Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Children's book trust and the Rosetta project****

Continuing our discussion of small publishers in Indian children's literature, I doubt if the Children's Book Trust can be called 'small'. Established in 1957, the trust publishes up to or more than 100 titles annually - but this data from their website is apparently from 1997, judging by their referring to CBT being 50 years old. In any case, it has been around for a very long time, though its visibility, even in the country is rather low. I wonder why that is the case, considering that the books are really pocket friendly - the picture books for example, may be priced as low as Rs. 15 - 25, and there is a significant, if not large, choice available. I haven't found these books at most of the big bookstores. Nor have I seen them in the nukkad stationery shops, where at least they could have jostled for attention with similar priced alphabet and number and picture and activity books from other publishers. There isn't even a possibility of buying their books online, so the nostalgic NRI must needs buy them in person on the next visit home...

The print quality is usually good, the storylines marginal to good - the art better. Once again, there is a wide difference between the truly creative books (of which there are more than a few) and the ones which appear to be written just by throwing a few sentences together. But for all that, they constitute a marvelous introduction to reading for the Indian child, because all of them are India centric. The characters, even the animals, are Indian, as is the milieu. The books are in English, and Hindi, but none bilingual. This I think is a major drawback, for at one stroke it alienates the entire non-hindi speaking populace, and does not allow for the possibility of a child learning to read English through these books.

The other problem I see is that there is very little of contemporary reference. I totally agree with the need for children to be exposed to the rural or semi-urban India, as well as the forests and tribes and ancient tales - all these are stories worth the telling. But we also need new stories, set in the new India, with new concerns and realities. Because when my child grows up, and looks to Enid Blyton for playroom adventures, and sees the tales of Munshi Premchand as distant as Raja Bhoj, I shall have nothing to offer as an alternative. No matter how rigorously I may discuss these picture books now, they are just as much of an 'imaginary' world as those of Finland or Ethiopia. Almost just as exotic. And so when the time comes to allow our children their choice in buying, where will the CBT be? I am supporting it wholeheartedly, but will my child - till a parent?

Children's books online: The Rosetta project is another book related website that I have fallen for. Quite the antithesis of the CBT site - it has freely downloadable (for personal use only) children's books of old which are out of the copyright domain.

Being a volunteer driven project, they are always in need of donations and volunteers - to give books, scan them, translate, and do other chores. You can see that I am setting up for another call to volunteer :) But worth it, don't you think? Especially if you have some old books up in the attic that will be out in the yard sale next. Or if you love the feel of old books, love looking at the illustrations from those times, or even, miss some book handed down from your parents or grandparents. For these books are scanned and posted. Simple, but effective. The text is easily readable as long as the book was well preserved, and they do take care to use only the unspoilt ones.

The books are surprisingly quick to display. Navigation is not thrifty - just arrows for next page, but it works. A few books have translations available, but you have to click for it on each page, and it pops up in a separate small window right in the middle of the page. There is no voice over or other animation. But can you resist looking at the old favourites? Featured here - The tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter,

The little engine that could, by Wally Piper,

and Kidnapped by R.L.Stevenson.

They also have a few multimedia downloads available for sale, along with tee shirts and such in their store.

The url -

P.S. Have you come across the Paper tigers? Reading one of their old blog entries about the Bologna book fair, in which they mention small publishers around the world, I was struck by this fragment - "for without quality it is hard to foster a love of reading and provide the key to the mirror/window." That is at least partly what ails the Indian scene at present: lack of consistent high quality of books. Not just the quality of the printed material, which is quite adequate, but of vision, and of storytelling. In the blog, they have mentioned Tara books, of which I was unaware till Priya commented about them. Now this is a publishing house which seems to have put in all their effort in selling to the global community. The books are priced in about the same range as those of CBT - but in dollars. Which makes it a simple choice for households struggling to manage their budgets - don't buy the book! On the other hand, I wonder what the quality is like? I haven't read any - surprisingly haven't even noticed any in the bookfairs either - so I would welcome information about their books, especially in comparison with the NGOs or CBT/NBT.

Edit 3rd Oct.2008 - I have received word from Guy Chocensky - the webmaster of the Rosetta project, that they are particularly short of funds, and books, at this time. As the traffic on my site is rather too sluggish (euphemism for nobody-reads-this-boo-hoo), I have no great hopes for an immediate response, but am still letting you all know :) Man lives on hope!

And oh, he also says that they have over 600 books :)

Write addict on Children's museum of Indianapolis***

So, is this official addiction, this wanting to write something even when I am not supposed to, especially because I am not supposed to? It is, in its own way, intoxicating, this life of the mind: this reaching within for words, for ideas; this celebrating the power of thought; this glorying in the incredibly awesomeness of thinking. Humble wonder and dizzying sense of mastery unitedly gaze at this prerogative, this privilege of the creation of thought.

So, to counteract, I found this in an article by Mark Ravenhill at the Guardian yesterday - "A personally defined landscape can easily become an enclosed and introverted prison, referring only to itself." One line to remember, to take from another mind. One line, perhaps out of context, surely meaning something else when it was written down, but one line to put my meaning to, here, and flag.

The Children's museum of Indianapolis is apparently the world's largest children's museum, spread over 19 acres of land, receiving more than a million visitors each year. The figures I, however, would be more interested in are the number of visitors to their website! They list fourteen awards, including one from American Library Association. I am not entirely sure that it is all that great a design, but judge for yourself. If you are a teacher, or parent to a home schooling kid, museums in general are a great resource, so this would be handy on that score. They apparently do have study units and other resources for teachers, and conduct workshops at the museum for home schooling kids, for which you can register. I, on the other hand, have so far been solely concerned with the total experience of a site, which includes content as well as layout and ease of usage, so I was not overly thrilled by the very functional look. Once you overcome that first prejudice, the kids section of the menu will lead you to games according to age - preK to grade 2, grades 3-5 and grades 6-8.

The games open in new windows, which may or may not be full sized. Some of them are allied to the exhibits at the museum - in fact the window will also have information about show timings and other such tidbits. Others are plain games. A few are common i.e. they have three levels corresponding to the three age groups previously defined, while others are unique for that group.

Among the games for the younger children, I was enticed by the label of trains of past, present and future. However, the name was deceptive, and the game involved placing passengers and cargo in the correct train compartment and such. It has three levels involving visuals versus increasing use of reading, but adult help may still be required, if only to maintain some interest. An interesting game for children nevertheless.

Build your robot is exactly what the name says, and is enjoyable and funky. You can print out the robot image when you are finished.

Dinosphere is one of the games allied to their exhibits, and has three levels, not all of which may be incompatible with your young child's understanding. Explore and see. The dinosaur related ABCs were disappointing for some very mundane and stretching a point entries. Other activities were more fun. The older children get a better deal with thought provoking discussions about whether fossils are or ought to be private property etc.

Fireworks of glass allows you to place some virtual glass bobbles on a wire framework - a simple and fun task well within a preschooler's range, even at the third level. There are also level based informational modules to do with glass sculpting, which were too dry for my kid though.

Haunted house is the section most enjoyable in October, because the games are simple colouring, puzzles and catching treats by using the keyboard.

Jolly days winter wonderland has suggestions for kids to play offline during winter - nothing great. The puppet game has great potential, and I thought it would be fun to talk about puppets of the world, but it invariably messes up on my browser. The first level starts off with giving different puppets personalities - good for helping children identify emotions and their expressions. The next section logically ought to have something to do with using or mobilizing these puppets, but it doesn't. Instead you have to match some puppet photos with the kind of puppets they are - invariably this is where we get a blank so I don't know more :) And there is no back button, so if you have to go back and choose another level, you can't.

I am not going to cover the other two age ranges - you can get a good enough idea by the above. Do check out the mummy related animation in the grade 3-5 section though, even for a younger child -

All in all, a very variegated selection of games - understandable as it is not a game site per se. Useful for integration in teaching however. The url -

P.S. If you haven't yet read the article quoted above, do. It is an interesting thing, more so because it gives the sense of being slightly incomplete, of being - dare I say it - more of a blog entry than an essay. And the comments are even more interesting, showing the myriad ways his words have been interpreted. Each has seen something just slightly different from the other, enough to cause arguments and discussions if all these people were in the same place, same time.

Monday, September 29, 2008

List of sites covered August - September 2008

Why is it that when you know you can't pin ideas down on paper, they will taunt you with their delicious nearness, soaring on fairy wings just within reach? I had promised myself to work on some other stuff - and bang, every few minutes I'd be thinking, 'I could write about that....' Of course, when I really do sit down to, none of these imps will as much as peep within :)

Anyway, because it has been hard staying away, and because I still want to keep my word, here is just a list of all the posts so far, in alphabetical order, so it may be easier for someone new to find them :)

Animaland*** - preschooler, kindergarten, tween, teen
Artpad*** - preschooler, kindergarten, adult
Babloo - preschooler, kindergarten, tween
Bembo's zoo*** - preschooler, kindergarten, tween, teen
British Council**** - toddler, preschooler, kindergarten, tween
Caillou**** - toddler, preschooler, kindergarten
Cbeebies***** - toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarten, tweens (note: this link is to the part IV of th post about cbeebies, but they are linked serial fashion)
Dr. Seuss*** - kindergarten, tween
Fifi*** - preschooler, kindergarten, tween
Faust and Hubert*** - infant, toddler
Fun baby games online*** - infant, toddler
Fisher-Price**** - infant, toddler, preschooler
H.I.P.(History in your pocket) pocket change**** - preschooler, kindergarten, tween, teen
International Digital Children's Library***** - preschooler, kindergarten, tween, teen
Kiddonet*** - toddler, preschooler, kindergarten
Kipper** - toddler, preschooler, kindergarten
Kneebouncers***** - infants, toddlers
Mauki*** - infant
Netsmartzkids*** - kindergarten, tween, teens
Peep and the big wide world***** - toddler, preschooler, kindergarten
Pocoyo*** -infant, toddler
Poisson rouge***** (Red fish) - infants, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergarten
Spectratone*** - toddler, tween, teen
Starfall**** - toddler, preschooler, kindergarten
Storyplace***** - toddler, preschooler, kindergarten, tween
Tumblebooks***** - kindergarten, tween, teen
Up to ten***** - infant, toddler, preschooler, kindergarten, tween
Visible body**** - preschooler, kindergarten, tween, teen, adult