Spreading the net to find new writing talent

Posted by Remya Padmadas on May 23, 2018

In the last year Pratham Books’ StoryWeaver platform has scaled up its offering of joyful multilingual books for children. One of our content streams headed by Bijal Vachharajani is creating 50 brand new books every year. “It's a tall task, one as gigantic as Hagrid!” shared the Potterhead. “Conversations with Outreach partners told us that we needed more engaging level 1 picture books to take to the youngest children. We also wanted to find new writers to work with.”

The editorial team was wondering how they could reach out to new authors who could write Level 1 picture books that used sound and action, which are always popular with young readers and educators alike. That's when wedecided to reach out to the children's theatre community. After all, who better to collaborate with than professionals who have spent much of their career writing, directing and acting in plays for children?

The venue for the workshop was the wonderful Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai.

Pratham Books Editor Shinibali Mitra Saigal, one of the founders of Kahani Karnival, reached out to her extensive network of writers in theatre. She also stepped in to curate the workshop.

“I think it's important to spread the net when trying to catch new writing talent. By focusing our attention on people with a specialised set of skills, and then guide them to picture book creating, we can make books that use their skills. In this case, it was a strong connection to what children find exciting and a good sense of sound, action, dialogue and dynamic storytelling” said Shinibali who kept in mind diverse skill-sets and an ability to accept feedback and change when choosing particpants. Shinibali’s handpicked group included a perfect blend of people like Sananda, Timira and Preeti who had created plays and scripts in schools for years and who were also very well-versed with picture books.

Authors like Neha Singh and Chatura Rao (winner of the The Hindu Good Books Best Picture Books award 2018) and playwrights like Akshat Nigam who recently won the Hindu best playwright award along with a colleague. Much loved theatre group Gillo Gilehri was represented by Janit and Yashoda. Actor and theatre instructor Lovleen Misra who has a rich background in theatre and television brought her own unique flavour to sessions. Bilingual Shawn Lewis is a strong believer in the idea that sounds rule a script while Shivani Tibrewal who has been teaching children to create scripts and plays loves the idea of whimsy.

Author Chatura Rao was keen to attend the workshop as  “Workshops like this help a lot in peer-exchange of ideas.”

Over one-and-a-half days, in the leafy environs of Bhau Daji Lad Museum, a team comprising of Bijal, Shinibali and Assistant Editor Aparna Kapur deconstructed picture books for the participants of the workshop and played games to understand ideas of children's narrative. One of the activities asked the group to split into teams and prioritise what they felt was important in a picture book, using chits of paper that had pre-written statements like ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ and ‘Picture books should not talk about death, depression and sex’. The teams then had to explain why they chose to order the statements as they had.

Participants talk about writing for children:



The workshop also had the privilege of hosting two amazing picture book creators: prolific author Natasha Sharma and illustrator Tanvi Bhat dropped in to talk to the participants about the finer nuances of writing and illustrating picture books.

“The idea to invite Natasha Sharma for the workshop was very clear. Natasha has written a bunch of books for children which elicit a great deal of excitement and joy. Having attending a number of her sessions, I have seen the queries and the laughter elicited by her books.” said Shinibali. “During her session Natasha took all the participants through the creation of a book. She shared her process and was honest about the things that have worked and have not. She also spoke about how she has evolved as a picture book writer over the years. She stressed on the importance of  brevity and cautioned writers against running away with words, and letting the illustrations do the talking. I think that was a very illuminating point for most first-time writers.”

As playwrights, the participants understood the writing process but many of them didn't know what happened to their story once they had written in. Tanvi’s session then looked at the same process of creating books for children but through the lens of an illustrator.

”While making picture books, writers and illustrators are co-creators, so getting an illustrator to talk to the participants was essential. In addition to explaining her own process, Tanvi went into the details of how an illustrator would approach a project in circumstances in which she's involved from the beginning versus one where she receives a complete manuscript, how an illustrator deals with detailed visual notes from the author versus none at all.” Aparna  shared.

Tanvi answered the writer’s questions on how involved writers could and should be during this part of book creation, how much of their characters' final look they could imagine, and how the text sometimes has to change  once the illustrations are done.

Writing time

Before the workshop began, all the participants were sent a list of themes and ideas to think of potential story ideas around. Post lunch on day 1, the writers shared their story ideas with the group and editors. Their homework for the evening was to take on board the feedback they’d received and write a first draft.

Lovleen Misra’s poetry had the group laughing and sighing in equal measure.

Day two started with each participant taking their first draft to an editor for a one-on-one feedback session. This soon morphed into a freewheeling discussion with small groups sitting under the trees that are spread across Bhau Daji Lad Museum’s courtyard.

Hello Kids!

Sure the writing was great, the coffee was good and the lunch was amazing - but the real highlight of the workshop was when the kids arrived! One hundred feisty, energy-filled kindergarteners from the Sai Baba Path School, Parel brightened up the afternoon with their presence. The kids were there to listen to the authors narrate their ideas which was the real litmus test for their work! Each author took on a group of students, and regaled them with songs, activities and of course, stories!

The workshop wound up with a quick recap of what would happen next, before we bid adieu to the writers, excited about the prospect of fresh stories arriving in our inboxes!

Aparna admitted that her initial apprehensions about the workshop had disappeared. “I was tentative about the workshop because it was the first time we were experimenting with such a format. But at the end of the two days, I was delighted! We'd met a group of people, both smart and humble. They were keen to learn a new skill, and understood what children enjoy, better than most people do.”

“We managed to bring together a bunch of whimsical, creative and slightly off-kilter people who love children and get them to create words\ideas that children will love.” said Shinibali.

We’ve been receiving scripts every day and are confident that we have some real winners on our hands.

Here's a quick look at what happened over the two day workshop.



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Aparna Kapur, Assistant Editor, Pratham Books recalls our recent writing workshop with conservationists and research scholars at the Nature Conservation Foundation, India.

I’m less than two months old in Pratham Books and have heard all about the various writing, translating, outreach workshops conducted by the team. So when I was asked if I wanted to tag along to a workshop about making Level 1 and Level 2 picture books, I was keen to observe and said yes immediately. Of course, the luxury of silent observing was not given to me and I was assigned an activity to conduct. Trying to create an illusion of choice, I happily agreed.

The workshop was being conducted for the members of the Nature Conservation Foundation. The NCF office is located on a quiet street that’s lined with trees, and when we walked in we were immediately met with the bustle of breakfast time. We were then ushered into a room, which would soon contain eleven workshop participants and four workshop conductors. Once we figured out the logistics of seating (the view was beautiful but the room was snug) and the mechanics of projecting (acquiring the right wire), we were ready!

As way of introduction, we went around the room telling everyone who our favourite children’s book character is, which is how I think we all should introduce ourselves from now on.

Then we talked about Pratham Books and picture books, and read out some titles from StoryWeaver. This was followed by a quick tour of the StoryWeaver website where we showed them how to browse the site, search for images and create books. The NCF folk were involved and enthusiastic.

This was followed by a coffee break where everyone got to enjoy the generous collection of picture books that Bijal Vachharajani, Consultant Editor, Pratham Books had brought along. After coffee, we divided the eleven of them into groups for the first activity. Each group was given a list of rules for making a picture book, and had to arrange them in the order they considered most important. This led to some fascinating debates about the balance of text and images, the necessity of morals and optimism, and the need for rhythm and rhyme.

After that we told the groups to come up with a simple story based on eight random pictures. We had delightedly strung an outlandish sequence of pictures the previous day, and this served as their framework. Each time we moved to the next picture, the teams let out a groan and we smiled in (evil) satisfaction. The three stories we got at the end of it, however, were amusing and coherent. That’s when I realised that each of these eleven people had a knack for storytelling!

My realisation was confirmed when we they began to think of ideas. Considering their work, we did expect interesting environmental themes. But we were an excited group of editors when their pitches included carnivorous plants, geckos, and misunderstood wolves!

After a well-earned lunch, we all went back to work. And by all, I mean the NCF people worked on the drafts of their stories while we sat like invigilators, reading their drafts and occasionally helping them find their way out of tricky spots in their manuscripts.

Finally, everyone read out their stories. Some employees who were not attending the workshop had given us explicit instructions to invite them for the idea-sharing and storytelling part of the workshop. They ended up being a participative and enthusiastic audience. We trust that this workshop gave the NCF team a foundation on which they will go on to write many many picture books. In return they gave us some fantastic ideas and superb stories!

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Meet the finalists of Retell, Remix and Rejoice 2017!

Posted by Remya Padmadas on July 10, 2017


The result for Pratham Books’ Retell, Remix and Rejoice contest 2017 is finally here! A big thank you to all the participants for taking part, and being super patient with us as the judges read through each of your wonderful stories.

This year, Retell, Remix and Rejoice was in a slightly different avatar as we asked our community to weave level 1 and 2 stories around certain themes. We received 66 entries: 39 in English, 26 in Hindi and 1 Tamil story. This was the most number of Hindi stories we ever received for the contest.

Drum roll please

And now, on to the results! This year, we have 3 winning finalists:

Each finalist will receive a gift hamper of books from Pratham Books and will get one hour with a Pratham Books editor, who will share their editorial feedback on the story. One final story will then be chosen for re-illustration.

Meet the judges

Rajesh Khar is a senior editor at Pratham Books. Through these years, he has not only edited and translated books but also coordinated lit fests like Bookaroo, JLF, Samanvay, New Delhi World Book Fairs and joined hands with organisations like Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, CBSE, NEOR by NCERT and a host of non-profits. He has been supervising books in many Northern & Eastern Indian languages and also have had opportunity to be a part of the Adikahaani Series and the Urdu programme. His interests are music, classical performing arts, casual writing, theater and film making. He loves spending time with children and young people and basically has a lot of fun in whatever he does.

This is what Rajesh had to say about the entries this year: “I enjoyed reading all the stories very much and while reading the thoughts that came into my mind were a mixed lot - sometimes those of pleasure, at times a little sadness. Why sadness? Well, in some of the stories I wished that the authors had sustained that creative energy till the last word. Animal Symphony was a lovely story that highlighted the need to provide children ample opportunities to bond with nature alone.  My Grandma Has a Tail and Toot'ta Tara both displayed out-of-the-box thinking and creativity. Joy, happiness and love together make every childhood memorable and create individual secure little universes. This subconsciously builds the foundations for a happy and healthy future life. I was happily reminded of this while reading A Special Journey.”

Our second judge, Kanchan Banerjee is a Managing Trustee of Akshara Foundation where she develops strategy and designs learning material. She founded Jyoshika, an NGO which works for the enrichments of children's learning in their early years. She enjoys writing for children. Under a UNICEF projects she developed graded readers in Kannada for children in Karnataka and in Hindi for children in Chattisgarh. She had this to say about the entries received this year:  “It was delightful to read a variety of imaginative entries. Truly, writers can fire the creativity of young children and move them to a different space away from moralizing.”

Congratulations to the winners. You’ll be hearing from us shortly about your one on one session with a Pratham Books editor.

Read all the Retell, Remix and Rejoice entries.

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