How to make storybooks in your Mother Tongue: a user writes for us

Posted by Remya Padmadas on February 20, 2017

Saurashtra is a language spoken by a group that migrated from Gujarat two centuries ago to cities like Madurai, Chennai and Tanjore. The script for this language is no longer in use and while it does follow the Devanagiri system, many native speakers cannot read Hindi. The only languages available to write Saurashtram are English and Tamil. Pavithra Solai Jawahar asked us to add her mother language Saurasthra and has been busy translating stories and creating a book of rhymes in the language. 

In recent times, I found myself to be very jealous of people who speak Indian languages like Tamil and Gujarati. The reason: There were these lovely publishers in India, who were bringing out beautiful books in regional languages for children and young adults. But there were none in my language, my mother tongue, Saurashtra. Belonging to a group of linguistic minorities, I believe when your language has a very limited literature for children, it is an injustice done both to the language and the children who miss out reading books in their mother tongue. And when you read in your mother tongue, you also take pride in your heritage. A sense of belonging, you can’t find elsewhere.

That’s why I started to translate children stories into Saurashtra. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Pratham Books StoryWeaver. They graciously added Saurashtra onto the platform as a part of their Freedom to Read campaign.

There is something about a child’s imagination. You can never put a lid on it. It is unparalleled in a way, you and I, can’t imagine. So when I started to translate my first story, it was this fear that took over me. Will I do justice to this pure, boundless imagination of the child reading it? Also, Saurashtra is a dialect. A language whose script is in disuse. And so, I had to resort to transliterating Saurashtra into English. A language which would be easier to read for the children to read.

I have translated two books, as of now.


(Click on the above links to read these stories)

I have also created a “rhymes” book in Saurashtra, using illustrations from StoryWeaver. You can can read it here.

Now that I am able to create online story books in Saurashtra, my next challenge is to spread the word about it. And that’s where I discovered the  next tricky thing about my mother tongue. Saurashtra has several regional variances, that my transliteration couldn’t cover. (The variation of Saurashtra I speak is different from my dad’s. Yes, that’s how it is!) I am in the process of getting inputs from the Saurashtra community, on how best this can be handled. Also, I now realise, that I should print these translations as physical books which can help engage children with the language better. You can expect more Saurashtra storybooks from me and if you know of any Saurashtrians or if you are one (Avo, avo!), please do share these books and spread the word.

You love your mother tongue. Let it live! :)

Pssst: Since you have read the whole blog, here is another interesting story book, I created with my spouse, for our nephew. It was about a certain SpaceBoy who jumps to the moon to dance with a dinosaur!

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The Asia Foundation is an international nonprofit that helps societies work towards a peaceful, just, and thriving region, and currently works to improve the standard of living across Asia, from Sri Lanka to Mongolia. Improving literacy levels is integral to the work the organisation does, and they have spearheaded a number of programmes across the region to this end.

One such initiative is Let’s Read!  which pledges to provide storybooks to children across the continent. “Through technology initiatives and book donations, we help infuse students with a love of reading essential for literacy,” says Melody Zavala, director of the Books for Asia program at The Asia Foundation.

As part their Let’s Read! campaign, The Asia Foundation has created e-libraries that are accessible on any device. "The e-library works in low-bandwidth environments and doesn't require an active internet connection for reading and hence are able to reach children even in areas with poor bandwidth and infrastructure. Books available are in the mother tongue languages of the children. “We know that children learn first and best in their mother tongue. So we want to make local publications available to more children and stimulate their imagination in ways that can only be possible in a local context,” commented Melody.

To provide a wide range of these books, The Asia Foundation used the vast collection of stories available on StoryWeaver. “The translate tool on StoryWeaver attracted us, as once a language (e.g. Thai) is available on the platform, we can get stories translated and provide a large number of quality children’s literature to our partner schools,” shared Melody.

Being able to draw on StoryWeaver titles has been invaluable to the Let’s Read! initiative, shares Melody. The initiative incubates innovative digital, print, and community-based solutions to "improving access to high-quality children’s books in mother tongues and national languages and currently consists of integrated e-book library, translation, and content creation projects.

Stories in Khmer

“So far, we’ve translated 9  titles into Khmer which are all available on StoryWeaver.  The stories are also available on our Cambodia project site, along with new stories created in Khmer by local authors and illustrators during our e-book hackathons." informed Melody. "In Cambodia the  Ministry of Education’s online education portal will also link to these stories, hence making them available to their 1.5 million followers. he stories will also be made to other Khmer educational apps and projects, including Khmer LEARN, which has 38,000 users, and the Library For All app, which is used in 5 rural schools  

Increasing content in ethnic minority languages

In Thailand, StoryWeaver content will be translated as a part of the Let’s Read initiative there that utilizes a suite of integrated smartphone apps – a translation tool and free story reader app  - to increase content in ethnic minority languages.  A Let’s Read! translation workshop  took place in Chiangmai, Thailand where 10 Pratham Books titles from StoryWeaver were translated from Thai into S’gaw Karen. The programme will initially be implemented in 10 villages and positively impact 1,000 children.  S'gaw Karen is spoken by over four million S'gaw Karen people in Burma, and 200,000 in Thailand. The Asia Foundation will be using their own Thai translations on StoryWeaver to create joyful reading material in S'gaw Karen. Content translation for programmes in Bangladesh has also been initiated."


Participants at the ChiangMai workshop. Images courtesy Kyle Barker, The Asia Foundation.

You can read the Khmer translations uploaded by The Asia Foundation here. Keep following us on twitter for more updates about our work with them. 

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Happy International Mother Language Day!

Posted by Remya Padmadas on February 22, 2017

Today (February 21, 2017) is International Mother Language Day,  a worldwide, annual observance to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.  It also marks the close of ‘Freedom to Read’: StoryWeaver's campaign through which we pledged to help create stories in 15 new languages for children to read and enjoy in their mother tongue languages.  

As a report on mother tongue literacy from UNESCO reaffirmed “children should be taught in a language they understand, yet as much as 40% of the global population does not have access to education in a language they speak or understand”.

Suzanne Singh, Chairperson Pratham Books says, “Mother tongue literacy has a very important role to play in the overall development of a child. And stories in mother tongue languages help children introduce new words and ideas into a child’s world and expand the boundaries of their minds. The ‘Freedom to Read’ campaign was our effort to make many more stories available in languages that are underserved and underrepresented in the mainstream ”.

Languages from around the world

Through the Freedom to Read campaign, we have helped community users, translators and NGOs add stories in 13 new languages in the last 6 months. These languages represent the linguistic diversity of the world: from tribal languages to endangered languages to the mainstream.


Not-for-profits like The Rosetta Foundation and Translators Without Borders have helped us further our campaign mission with translation support. Eminent linguists like Dr. Ganesh Devy, scholars such as Professor Sukantha Chaudhry and book champions like Sujata Noronha and Jaya Bhattacharji Rose have been instrumental in helping identify languages in need of joyful stories for children.

Community crusaders 

The success of our Freedom to Read campaign wouldn't have been possible without our amazing community! Here are some of their inspiring stories. 

Jèrriais  a Norman language spoken in Jersey, off the coast of France has been in decline over the past century. Anthony Scott Warren, one of the few Jerriais teachers left in the region  discovered StoryWeaver through the All Children Reading Website, and requested that we add this ‘threatened’ language to the platform. Read more about how he and his colleagues plan to use StoryWeaver to teach the next generation Jerriais.

Muhamadreza Bahadur reached out to us to add Kurdish which is categorised as ‘an endangered language’ to StoryWeaver. Muhamadreza shared that he was keen to translate children’s stories to the language for two main purposes; promoting literacy in the languages among Kurdish children, and second, to help populate and enrich the corpus of literature in the language. Kurdish is available in both the Arabic and Latin script and 21 stories have been translated.

Saurashtra is a language spoken by a group that migrated from Gujarat two centuries ago to cities like Madurai, Chennai and Tanjore. The script for this language is no longer in use and while it does follow the Devanagiri system, many native speakers cannot read Hindi. The only languages available to write Saurashtram are English and Tamil.” wrote Pavithra Solai Jowahar who asked us to add her mother language and has been busy translating stories and creating a book of rhymes in the languages. Read her story here.

Gnanaharsha Beligatamulla was searching the internet for stories to read to his child when he stumbled across StoryWeaver. “I really enjoyed reading the stories and the platform inspired me to want to translate stories to Sinhala for my daughter. If other parents can use the stories too that would be wonderful!” 

Rebeka Gemeinder’s mother tongue is Swiss German (Alemannisch), a language spoken in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein. Unfortunately the language gets lost more and more everyday as she writes in a blog post for us.  Read it here.

Amelia Bonea  is a historian based at the University of Oxford. Originally from Romania, she has lived and worked in Japan, Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom. When not engaged in academic research, she likes to read and translate children’s literature, most recently on StoryWeaver. Read Amelia's lovely blog post on mother languages, here.   

Maharani Aulia has been one of our most prolific Indonesian translators. An author of children’s stories and non-fiction work, Maharani has written biographies and contributed to anthologies. She has also translated more than 110 children and young adult books from English into Indonesian.Her passion for children’s picture books, and dream of writing one lead her to Pratham Books StoryWeaver. “At first I just downloaded stories in English to learn. But my friend told me that we can also translate stories into our language. So, I translated one story and found I couldn’t stop because I wanted more stories on StoryWeaver to be read by Indonesians, especially children.” Maharani believes that India and Indonesia are similar. “The two countries are multicultural, have many interesting stories that should be spread and shared. So, I will still translate stories on your website. Maybe someday I will contribute with my original stories.”

In the classroom

Here are just a few of the ways in which educators, not-for-profits, librarians and language lovers are using StoryWeaver in the classroom.

Pragat Shikshan Sanstha works with 150 Zilla Parishad in the Phaltan district of Maharashtra where where they have set up community libraries. Volunteers from the community are appointed as coordinators for each library where they facilitate reading, conduct storytelling sessions and activities around the stories. All these libraries have one tablet and a small projector attached to it through which stories are projected. Pragat Shiksha Sanstha regularly downloads Marathi stories from StoryWeaver, puts them on pendrives which are then passed on to the 150 schools. The teachers project the stories via the tablet and the projector and conduct storytelling sessions.  Over 10000 children are impacted through this project.

Professor Sukantha Chaudhry, an eminent scholar and respected translator extended his supporter to our campaign. “I was so taken with the concept of StoryWeaver that I experimented in downloading and sharing some of the Bengali stories to  children in rural state schools. The students were from underserved backgrounds and often first generation learners.” Professor Chaudhry visited a few in schools in South Dinajpur district and in Birbhum district. “The response is overwhelming -- the children love the stories, in the utterly novel on screen digital format (which they are often seeing for the first time in their lives) and respond articulately with great enthusiasm. Their teachers indicated that it was certainly helping them hone their reading skills and, more importantly, acquire a love of reading.” Professor Chaudhry is working on a plan to make such offline reading sessions a regular practice in schools across the state of West Bengal through active teachers' networks.

Taking stories to children around the world

As all content on StoryWeaver is openly licensed, many organisations around the world have discovered, adapted, translated and used content from the platform. Little Thinking Minds has created the first ever online reading platform to advance Arabic literacy in schools. Read how they are using StoryWeaver, by clicking here.

The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program is selecting and adapting content from StoryWeaver’s collection of children’s books for local language e-book initiatives. Read more about their work here.

A big, big, thank you to our amazing community across the world who have translated and created stories and shared them with children. See you soon on! Here's to more stories in more languages for more children to enjoy! If you'd like to translate stories in your mother tongue, and can't find it on StoryWeaver write to us at [email protected] and we'll add it!   

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