Monday, February 22, 2010

Lend An Ear, Mind Your Languages

Our director, C. P. Viswanath writes in the Times of India about language learning capacity in India. Read the article below or here at TOI.

The National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) lists a few guidelines on desired outcomes for children learning English as a second language in Classes I and II. These include being able to talk about themselves, follow simple instructions, requests and questions, read simple and short sentences with the help of pictures and understand them, and write simple words, phrases and short sentences.

However, a recent report by the NGO Pratham shows that less that 50 per cent of children in Class I could even identify capital letters in English. The gap between desired outcomes and real outcomes is obviously huge. 

Parents, especially from rural and semi-urban families, see English as a gateway to better opportunities for their children. They send their children to English-medium schools. In most of these schools, children learn Maths, Sciences and other subjects in English, without knowing English. 

This situation has led to an increasing number of educators advocating that schooling should be in the mother tongue only. There have been a few recent articles on this subject in the press that state that learning multiple languages simultaneously is ill-advised . They quote studies and dissertations from the West to bolster this opinion. 

An oft-quoted study, by Helen Abadzi, an education consultant with the World Bank Efficient Learning for the Poor - Insights from the Frontier of Cognitive Neuroscience reinforces this opinion. The key word in Abadzi's study is 'cognitive'. Cognitive learning of language is extremely inefficient . Formal pedagogy, unfortunately, uses only cognitive processes to teach language. This could be seen as the primary reason for poor outcomes. 

There is a failure to recognise that the major elements of language are best learnt intuitively, making it an "associative" task (where you perform a task without having to single-mindedly focus on it). As a result of faulty pedagogy, we should not arrive at a conclusion on a child's capacity to learn multiple languages. 

We just have to look at ourselves, or those around us, to realise that bilingualism and multilingualism is a way of life for many in India. It happens without effort when our environment supports it. A visit to the slums of Dharavi will reveal that many 4-year-olds speak two or three languages. 

Educators and researchers in the West have little or no experience of this kind of organic multilingual diversity. Moreover, schools in the West have miserably failed in teaching a second language to their students. Thousands of students in American schools take Spanish as their second language. After three to seven years of exposure to the best of teachers and the best of facilities, only a miniscule percentage of these students understand or speak the language to even a limited degree. The conclusions of researchers there naturally emerge from these failed experiences in teaching language. 

When approaching the learning of language, we must make a very clear distinction between the intuitive elements of language (understanding and speaking) and the logical elements (reading and writing). Intuitive elements and logical elements of language are learnt entirely differently. This is the reason why you will find individuals who understand and speak a language but cannot read and write and vice versa. The problem lies in the fact that formal pedagogy (as defined by the West and adopted by us) does not recognise this crucial difference. 

Having said this, we are still left with the challenge of facilitating intuitive learning in a classroom. Children who struggle with any language are the ones who have no exposure to that language in their daily lives. There are natural processes that occur when we learn our mother tongue or when we learn languages in a multilingual environment. How do we bring these into the classroom? 

Language learning must be considered complete only when understanding, speaking, reading and writing proficiency has been attained. The progression of learning should also ideally proceed in the same order. An indigenously developed languagelearning programme has demonstrated outstanding results in teaching English to first generation English learners in rural, semi-urban and tribal areas. The process is described as intuitive, immersive, non-instructional and non-linear. It mirrors the learning process of the mother tongue. 

A learner is immersed into a structured language environment through a variety of interesting activities that are designed to stimulate intuitive learning. There is no overt teaching. The learner is led through different kinds of language experiences. Language is learnt using the body, through music and through stories. The programme does not teach meanings of words but allows the learner to figure it out. 

Prayaag Joshi, Convenor of Imlee Mahua, a centre that caters to tribal children in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, and uses the programme, says, "Little tribal children (three to eight-year-olds) have shown in the past few months a voracious appetite for language learning (sic). Besides their mother tongue (Halbi or Gondi) they are taking to learning the other local language plus Hindi and English...both foreign fish to water. I don't even feel that they are aware that they are picking up 4 different languages already." 

With the right pedagogy, there is hope that every child can learn English and other languages enjoyably and without conscious effort irrespective of their background and without compromising the mother tongue. For this, we must look at our successfully multilingual society and draw lessons from it.

- By C. P. Viswanath, Director of Karadi Tales

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Picture Book A Day Keeps the Blues Away! - PART 2

Read Part One!

Continuing from the previous post, Shobha Viswanath writes more about her all-time favourite picture books.

No, David!

Author: David Shannon
Illustrator: David Shannon
Publisher: Blue Sky Press

Ever been told 'No' by an adult when you were a child? My childhood only resounded with Nos - and having grown in a family that extended to uncles and aunts twice and three times removed, there were times when I wondered if that was the only word they knew.

When I saw No, David! at a Scholastic book fair, I was immediately drawn to it. David's Calvinish face was simply too much to resist. Every page portrays an act of David eliciting a 'No, David'  from the adult until you feel so sorry for the little brat. I wanted to buy 42 copies of the book and give it to all my aunts and uncles but I doubted if they ever saw themselves as no-saying adults.

This picture book reaches out and grabs you with its title refrain and trouble-bound protagonist, who is sure to remind you of a lot of small children you’ve met, some of them quite possibly your own. The art is beyond brash, and kids love this book—especially the part where David runs down the street naked.

The Rumour

Author: Anushka Ravishankar
Illustrator: Kanyika Kini
Publisher: Karadi Tales

Do you know the game that we played as children? The Chinese Whisper? You and your friends sit in a circle and one child whispers a secret to the person next to her and she in turns whispers the same to the one next to her, and so on until the secret reaches the last person in the circle? The last child has to say the secret aloud and it usually is nothing even remotely like the original line.

Set in Badbadpur, where people have nothing else to do except gossip, strange whispers begin to float around when Pandurang, the village Grouch spits out a feather one balmy day. The feather travels, turning into a bird, to a flock of birds, to a forest and then to a jungle – all in the space of Pandurang’s afternoon siesta time! Written beautifully in rhyme and prose by Anushka Ravishankar and illustrated with brilliant vividness by Kanyika Kini, this hilarious picture book is a treat for both the eye and the ear!

Grouch Pandurang is hilarious, and Kini has wonderfully captured the stances and postures of the villagers of Maharashtra. My personal favourite!

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type

Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Betsy Lewin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

I came across this thin, small rather unimpressive looking book in my daughter’s school library. It lay across the table and having 10 minutes before the school bell rang, I read through it. What a find! A treasure of a book! I laughed and laughed and re read the book, gathered the kids who lingered in the library and read it to them as well.

Farmer Brown's cows have become very literate. They have found an old typewriter in the barn and have begun typing. To the harassed farmer's dismay, his communicative cows quickly become contentious:

Dear Farmer Brown,
The barn is very cold at night. We'd like some electric blankets.
The Cows 

When Farmer Brown refuses to give in to the terrorist cows’ demands, the cows take action. Farmer Brown finds another note on the barn door: "Sorry. We're closed. No milk today." Soon the striking cows and Farmer Brown are forced to reach a mutually agreeable compromise, with the help of an impartial party--the duck. However, if you think Farmer Brown’s troubles are over, think again!


Illustrator: David Weisner
Publisher: Clarion Books

David Weisner is a master story teller – not with words but only with pictures. His wordless picture books were my first introduction to the genre and I use them frequently to stimulate creative writing exercises for myself as well as students I teach.

In the picture book, Tuesday, he once again captures the imagination of his audience with his breathtaking illustrations with the story of a frog invasion that happens during the twilight hours on a Tuesday evening.

Children's imaginations will be tugged in this inventive possibility of what happens in the outside world while they are tucked away into bed: frogs soar from their pond on hovering Lilly pads past a late-night snacker's kitchen window, tangle through the hanging laundry, and most charmingly, stop to watch television with an unknowing old woman snoozing under her afghan.

By the end of the story, readers will believe that anything can happen after the sun goes down - that even pigs can fly.

The Seventh Kozhakkatai

Author: Shobha Viswanath
Illustrator: Malavika P.C.
Publisher: Karadi Tales

Have you ever longingly looked into the jar and yielded to the temptation of eating that last cookie or candy meant for your brother or sister?

On Ganesh Chaturti, Little Kumar is unable to resist the last Kozhakkatai meant for his sibling Kutti. He gulps it down, licks his lips, wipes his fingers on his shirt and slips out of the kitchen quietly when the lights go off. When Kutti comes for her share of the Kozhakkattai, and reaches out to take it, she is astonished with what she finds.

A delightful little story, often told on the warm porches of houses in Tamil Nadu, the Seventh Kozhakkatai, with its mad cap illustrations and poetic text echoing Tamil nuances and inflexions always brings back memories of my own childhood.

A story that often begs for many tellings!

Little Bird’s ABC

Author: Piet Grobler
Illustrator: Piet Grobler
Publisher: Front Street

Alphabet books have often fascinated publishers and have given authors and illustrators inventive ways of telling the same old thing. And once in a while, amidst the din of commonplace books marching along, there comes one with a little swagger and a generous smile. Little Bird’s ABC is one such.

Little Bird’s ABC by Piet Grobler begins…

Aa for Alley-oop! Bb for Burp…Cc for Chirp chirp chirp Doink! is the sound of an apple that falls on a bird; the Ffftt… that comes from still another bird's rear!

Crazy, silly and hugely funny, the text and illustrations by Piet Grobler will have the child inventing his own alphabet of sounds and rolling in laughter at the ones that have been created. What a novel approach to the staid old ABC!

- Written by Shobha Viswanath, Publishing Director of Karadi Tales

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Picture Book A Day Keeps the Blues Away! - PART 1

We asked our publishing director, Shobha Viswanath, to make a list of her favourite children's picture books. 

Here's a guest post from her in response:

I collect picture books. There is something so compelling about a 24 or 32 page fully illustrated, sparsely written story that conveys more than tomes of written text. It is like seeing the world in a grain of sand. My children have outgrown them but I on the other hand, seek them out in libraries and bookstores and sometimes hunt them down in online and used bookstores.

I am amazed at their power, their ability within those few pages to invite even an adult to read them over and over again. While you like some because they make you laugh, or smile or sigh or cry, there are others that hypnotize you with their pictures, make you want to delve into that vast expanse of panoramic landscape, or simply reach out and wipe the tear off the little boy’s face or pluck the dying dandelion and breathe life into it so that the little gerbil may smile.

Here is a list of some of my favourite picture books:

Knots on a Counting Rope
Authors: Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
Illustrator: Ted Rand
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

My copy of this book is so worn out that even the ink in the pages has begun to fade. It was a book offered as suggested reading by a teacher and I remember crying my eyes out while reading it. It was a long time before I could read the story to my children without weeping each time, and perhaps the ink has faded with all the copious tears that have wet the pages.

In this poignant story, the counting rope is a metaphor for the passage of time and for a boy's emerging confidence facing his greatest challenge: blindness. Recounted as a conversation between a Navaho Indian boy and his grandfather who tells him about the tale of his birth, this beautiful, sensitive story unfolds gently to weave a rich tale of intergenerational love and respect that is bittersweet and unsentimental.

Gathered near a campfire under a canopy of stars, a Navaho Indian boy hears the tale of his birth from his grandfather. Named Boy-Strength-of-Blue-Horses, the child later reaches out into that well of strength to deal with the fact that he is blind. Rand's atmospheric, vivid paintings evoke the tale's sensibility as they move it along. A book that resonates long after the last page is read.

I’d Really Like to Eat a Child

Author: Sylviane Donnio
Illustrator: Dorothee De Monfreid
Publisher: Random House

I am so tired of stories with morals and values, that it is little wonder that writers like Roald Dahl occupy high positions on my reading lists. Irreverence has a strangely endearing quality and demolition of goodness and good behaviour leaves me breathing a huge sigh of relief! Don’t we all know the difficulty of being good!!

First and foremost, this book no doubt wins the award for “best children’s book title ever.” How can any child, or parent, resist an adorable little crocodile named Achilles who really, REALLY wants to eat a child? This delightful story, written with wit and irreverence by Sylvianne Donnio, introduces us to a teeny-tiny croc with an appetite far bigger than his tummy size.

The Prince Child
Author: Maranke Rinck
Illustrator: Martijn Van Der Linden
Publisher: Lemniscaat

If ever there was a book whose illustrations beckoned you again and again, it is this. Realistic images, almost photographic like, yet deftly painted begs each page in the book to be framed.

When the prince child is born, all of the animals of the forest must decide what gifts they will bring to him. Heron brings a song, Snow Cat brings a crystal ball, and Gerbil brings flowers. How are they to know what the prince wants most of all?

On each spread, a short, lyrical piece about the gift and how it will be presented faces a photo-realistic image of each costumed creature. The body paints, feathers, beads, headdresses, and other adornments suggest native cultures from around the globe. Painterly brush strokes in subdued earth tones blur backgrounds, bringing each creature into sharp focus for its journey to the party.

But best of all, is the ending, sure to make you gasp and smile!

The Child Cruncher

Author: Mathilde Stein
Illustrator: Miles van Hout
Publisher: Lemniscaat

What a title! Typically, in a fairy tale, the hero does not relish being captured by a mean, ugly ogre. But Mally is terribly bored – her friends are on vacation, and her dad is very busy. So when the Child Cruncher comes along, she is very pleased to have something to do. Of course, the little girl turns out to be way too much trouble to be worth the Child Cruncher’s time, and he finds himself regretting having kidnapped her in the first place. But it’s all in a day’s adventure for our little heroine.

With a style similar to Quentin Blake, Mies Van Hout brings to life the zany and wicked illustrations that simply isn’t your grandmother’s fairytale!

The Carnival of Animals

Author: Philip de Vos
Illustrator: Piet Grobler
Publisher: Lemniscaat

Philip de Vos's carnival of animals is full of malcontents and fiercely independent types: tortoises who waltz and cancan--but only in their dreams; lions who disdain sauerkraut and brussels sprouts; and rowdy, honky-tonker pianists. Fourteen poems document this motley crew, with a generous helping of Ogden Nash-esque nonsense and de Vos's own brand of quirky humour.

Each verse is complemented wittily by Piet Grobler's unique etchings in blues, golds, and rusts that, framed, could easily grace an offbeat nursery wall.

- Written by Shobha Viswanath, Publishing Director of Karadi Tales

Watch this space for Part II of this piece!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February Blog-Rolling

Guess what! The Karadi Tales Creative Director, Narayan Parasuram, made an appearance on CNN-IBN alongside Chetan Bhagat, Mahesh Manjrekar and Shashank Vira. Read the article and see the video here.

ChoxBox, who blogs at Life is a box of chocolates, writes about her experiences with Karadi Rhymes here. She blogs a lot about the books her children read. Do take a look at her favourites.

Incidentally, you can pick up Karadi Rhymes for your kids here.

Vibha at Saffron Tree reviews Monkeys on a Fast here. Do read the review and check out Saffron Tree's latest posts on children's literature.

She has also cross-posted her review on her beautiful personal blog, Literary Sojourn. Do read her blog here and take a look at her insightful book reviews and recommendations.

You can also order Monkeys on a Fast here or pick it up at your nearest bookstore.

Lavanya Hariharan, who blogs at Piece of Writing, writes about Karadi Tales and the importance of good books and Indian values here. Lavanya writes a personal blog about things she finds interesting and has a beautiful photoblog as well. Do check it out.

In the meanwhile, take a look at Karadi's YouTube page here.

Pratham Books talks about Chitra Picture Books here. And while you're on the Pratham Books blog, do take some time to read it. Pratham's writers write about everything to do with books, literature, education and children. It's a great place to stay in touch with current opinions and trends.

You can pick up Pratham titles at any bookstore. Take a look at their website here. You can see that they do some absolutely stupendous work!

You can also pick up Chitra Bilingual Picture Books here.

Sujatha, who has written about us before here, writes again on Blogpourri about our contest. Read her post here. Thanks a lot for featuring us again, Sujatha!

And we've just sent out our next newsletter. Take a look at it here! You can subscribe to the newsletter by writing to