Celebrating the joy of reading

Last weekend I had the privilege of being invited to join the first children’s literature festival in India, hosted by Neev Academy in Bangalore.  What a fabulous weekend it was.


One of my constant concerns as a librarian here in Singapore in an international school is that I don’t feel that my collection reflects the many rich and varied cultures and identities that my students have. So I must admit (selfishly) one of the first things that crossed my mind when I was invited was YAY, I don’t have to wait until ECISlibrary2018 to go on an Indian book buying spree for my library!

When I arrived on Thursday evening, I met up with Maya Thiagarajan, author of “Beyond the Tiger Mom“, friend, ex-colleague and fabulous once-a-month book-club member. Getting together is always so exciting as we have a million-and-one things to chat about, and her move to Chennai has created a huge gap for me, but is a wonderful thing for India as she can share her knowledge, experience and expertise with schools there. We brainstormed together for a presentation we were doing for parents and the public on “grow to read and read to grow” and then she gave me her perspectives as a classroom teacher on my workshop for teachers and administrators on Classroom libraries. Then we decided to do the workshop together instead of separately as it would add a multi-perspective to it!

On Friday, the first thing that struck me as I entered the school, besides the warm welcome, was the wonderful posters and signage and set up.

The Friday was set aside for celebrating storytelling, books and literature with children. I must say I was really happy to see the emphasis on storytelling, since it is the basis of everything. In fact, when I was asked to run a workshop for 5 year olds, that’s the first thing I thought of – using a wordless book as a prompt to encourage students to tell a story.

My session used the wordless books “Chalk” and “The Typewriter” by Bill Thomson to introduce the basic elements of a story – build up to a problem and a solution. First I told them they’d been tricked and I wasn’t going to read a story to them, but they were going to read to me (groans all around) and then they proceeded to do so, with “Chalk” lured by the images! We then spoke a little about the problem and solution and I said I had another book where something similar was going on and they could read it to me as well. I then projected “The Typewriter” (as I didn’t have a hardcopy) and we went through the same procedure, adding more prediction in this time.  Then they went off to tables we’d set up with plain black goodie bags and cut out gold moons and stars to make their own “magic chalk” bag. They came back to the carpet and were told they were going to make their own story without words with magic chalk. We brainstormed some ideas of what kind of problems could happen and what their solutions would be. Such wonderful ideas, ranging from torrential rainstorms and flooding, to a meteorite crashing into earth, sharks attacking a mermaid, ghosts coming into the a house and scaring people etc.! We also chatted about how you would (in the case of the ghost story) show that time had passed and the ghost left and they came up with having a moon in some of the pictures with the ghost and a sun when the ghost fled. What was great was that some then said they wanted to do it in “teams”.  Off they then went, armed with A1 black paper, folded into 6 panels and unfolded to de-mark scenes and lots of coloured chalk.  As they were drawing I wandered the class with their teachers talking to them about the stories as they unfolded.  90 minutes without a break was barely enough to have everything finished and they proudly left with their magic bags and story creations.

The rest of the day flew by, popping in and out of classes and storytelling sessions, followed by the teacher workshop on classroom libraries.  I’d somehow misheard that it was for 15/16 teachers… actually it was for 50-60 teachers – their whole staff!  Maya and I had already (luckily, as that’s our philosophy) decided to take the tack that the existence or not of a classroom library was merely one part of creating a culture and eco-system of reading in a school. The session was lively and interactive.  That’s  one of the things I grew to really appreciate about what is going on a Neev academy – the vision of creating an alternative to traditional teaching and learning in their school, using the frameworks of the IB system and the encouragement of pleasure reading.  As a non-international school they shine out as a beacon for local students.

Saturday’s sessions were opened to the wider community and public with a rousing speech by visionary Neev Academy founder Kavita Gupta Sabharwal. 

Maya had the honour of being on a panel with Dr. Shyam Bhat and Sudha Murty and all three spoke of the importance of reading and storytelling, emotionally, from a neuro-science and educational point of view.  My panel on “trends vs. traditions” co-hosted with Jane DeSouza with Ankit Chadha;  Timeri Murari; Sohini Mitra and Reena Puri looked at the threats and potential of globalisation and the digital era on traditional storytelling, publishing and writing.

Then in-between another book buying spree at Lightroom Bookstore (who had a pop-up store at the festival). What a fabulous bookseller – I really really love independent bookstores with knowledgeable founders and staff who delight in the books as much as I do. Ones where you just have to start describing the book whose name you’ve forgotten and it’s suddenly in your hands! I had chance to meet up with the lovely librarians at both Neev Academy and Stonehill International School and we did what librarians do best – geek out on what our favourite resources were, what our websites included, how we resource our respective curricula and darn, there just wasn’t enough time so we have to continue our conversations online and through librarian facebook groups.

I then caught the tail end of  a lively discussion “Should we fear the Dark?” that explored dark themes in children’s literature – luckily I shared a taxi with Paro Anand afterwards so we could continue the conversation together afterwards. I love fearless authors!

Maya and I shared the closing session of the day, focusing on how to hook children on reading and keep them reading with some great audience participation, and before we knew it, it was all over!

A great weekend, incredibly well organised and curated, buzzing with ideas and thought stimulation, discovering new books and authors. My biggest regret was the inability to clone myself so that I could join all the sessions simultaneously. Well done to Neev Academy and Kavita.

(PS Here is a selection of the book loot – invited our Singapore librarian network librarians around to have a look last week!


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