Over the last couple of years, our team at Pratham Books has been focussing on creating simple and engaging picture books that explore STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) concepts. There is a dearth of interesting information books for early readers in India - especially across Indian languages – and we have actively been trying to bridge that gap. Within two years, we have created around 300 multilingual STEM books (available for free on www.storyweaver.org.in), and also set up STEM libraries around the country.
Having had such a strong focus on STEM, we were delighted to be invited by The Asia Foundation to participate in their e-book hackathon in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which was aimed at creating openly-licensed STEM books in their local language. Like in India, there are very few children’s books in Cambodia that explore STEM topics imaginatively, and the hackathon was a step towards reducing that gap. Over two days (Aug 19-20, 2017), several local writers, illustrators and designers collaborated to make picture books that were centred around STEM topics. The ‘Let’s Read E-book Hackathon’ was also an attempt at identifying young professionals in the publishing sector, and nurturing their skills.
My role, as an editor from Pratham Books, was to offer editorial guidance over the 2-day event. I got the opportunity to discuss some of the key observations that we had made at Pratham Books while creating STEM-based picture books. In essence: what are the crucial things to bear in mind while creating STEM books for early readers, and what works. Here's what Melody Zavala (Director, Books for Asia) said about the hackathon, "The Asia Foundation uses 'e-book hackathons' to drastically reduce the time and resources needed to produce beautiful, illustrated children’s books on topics missing from the commercial market. We were thrilled to draw on Pratham Books’ experience with STEM titles. In Cambodia, only 3 percent of university students choose to study STEM subjects, according to the Ministry of Education, Youth & Sport. We hope this can be changed by stimulating interest at a young age through fun storybooks."
It was fascinating to watch writers and illustrators work so closely, constanly exchanging ideas and refining the narrative as they progressed. We watched as illustrators brought characters to life, developed storyboards along with their writers, and sketched eye-catching book covers. While the foundations of the book were being laid out, many fundamental questions were tossed around, which eventually helped each story evolve: Is the the title too revealing? Did the perspective of each illustration make sense? Is the illustration merely reflecting the text, or is there scope for additional detail?
Interacting with an enthusiastic group of writers, editors, illustrators and designers gave me plenty of time to reflect on the entire book-creation process, and I returned home feeling rather inspired and rejuvenated. Helping create simple and fun STEM books at Pratham Books has been both challenging and full of discovery, so it was gratifying to be able to share those experiences with others who are also trying to make reading more inclusive. It was also heartening to see some of the Pratham Books titles being distributed at the event and that too, in their local language! The Asia Foundation team had translated several of our titles into Khmer. As a multilingual publisher, nothing gives us more joy!
The 8 local-language books that were created during the 2-day Hackathon will soon be available for free on Let’s Read! - a digital platform that empowers underserved communities in Asia to build digital libraries in their own languages.
You can read more about the STEM hackathon here.
This post was written by Yamini, a Consultant Editor at Pratham Books who represented Pratham Books at the 'Let's Read! E-book Hackathon' in Cambodia.