunteers are expected to write on the event blog about their experiences. “There will be virtual sessions as well, thanks to Google Hangout, which will relay live read-aloud sessions to several libraries via YouTube. We are also planning to host sessions for the differently abled in Chennai,” informs Shah.

According to Suzanne Singh, managing trustee, Pratham Books, the basic philosophy of their organisation is to provide good quality books to children who don’t have access to them. “We are a small team so we just plant the seed and try to catalyse the community to pool in, in order to help conduct activities and take the agenda forward. It’s all about harnessing the power of the community,” she says, adding that their event is a sort of social mission.

“Reading books is unfortunately, restricted to the upper socio-economic strata in many cities. Sadly, many students in government schools have no access to books apart from their textbooks. Through storytelling, we can engage and open up their mind to the world out there and ignite a love for reading across socio-economic strata,” she adds.

Twice the fun
After this event, Pratham Books is set to launch a series of bilingual books, which will use English as a common language, shares Mala Kumar, editor, Pratham Books. “It will help students compare and learn.

So, while it will help English medium students learn regional languages, vernacular medium students will also be able to learn English. In urban areas, it’s sad that many children have lost touch with their mother tongue. These books will help them understand the beauty of their mother tongue and perhaps help them communicate with their grandparents,” sheexplains.

While they have published six such books, there are 12 more in the pipeline for this year. “The stories are fairly simple and deal with topics that will appeal to children, be it about losing a ball and searching for it or the adventures of a puppy.

Since the books have texts from two languages on the same page that describe the same theme, the effort is to ensure the flavour of the tale and the fun element is not lost in translation; we also focus on using simple words in every language. They are priced between Rs 15 to Rs 30,” adds Kumar.

To create the books, they had freelance translators working with the writer and the illustrator. Some of the bilingual titles include King Cobra, My Colourful Kite, Tall, Taller, Tallest, Bani, and Everything Looks New. While their books are available in five languages at present, they hope to be made available in 11 languages soon.

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