Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Asha Nehemiah inaugurates CROCUS 2013

Saffron Tree regulars need no introduction to Asha. Just in case you joined us recently- Asha Nehemiah writes for children of all ages. Picture books include Granny’s Sari, The Rajah’s Moustache, Mrs Woolly’s Funny sweaters. Trouble with Magic and the Meddling Mooli books are chapter books for young readers. Zigzag and Other Stories, The Mystery of the Secret Hair Oil Formula, The Mystery of the Silk Umbrella , The Boy Whose Nose Was Rose & more rollicking stories are for more confident readers.
Thanks from the entire ST family for agreeing to open CROCUS 2013!

The following piece by her is intended as a virtual inauguration/ribbon-cutting of CROCUS 2013. Thanks Asha!

The Wonder of Double-Vision

I was well past childhood when I first discovered the amazing world of children’s books. Properly ‘discovered’, I mean.
Of course, I had read heaps of books as a child. But the books available to me those many decades ago were woefully limited. For most book-crazy kids of that generation, children’s books were just the starting block into the wonderful world of reading. We didn’t look back or stay with the starting block once we were up and running.

When I turned to children’s books again, I was a newbie-parent. The choice of children’s books by then was a lot more varied. But still not easy to source. Especially for me. I lived two hours away from the nearest city and getting to books demanded some craftiness and lots of advance planning. Siblings who lived in the US groaned when my gift request each year was a list of children’s books with a note that exerted some subtle big-sisterly pressure by suggesting, ‘Bring only as many as you can!'

There was a tiny library at Lloyds Road which became my very first stop on all Chennai visits. The owner seemed to stock quite a range of children’s books by international authors. I think he had acquired them from expats leaving the city.

This time turned into some kind of Golden Age in my life. A period when I enjoyed children’s books as an adult, and also vicariously through the gaze of my children. When the reading of a book is shared with a child – especially one who is snuggled next to you or settled on your lap – it opens a totally different dimension to the enjoyment. Beginning with the pure sensory joy of a soft cheek laid trustingly against yours!

Though we liked many of the same books, my children’s vision of the stories was quite different from mine. While Roald Dahl had me chuckling from first page to last, one of my children actually disliked George’s Marvellous Medicine,especially the description of the Grandmother and the comparison of her mouth to a dog’s bottom. He thought the author was being “very mean”.

All three of us loved PD Eastman’s Are you my Mother. But here too, the very page that I thought was the high point of the book, triggered brimming eyes in one of the kids. It happened every single time we reached the page where the baby bird says, “I want my mother”.
How I enjoyed this time of double-vision. The children’s viewpoint (which was two different opinions, really) and mine. Books that I thought were fabulous, sometimes received a lukewarm response from them. And vice versa. Books that I dismissed condescendingly for what I considered were hackneyed plots and clichéd storylines, were still fresh and new to the kids.

So we reached a happy compromise. We would read any book they chose. And they would check out the books I offered, and perhaps, let me read to them if my choices didn’t catch their fancy immediately.

This ended up with the bookshelves at home carrying an eclectic collection. Barber at the Zoo and Bhondoo the Dentist, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Gerald Durell and Jim Corbett, Sesame Street and Tinkle Comics, World Wrestling Federation Fact books and Make Your own Spy Equipment books. Margaret Mahy and Judy Blume (I used her ‘Eat It or Wear It’ ultimatum quite often those days ) Subhadra Sen Gupta and Kalpana Swaminathan.

But alas, all too soon, the children grew up and the marvel of double-vision was snatched away from me. Because, though I kept devouring kid’s fiction, my own children had moved on in their reading journey.

I discovered Saffron Tree by sweet serendipity some years later. One of the reviewers sat next to me on the train and we got chatting. I went home and checked out the blog immediately. The click on the first review brought on a déjà vu – of sorts! Here it was -- again! An offer of the wonderful double-vision look into the world of children’s books.

Saffron Tree was inviting me to share the dual-vision of many book-loving parents, whose reviews invariably included a detailing of their child’s responses to the book. And this has been one of the things I’ve loved about Saffron Tree.

The books chosen for review are usually from the reviewers’ personal collection. Every book reviewed is one that has resonated with them personally. Several parent-child reviews feature on the blog. There is a sincerity which comes from this ‘We-Review-What-We-Like’ format making ST a trusted resource to anyone interested in children’s books.

Recently, as part of Bookalore (a community of children’s authors and illustrators who share ST’s vision of bringing books and children together) I’ve been searching Saffron Tree more frequently than usual. What are the newest Space Story books? Are there any Indian books featuring aliens? Folk art and craft books? What would be a good read on Republic Day? Books on India’s freedom struggle? Human Rights?
I usually find the answers with a few searches and combination of search words. If the string of labels on the reviews was just a little bit longer, I’m sure I’d locate the reviews at first search.

You’re doing a splendid job, Saffron Tree. May children, parents, grandparents, teachers, librarians, authors and illustrators continue to meet under your fantastic, virtual branches to chat about the books they love.


Praba Ram said...

Thank you Asha for this lovely inaugural piece!

Couldn't stop smiling reading about the varied experiences you had with children's books, as a child and as a newbie parent with your own children marveling in their double-vision. I'm sure it will resonate with many. :)


Artnavy said...

Loved this Asha.

We all have our journeys. And some like you are so eloquent !


utbtkids said...

Thanks Asha. This is wonderful, especially the part where your opinion of the book is very different from what your children feel about it.

Now I am very curious as to who sat next to Asha in the train!

Choxbox said...

Awesome to read this Asha. Totally resonates :)

ranjani.sathish said...

Asha,lovely post and your name always brings to mind these wonderful stories - The Wedding clothes and The cat story in the collection "Grandpa fights an Ostrich". The stamp of wit, humour and intelligence is unmistakable in your stories. So glad to have you here as part of CROCUS !!

Sheela said...

"...subtle big-sisterly pressure by suggesting, ‘Bring only as many as you can!'"

Couldn't help but smile - having been at the other end of this deal myself :)

Thank you, Asha! Was nodding along emphatically with almost everything you said about this double-vision - esp., the part where some books that seems hackneyed and cliched are still fresh and new for the kids. I struggled with that a lot initially when choosing books for my older child but by the the time the younger one came along, am glad those stern bifocals of parenthood got cast off :)

Anusha said...

It is an honor to have you inaugurate our Crocus this year, thank you, Asha, for your support!

Unknown said...

Thank you for all your comments -- all you great folks who make up Saffron Tree! Like many of you, ( as I’ve gathered from your posts over the years) I too would manoeuvre things so that I read almost all the children’s books that came into our home before the children did!
Waiting to read more of the Crocus posts!
@utbt kids – I sat next to Meera in the train – though she may not remember.

sandhya said...

"When the reading of a book is shared with a child – especially one who is snuggled next to you or settled on your lap – it opens a totally different dimension to the enjoyment. Beginning with the pure sensory joy of a soft cheek laid trustingly against yours!"

So right! And 'Are you my Mother' is one of our favourites too!

A lovely beginning to CROCUS, Asha. Now I'm even more eager to meet you in person. And thank you for the feedback about labels on our posts.

sathish said...

Hi Asha, Totally with you on the double vision.

I have many books where the kids and I disagree on how good the book is. the books that sound very cliched to me sometimes works well them.

Lovely article.

Unknown said...

@Sandhya: Yes, it would be great to meet and discuss our favourite books:-)
@Sathish: Thanks!

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