Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Just books

If I sit still, I can hear the leaves shivering gently in chill puffs of wind.

If I sit still, I can see the moth flutter faintly in the darkness.

If I sit still, I can feel the moon beams leave dewdrops on my skin.

If I sit still, I can remember. Remember nights from my life, sharp as starpoints, soft as moon haloes, nights of beauty and joy and contentment. And so I try to return to the time before I learned to read, to the time when bedtime meant snuggling up to mother for stories and security and comfort. Ah those days! A blink of the eye and night returns, warmer from those heavy quilts , those stories told softly, that cozy embrace...

Isn't it strange then that I should have no recollection of those stories? I know that I heard countless stories - but I don't remember! It is a loss I feel all the more now that it is my turn to tell the stories. In a strange way, it is my love of books that has perhaps led to this state of affairs: because I read my books so many times, I lost the ones I had only heard but not revisited later. It is a loss I deeply regret.

Neverthless, books are an abiding love that I can not give up on. And today's post is - as an exception - going to be solely about books. A bit of a hotch potch too, let me warn you, because at this time of the night I can't really think straight, certainly not enough to unravel the subconscious threads that may join one memory with another. Or to formulate meaningful links between two topics. Take it as a basket of old books at a garage sale, if you will. Rummage and you will find a treasure or two - but only if you love books enough to go through them in the first place!

'Vintage books my kid loves' is a blog I have but recently discovered, and much though I envy all these book blogs which talk of books I don't have, I still have to read them! And share! I am not particularly partial to vintage books, but that is because I am partial to books of any vintage, any form. As long as there is printed paper, I am hungry for it. The only two things which keep me from buying all the books in the world are price, and space. (Pity that both are so severly limited...) But old books have a charm all their own. I like to have books with history, to hold in my hand something printed in the last century and feel awed at the number of people who might have read and enjoyed that book. Perhaps it also gives me a feeling of being connected to all those bibliophiles before me who so lovingly preserved that book. So I especially enjoyed reading about the old kid books on this blog and looking at the photos posted.

Similar little squeals of joy emanated when I discovered 'Golden gems' - the blog which has high quality scans of these 'little golden books' and other illustrations. What a beauty! It is so much fun to look at these paintings/drawings - and sometimes you can almost read the whole book! The only drawback, of course, is that clicking each photo is a rather slow process...

Eklayva is a NGO, based in Bhopal, 'that develops and field tests innovative educational programmes and trains resource people to implement these programmes. It functions through a network of education resource centres located in Madhya Pradesh.' I could summarize more - but as I said, the labour laws of my brain require it to be shut down now, so you'd have to go to their site to check out more. But I have been meaning to write about Eklavya for a long time now because of the children's books they publish. We met them in a book fair, and liked the four little books we got for about Rs. 15 each I think. Unfortunately, although they do have an online order form, and a list of publications, I haven't bought any more because I like to actually look at a book before I buy, and they don't have any outlet outside of Madhya Pradesh... Today I find that they have a hindi flip book online - great! Hope there are more to follow. Even detailed descriptions and a one page sample from each book would suffice to encourage more buyers online though.

There are more where this lot came from - but nope, my mind has totally packed up, and as I have to be up in another three hours, it is time to call it a day! To make up for my ramblings, here is something you might enjoy -

William Makepeace Thackeray

There lived a sage in days of yore,
And she a handsome pigtail wore;
But wondered much, and sorrowed more
Because it hung behind her.

Se mused upon this serious case,
And swore she'd change the pigtail's place
And have it hanging at her face,
Not dangling there behind her.

At length "Eureka!" was the sound,
Said she, "The mystery I've found --
I'll turn me round!" She turned her round;
But still it hung behind her.

Then round and round, and out and in,
All day the puzzled sage did spin;
In vain -- it mattered not a pin --
The pigtail hung behind her.

And though her efforts never slack,
And though she twist, and twirl, and tack,
Alas! still faithful to her back,
The pigtail hangs behind her.
Smile, and keep reading - books!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Almost defeated by an idea, and Clifford at Scholastic****

Some ideas are clear; smooth and free is their sailing over the screen, words tripping in their hurry to get formed in black. Others are equally recalcitrant, and stand obstructive in my path, declaring with cool passion, "No other way save through me". For a week, ever since the Bombay bombing, I have tried to get around one, and failed. I have approached it from all angles, rejected and re-approached, and gotten nowhere. I have started thrice, changed my mind, moved the posts to Alternate/Parallel, and still not posted them. And yet, the idea is simple really. How do you talk of a tragedy like the Bombay attack? Or any other - take your pick, for there are so many of them in recent times. There is terrible mindlessness, innocents die, thousands suffer directly or indirectly. Tragedy? Of course. Horrifying, sombre, mind-numbing tragedy. What do you feel? Do you feel the pain like I do, the overwhelming shearing sensation with each news of a world grinding carcasses in daily turning? Each day, each little report - theft, violence, rape, corruption, rage, political divisiveness, riots, jail breaks, delayed justice, terror attacks - each and all of these hurt me daily. Each of these I have learnt to avoid since I became aware, as a teenager, of a world beyond my home, because I couldn't handle the pointlessness of it all. Because I couldn't do anything about any of it, anything at all. And so began my attachment to the only part of the paper I do read carefully - the cartoons! For the rest, when was there ever good news? Rare the athletic prowess to be inspired by, lessening with increasing years anyway. Rarer still the news of a man who could inspire. And yet, we all are hungry for that, as was obvious by the amount of interest Obama generated worldwide. For a brief moment, democracy seemed actually meaningful, each vote a choice... But something like this happens, or the last blasts in Delhi, or the tsunami in Indonesia or the floods in Bihar - and your life gets dwarfed once more by calamities far beyond your control. So, how do you talk about these? Can you find words to really talk of it, or do you deal in cliches, safe passages through these turbulent waters? A friend from US asked me of - folks in Bombay - and I didn't know how to respond. I can write, and search for words chiselled to fit the thought and feeling, yet I'd feel bombastic and utterly false using those in my daily talk. Just at the time of the event, yes, possibly, overawed by the magnitude of it all, when we stand small and baby-nude with each other, putting arms out to be hugged, I might let my heart show. But later, when the tragedy is in the realm of conversation?

How do you deal with it?

Today, because we were watching a Clifford video lately, it is Clifford at Scholastic Inc., the world's largest publisher and distributor of children's books. One of those 'leaf' posts by my classification, for Scholastic is a huge site. As a matter of fact, the link I am starting with is the wrong end of the candy cane - it is Clifford at the teachers' site at Scholastic, rather than Clifford games per se, educational though they may be. And just to make matters more complicated, the teachers' site itself and the games section of Scholastic both deserve a separate mention. Not to speak of various Clifford games at other sites... Oh, what the heck, we'll simply stick to Clifford at Scholastic, the name I have bookmarked the site as, simply because Clifford is a favourite :)

If you follow the link here, you'll find four games and four English/Spanish interactive story books. And a teachers' guide about using them - introducing the child to consonants and so on. Not being a Montessori mama, nor a gifted teacher, I have simply been using these as games with random and occassional comments re consonants and vowels and so on, and hoping that some of it will simply soak in...

The concentration game here has a slight twist - kids have to name aloud the object in the photos displayed, and then find the ones with the same beginning, middle or ending sound. Quite useful to get them used to breaking down words into phonic components.

The word making game is a variant of the paper slider used to fill vowels in words at kindergarten. Drag a letter to the middle of a word - if it is right, it is read aloud by the computer; if not, the vowel slides back.

A letter match game teaches children to differentiate between letters that they often have difficulty identifying eg. p and b, d and p, i and j.

Sound match has kids picking out words starting from the same sound as a given word given images which are read out by the computer on clicking. Stories are simply worded, each frame with three sentences, the last of which needs to be filled in with one of three choices. The choices don't impact the story line much, however they are good for learning how to read.

At the bottom of the page is a link to 'Clifford's website' - which is the actual Clifford site on Scholastic. And on that page are more games and other goodies which I can't write about now because I have to vacate the computer so they can be played... Maybe later, editing this post?

The url -

P.S. As and when I do post more about the above - whether it is Bombay, or Clifford, I will update here :)

P.P.S. At the bottom of the page, there is a Scholastic Word Wizard box powered by Wordsmyth, which claims it'll look up any word you double click on the page. Trouble is, almost every written word is a link...