STEM Books: What (We Think) Works

Posted by Yamini Vijayan on May 11, 2017

Since its inception, Pratham Books has published a range of picture books that explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) topics in interesting ways. But it is since 2015 that we have been doing this in a much more focussed manner. The main reason for this was the realization that there aren’t enough multilingual information books available for early readers in India. The fact that many children find science and math slightly daunting made this even more of an interesting challenge because we felt that we could help change this perception by creating fun, memorable books around STEM topics.

While we've been exploring a number of ways to introduce STEM topics to children, one of the biggest challenges has been to present information accurately, imaginatively and in a simple way without making it seem 'textbookish'. So it was essential that we paid attention to the narrative, plot and tone of each book so that children are drawn to it. 

Since we work extensively with children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, it is important that our books are relevant to these children. Conversations with partner organizations who work closely with these children reveal the need for simpler books as their reading fluencies are still developing. Bearing that in mind, our focus has been on creating simple books that encourage children to explore the world around them with an open mind, ask as many questions as they possibly can and find ways to apply their knowledge.

We continue to be keen to create STEM books, so we thought it might be interesting to highlight a few books that were created over the last couple of years, mainly as a way for us to reflect and share our learnings. So what worked?

Clarity of concept – An important aspect of a STEM book is its ability to demonstrate the concept clearly. I Spy! (by Samvida Venkatesh & Sandhya Prabhat) explains the concept of subtraction wonderfully - using play and humour.

Simplicity – Most of our conversations with our outreach partners lead us to the same conclusion: the need for simpler books that match the reading levels of the children we work with. Sunando Chakraborty’s Sniffles, a story about how flu spreads, is an excellent example of this. Also, we adore the central character of this book. Satya, Watch Out! is another good example of simplicity of narrative and plot.

Good storytellingJadav and the Tree-Place won the Best Digital Book award at the Publishing Next conference last year. This story – about forester Jadav 'Payeng' Molai - stood out for us as well mainly because it is an inspiring story narrated powerfully by Vinayak Varma.

Using humour – Rajiv Eipe’s Ammachi’s Amazing Machines has been a big hit with our readers for many reasons! But one reason for its popularity is the gentle humour that runs through the story, especially in the art. While it can be challenging to include humour in STEM books (imagine having done this in a story about simple machines!), we can tell you that it works wonders.

Seamlessly blending fiction and non-fiction – It isn’t easy to strike the right balance between fiction and fact, so we were delighted to publish A Butterfly Smile (by Mathangi Subramanian & Lavanya Naidu) which has managed to achieve this. In this, a girl who is new to the city shares her knowledge of butterflies with her classmates and also learns new facts about them. At the same time, it highlights migration due to environmental and economic reasons. Another story that managed to do this successfully is Dum Dum-a-Dum Biryani! (by Gayathri Tirthapura & Kabini Amin) which explores the fascinating relationship between math and cooking.

Widening the imagination – What better way to talk about this than directing you to How Far is Far? A book about distances, big numbers and measurement, Sukanya Sinha and Vishnu M Nair have created an exceptional math book which stays true to the core ideas of math: play and exploration.

Memorable characters – Being able to create characters that stick in our memory is an admirable skill. Including memorable characters naturally makes it easier for children to retain the concept and story. In that regard, some of our favourite characters are: the quirky grandmother from How Old is Muttajj? (by Roopa Pai & Kaveri Gopalakrishnan), the endearing gharial from Ghum-Ghum Gharial's Glorious Adventure (by Aparna Kapur & Roshan K), adventurous Arya from Arya in the Cockpit (by Nandita Jayaraj & Upamanyu Bhattacharyya) and the perpetually hungry Neema from Bijal Vachharajani and Priya Kuriyan's What's Neema Eating Today?.

Reinforcing the concept through activities – In the case of STEM books, it’s very helpful to have fun, practical activities at the end of the book. Children seem to enjoy this as it allows them to engage with the concept in a real way and not be passive consumers of information. A Butterfly Smile has a really fun activity at the end of the story. We’ve been told by teachers that How Old is Muttajji? was well received because children enjoyed the interactive nature of the narrative which challenged them to think, much like solving a puzzle.

Pure non-fiction – Although we haven’t done much in terms of straightforward non-fiction, we are beginning to see the massive potential of this. The only reason we didn’t do much of this is for the fear of seeming ‘textbookish’. But the response to books like How Does Toothpaste Get Into the Tube? (by Veena Prasad & Rajiv Eipe) has made us realize that we should look at publishing more of these. This book has certainly done well in choosing the right question – a question that is likely to baffle us, and one that doesn’t have very obvious answers.

Ability to relate – Some of the stories that children have quickly taken to are the ones that they find easy to relate to. For instance, One by Two (by Maya Bisineer & Shreya Sen) which is essentially about division but involves a lot of food sharing which is familiar to most of us.

Fascinating topics – Very often, finding a theme that is of interest to children is half the battle. Of course, this is an old trick! But, it’s a useful one – especially for STEM stories. Just last year, we commissioned Gul in Space (by Richa Jha & Lavanya Karthik) and Kaakaasaurus (by Shalini Srinivasan & Prabha Mallya) because... well, space and dinosaurs!

Good for Read Aloud – We decided to include this point only because we find that a lot of our books are read aloud in schools. So it’s always wonderful to have STEM stories that are fun to read aloud. A perfect example of this is Anupama Ajinkya Apte's Gulli’s Box of Things - a STEM book we published a few years ago (in print). 

All the STEM books that are mentioned here are available for free on StoryWeaver in English, Hindi, Marathi, Kannada and Tamil.

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Stories for 2017: 10 Themes for a Happy New Year!

Posted by Sherein Bansal on January 06, 2017

‘If you’re skilled at something, don’t give it away for free’ is a piece of advice that we heard so many times growing up, that just the fact that a thing called CC BY License even exists seems absurd and foolish by today’s standards. But that’s what Pratham Books' 1.5 year old digital platform StoryWeaver, all its illustrators, authors as well as translators believe in – free dissemination of our books in order to achieve our ultimate goal: ‘A book in every child’s hand’. In 2016, with 5326 stories uploaded on StoryWeaver, 25 languages added, and 1,19,132 new visitors (A warm hello to you all!), we feel truly grateful. It is indeed a Happy New Year for the StoryWeaver family. So we would like to express our heartfelt New Year wishes to you all in the best way we know. By highlighting here just 10 of our books that speak of themes that currently are, and will remain, points of discussion and action in 2017.

 

Environment 

Chipko Takes Root written and illustrated by Jeyanthi Manokaran

We seriously need to drop the act that we are gracious hosts to nature, and are ‘allowing’ it to be. It’s the other way round. With some people claiming proudly that global warming is not real, and regressive environmental policies being made all over the world, it’s important to keep talking about conserving nature. Here’s a story about one of the bravest fights in India that made Chipko Movement a force to reckon with.

 

Technology

Bonda and Devi by Roopa Pai and Jit Chowdhury

Any one of us who successfully evaded technology as much as they could before, now must make their peace with it in this digital economy. We don’t know where technology will take us in 2017, but we know where it might reach in 2080! Read about this futuristic tale about two very unlikely friends. Maybe we can be friends with technology too, just like Devi in this story? Available in 9 more languages!

 

Education 

Counting on Moru by Rukmini Banerji and Nina Sabnani

It’s a failure of our education system for not recognizing students as individuals and keeping them at a ‘uniform’ pace of comprehension with each other. This moving story in Hindi, Kannada, Odia and Marathi, talks about how how easy it is to lose your spark when you're a student under the wrong teacher and regain it with the right one.

 

Community Activism 

Wildlife in a City Pond by Ashish Kothari and Sangeetha Kadur

When the good ones are silent, the misguided will shout and reign. Be the first voice to speak up against loss of beauty and justice. Here’s a story that flows like a poem and builds up your love for something that this neighborhood derives so much peace and wisdom from that you will want to protect it yourself.

 

Sports 

Dhyan Singh ‘Chand’: Hockey’s Magician by Dilip D'Souza and Mohit Suneja

Let’s, for once, not talk about Hockey with a sense of guilt at not having given it too much traction in life. Let’s just read this story about Dhyan Chand- one of the best things to have happened to Hockey and one of the worst that happened to Hitler. Win, win all the way and yet he stayed humbly devoted to the sport all his life. A man worth knowing about, he will teach you the true meaning of sportsmanship spirit.

 

Humour 

Yes, humour is indeed an important point of discussion. And more importantly, action. 2016 clearly needed a hug, and some jokes. So we are better prepared this time for 2017 with our fun story – Phani's Funny Chappals by Sridala Swami and Sanjay Sarkar, and our Spotathon entry Messy Miss Mitaby Jisha Unnikrishnan.

 

Art 

Dastkari Haat Samiti Books

Travelling inwards is just as important as travelling outwards. We need art now more than ever to connect with an ever-expanding world, and to convey our strongest messages and passions with more ease and solidarity. Experience beauty, talent and magic all woven, embroidered and sculpted together in our Dastkari Haat Books.

 

Health 

Gargi and Soapy by Preethi Unnithan and Sorit Gupto

Physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health. Let’s make a new year resolution to take care of it all. Here’s a story by our SW community member about a world where a soap called Soapy will fight the evil germs and restore balance and health!

 

Diversity 

Why is Nita Upside Down? By Roxana Bouwer and Sarah Bouwer

Dismissed someone lately or ridiculed someone in your mind (because doing it to their face would be politically incorrect) just because they did not look, talk or well… live, like you do? This one’s for you then. Let’s look at how a child sees a playground, and let’s compel ourselves to look at people and accept them the way they are in this judgment-reflexed world.

Family 

وصیت by Anis Azmi and Juhi Agarwal

There are all kinds of families. But as this Urdu story shows, not one can function without mutual trust and respect - Values that can make 2017 better for everyone. Ride a camel to Egypt and pay a visit to this family? Let’s go.

 

Which theme concerns you the most as we step into a new year? Tell us in the comments, or on Twitter and Facebook.

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Rooted in Our Stories!

Posted by Sherein Bansal on July 08, 2016

Nature’s shining green umbrellas, those green canopies with sprinkles of fragrant flowers and fruits, TREES are such magnificent things. Though rooted to the spot, just one of them can liven up an entire desolate road. Swing from them, play and sleep under them or just sit and study them, trees will always make time and space for you. Nature seems to be giving trees special attention these days...so we should too, right? Here are a few that we picked from our flowering array of stories available in varied languages.

 A Walk Among Trees written and illustrated by Nimret Handa

The king’s head gardener is panicked and scolding all his helpers! What could this royal head gardener have to worry about? Take a fun stroll through the King’s gardens and his beloved trees and find out who the king of fruits is... and why. We bet all these tree illustrations will make you fruit-hungry immediately! This story has been translated in Hindi, Kannada and Telegu.

Up World, Down World by Padmaparna Ghosh, Illustrated by Sunaina Coelho

We often have these invisible boundaries around us in which we like to keep our worlds all sewn up and intact. Imagine what can happen if we pull some threads loose and allow Our World to spill out into the one we have been told not to venture into, and let some of the Other World seep into our lives? Be brave! And read this remarkable and beautifully-illustrated story of how a little girl, Fatima, found an unlikely friend in Gopa, a dormouse! Wonderful things happen when two worlds meet. This gem is translated in 9 languages including Hindi and Bengali.

Let’s Go Seed Collecting! by Neha Sumitran, Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan

Don’t you just love it when knowledge makes its way to you effortlessly? A great story with fascinating illustrations, this will help kids observe and learn from the tiniest detail of everyday landscapes, appreciate nature in its full glory, learn to be curious, and to seize the opportunity to spend time with a talking tree! Konkani and Marathi are two of the 10 languages in which this story is available in. Enjoy!

Jadav and the Tree-Place written and illustrated by Vinayak Varma

Ever heard of Jadav "Molai" Payeng? He has been planting trees for three decades now. This heart-warming story is dedicated to the undying spirit of a man who was so moved by the plight of snakes dying from heat that he decided to plant some bamboos to give them some shade. What this simple idea grew into... is incredible and an inspiration. Here’s another role model for your kids. We have this story in 11 languages including Odia and Tamil.

We love to see readers like you pitching in! Here’s a pick of three Community Stories where trees branch out in some form or the other:

Deepa’s Resolution by Usha Ayyar

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Nelson Henderson’s words are even more relevant now! Read this simple story to your kids and see what they take from it.

Asha Gives up a Bad Habit by Geetha Ravi

Here’s an innovative way to make your child quit that bad, bad habit that you’ve been trying so, so hard to get rid of. Asha learnt two things in this story – How to give up a bad habit (Let’s face it, we all can use some help on that front), and to appreciate the impact trees have on us every minute. This story’s clearly a two-pronged winner.

Mango Tango by Reshma Jannath

This will remind you of all the innocent times as a kid when you thought that if you sow a seed, its plant would start growing tall the very next day! Nayana and Zia love mangoes, so they decide to plant a mango tree. What they didn’t take into account was all the friendly elements that will come together to help out the little seed. A Malayalam translation of this story is available here!

Do you have a favourite tree story? Tell us what it is in the comments section below, on Twitter or Facebook

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