These reading initiatives across India draw children into the evolving world of books

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Be it an audiobook for kids by kids or children’s books curators, innovative reading initiatives for children nudged along by the pandemic continue to create a young community of bibliophiles

Books for babies, an audio book for kids by kids, a weekly online book bazaar... all these are pandemic-driven reading initiatives for children. .

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“Why are there no books for babies?” asks Treesa Tom, a Kochi-based book curator and teacher who began to read the picture book, Busy Animal Alphabet, to her son Christopher when he was still in her womb. She had read that the child in the womb begins to hear from the 26th week of gestation. After her son’s birth, during the pandemic, she continued to read to him and found that he showed signs of recognition to words like toucan and hippopotamus, which she used to read aloud with voice modulations.

Board books for toddlers

She found that books for babies were expensive and not easily available, which led her to look for sources of affordable books. She zeroed in on wholesale dealers of imported books. With a network in place, she launched her venture The Book Truck on Instagram. Soon, Treesa’s friends wanted her to recommend books for their children. “Being a teacher, I am able to suggest books. The books I buy are not brand new but they are unused,” she says.

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After assessing a child’s reading pattern and preferences, she curates a set of three books for a month and ships them out. Treesa began with a WhatsApp group and started posting videos of books and tips on reading. Later she structured it to post pictures of books every Monday at 8 am, followed by close-up photos of the pages so that members could see the font, illustrations and get a sense of the texture of the book. As the books are used ones, the videos also show the damaged portions. Members message her directly and buy a set, if they are convinced with her selection.

Her young readers are categorised as Beginner, Proficient, Independent or Pre-Kindergarten and she also asks the parents for their budget. “Roughly, a set of three books costs between ₹500 and ₹700,” says Treesa.“Even However professional parents are, they need help as most don’t have the time to do the for background research on selection of suitable books,” she says.

There are 15 categories of books that she has divided her range into: Board Books for toddlers till the age of four, which being thick and hard cannot be easily damaged; picture books, puppet books, paperbacks, hardbound and so on. With over 2,000 books in stock and collaborations with 800 dealers from across the country, Treesa is now expanding her curation to include novels for “tweens”.

Audiobooks by kids

BTB talkies, an audio books by kids, for kids by Hyderabad -based Beyond The Box

BTB talkies, an audio books by kids, for kids by Hyderabad -based Beyond The Box  

“We need many more book curators as people don’t know what and how to read,” says Hyderabad-based Anupama Dalmia who founded Beyond the Box, a platform to promote the love for literature in children, in 2019. She had begun mentoring children four and a half years ago in creative writing and in what to read As her outfit grew, she founded a team of five who assist children in the seven to 14 age group in different aspects of literature.

She also brings out books penned by children, like a poetry series and a set of short stories. Watching the growing space for audiobooks, Anupama planned an audiobook for kids by kids. “It will be the first audio book for children, by children,” says Anupama who plans to launch it on Children’s Day, November 14.

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Bengaluru-based Vidya Mani says that her travelling children’s book shop, Funky Rainbow has been all about curation. “Funky Rainbow has been all about curation,” says Bengaluru-based Vidya Mani, one of the founders of a travelling children’s book shop, which she co-founded nine years ago. The red bus with books travels to city schools and to social events. With a team of three, the outfit deals primarily with Indian children’s publishing.

Hear the story

  • BTB Talkies- Volume 1, an audiobook by children will be launched on November 14. With stories told by 10 kids and is meant for children in the age group 10 to 14. The stories are fictional and vary across genres like fantasy, thrillers, humour and about relationships. The book’s mini version will be listed on Spotify, Google Podcasts and Apple Podcasts. Published by Literoma Inc, the unabridged audiobook will be listed for sale through online store Literoma.

“From 350 books that we had started off with, we now have 9,500 books, all curated from a wonderful range of children’s books by Indian publishers,” says Vidya who co-founded the initiative nine years ago, popularised the concept, by taking it on wheels.

New vistas

One of the first to go online when COVID-19 struck, Vidya says they are reaping the benefits of this quick move. In May 2020, they began Book Buzzaar, a two-hour live programme every Saturday that kids and parents could watch for free on their YouTube channel and Facebook page. The move saw added 2,000 new clients and parents began approaching them with specific requirements, “like a humorous book for their child who enjoys humour, or a book that could help a child being bullied at school, handle the situation better.”

Some specific theme-based Buzzaars that Funky Rainbow hosted during the pandemic have been on picture books for young readers, books on environment, and on girl power focussing on feisty girl protagonists. The Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2021 recognised the Buzzaar as one of the innovative pandemic initiatives undertaken by an independent children’s bookstore from across the world.

“When a child sees him/herself in a book, it opens up a conversation,” concludes Vidya. who is assisted by Shyam Madhavan Sarada, a writer and illustrator, and Muthamma Devaya, an activist for disability rights who takes the programmes to schools

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