SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The What/How/Where of locating Children's Books!!

Have you read a tasteless book? Have you seen one?
No, I don’t mean the books that are meant to be trashy and have only one running theme through them. I don’t mean those…
My blood boils when I see a book which is meant for the discerning audience, but is fit for the kabadiwallah. They are disguised as books for children and come in many tasteless shapes, colors, fonts and themes.
This new trend of bringing mythological characters in their primitive childhood form and cavorting them around our gullible and impressionable children is most irritating.
As they devour characters like Chota Bheem and Chota Birbal on screen, this is further supplemented by books which come with names like “Chota B and the Smelly Mountain Rakshas!!”
Have you read such books…??
I may seem like a snob, but excuse me, isn’t the minimum requirement for a story, especially children’s story; a Story Line??!!

Then there are some books, which hide behind titles that have been around for a thousand years. Like the Arabian Night Stories, Bedtime Stories, etc. There are original books available no doubt, but if you are not careful, then cheap imitations can land up in your bookshelf. Again, I writhe in agony when I read such tasteless stories, and come away thinking, the people who actually print these books must be perverts.
There is no language/grammar in these books, no story and when you come to the end, it leaves you wondering…“what is the point?”
Now if you are wondering, if I am such a connoisseur of books then why I buy them?
I don’t.
A couple of such books that have landed on my children’s bookshelf were actually given by the school!! This made me wonder whether they sent the illiterate peon to buy it. I am sure that was the case…

Children want variety. Even if they like to go back and read the same story, or hear the same story, they still would like different stories every day. So that is a tall order for the “Primary Storyteller!”
Initially children love to hear the story, but by and by they want pictures, and with multi media playing such an important role in enhancing multi sensorial learning, oral storytellers have to become very creative...

What To Buy?
Western story books, for those who can afford them in hard bound, are a plenty in all bookshops. Not only classics, but the little ones can now enjoy many books from Scholastic like Clifford, and Thomas the Steam Engine (to mention a bare minimum).
Enid Blyton’s Noddy series is, you know, an all time favorite! I enjoy reading and telling stories from the Bernstein Bear series. They are immensely enjoyable; the content very child specific and relevant, usually dealing with difficulties, challenges, or fun that a 5year old faces (though here the brother and sister duo are bears!).
You also have Dora books, Blue’s Clues, Dragon Tales, and racks and racks of such colorful, entertaining and enjoyable books. An interesting point here is that as a storyteller, I used to get requests to include one story from these books in order to “attract” clientèle at libraries!!
Yet, as far as story content is concerned I vote for Indian authors and children’s books published by CBT, which is the Children’s Book Trust, and NBT or the National Book Trust. Some amazingly creative stories and ideas!
NBT holds annual short story competitions and the winners get their stories published with the art work and credits. Asha Nehemiah is quite a winner, and her stories are simple, funny and very readable.
The advantages in picking up these books are plenty; they are affordable, especially when one requires a collection to choose from, depending on the age, mood and interest of your audience. I say go for these books, any day!
Tulika publications too have some very creative books on their shelf, but a trifle on the expensive side. But if you are looking at gifts for your favorite niece/nephew, then these books are definitely worth it.

Books with audio cassettes were my children’s favorite while growing up but very young children love the feel and touch books available in big shops nowadays. My advice would be to buy these hard bound books, use them and then keep them in circulation by passing them onto loved ones and their kids. This way you will be free from the guilt of having spent so much on books that were hardly used for more than a year (children graduate very fast!).

What not to Buy?
Never buy books that say “Collection of Short Stories”, unless you have personally read the authors’ other works. Ruskin Bond is fine, so is Roald Dahl, but unfortunately some such collections that I have picked up are not up to the mark.

Where and When to Buy?
(Providing you want to buy and are not already members of libraries, so you want to skip this part …!)
Buying books for kids is an art. Just as the intrepid shopoholic waits for the month end/year end sale, so also the bibliophile needs to keep a hawk’s eye for the ubiquitous book sale.
Book shops have clearance sales…grab them! Look out especially for the crates of children’s books, which are usually kept, at the entrance/ the far end of the room. Most of these piles, have loads and loads of books that would otherwise be way too expensive.

Book fairs are fantastic places to get great deals on books. Some stalls have used books shipped from other countries but which are still in excellent condition and affordable. I usually grab a minimum of 10 of these!!

Second hand book shops are good. But one must look carefully through the books for damage. Sometimes we can be mislead by the hard bound cover, the pages inside may be old and yellowing, and so you land up possessing a book on its death bed!

Nowadays push carts full of pirated books are available. Avoid them if possible. Sometimes when you are desperate for a book, especially if you are traveling by train and need some sustenance for the journey, then you can pick up an Adiga or Arundhathi in their pirated version, but otherwise avoid it at all costs. It is a sad business, I say! If required you can actually pick up a Tinkle from these chaps and while away your journey time…

I may have digressed here and there, sometimes talking about children’s books, sometimes adults, but you see books are my passion next to Storytelling, and the two are inexorably intertwined. I will continue my ramblings on finding books and stories in my next edition, with inputs on how to look for stories on the internet….


  1. strongly agree that there should be some standards.

    there used to be a leo(?) publications- the same group that used to print thin books for grammer such as books of idioms etc. they publish autobiographies, simple language but accurate information. At times I would even suggest chandra publications, they provide simpler versions of the classics...invariably motivates us to read the original.

    I still love the amar chitra katha's collection...the newer versions have a choice between comics and printed stories.

  2. hey very good to know. most helpful. thanks di

  3. good one!! there's also one more publication which is good..Appu Publications.. they are a bangalore based firm, and aer not available all that easil;y, but their Ramayana for small kids is just great... one big pic on a page with just one libe under it... my son loves it..

  4. i hope ur getting paid to mention all those publishers names !!! :))

  5. i hope ur getting paid to mention all those publishers names !!! :))

  6. Hi, I came here thro and loved your article. Well written. will come back for more.

  7. One truly outstanding book, and I do not use the term lightly, is Graeme Base's ANIMALIA.

    If your child hasn't seen it, he/she has missed something. Heck, if *you* haven't seen this book, you've missed something.

    I am deeply grateful to my husband's cousin Babu who introduced my daughter to this book. It is sheer magic.

    - Deepa