Author: K.E. Priyamvada
Illustrator: Nahid Sikander
A for Armadillo, B for Binturong, U for Uakari, J for Jacana! I don't know about children, but this book gave me an education. K.E Priyamvada's book on animals from A to Z is written in verse. A beautiful synergy between poetry and science. The writing is simple enough for a child to understand, and flows wonderfully. And her choice of animals is very interesting.
Each animal is described in detail, from habitat, to habit, to physical features. For instance, the Xenops is introduced with -
If you're in a forest in South America,
You may see me fly out of a tree.
I live in a hole in a tree trunk,
I find it's the best place for me.
This is followed by a little box giving the animal or bird's scientific name, a quick summary of where all it is found and what it is threatened by.
Finally a little blurb with a tidbit. A bit of trivia, followed by a question that makes them rack their brains.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable book for lovers of rhyme, as well as the nature lover. There is also a website - www.animal-antics.info, where parents and teachers can access free downloads and additional learning material.
Shockingly, the book is self published. The more I look at the well-thumbed copy that my kids love, the more I am saddened by the tripe on the market, mostly a marketing driven blitz based on some popular television cartoon series character or the other.
If some publisher doesn't snap up the next in this series, I will be sorely disappointed. For now, you can and must order the book at www.animal-antics.info and http://www.eurekabookstore.com/
I was fortunate enough to get the chance to ask Priyamvada a few questions. Read ahead.
KE Priyamvada has over 12 years’ work experience in academic publishing and web content development. She studied in several schools in different parts of the country and went on to do a B.A. (Honours) in English Literature from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, and an M.A. and M.Phil. in English Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. In the year 2000, she won the third series of Mastermind India, a solo quiz contest (telecast on BBC World from 1998 to 2002). Her interests include listening to classical music, learning languages, and reading across various genres, including popular science and non-fiction. She lives in New Delhi, India.
What made you choose this topic?
Animal Antics combines my interest in wildlife and the environment with my love for poetry and wordplay. When I was a child, some of my favourite reads were The Jungle Book and Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling, the humourous rhymes of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Hilaire Belloc and Roald Dahl, the wildlife expeditions of Gerald Durrell, the veterinary tales of James Herriot and books about the environment such as The Living Planet by Sir David Attenborough. Many Indian languages also have rhyming verses, about animals and birds or creatures we encounter in our daily lives, which are used to help children learn the alphabet and build a vocabulary. As a child I learnt Assamese as an additional language in school and one of my early Assamese text books had a series of rhyming couplets about each letter of the alphabet, which helped us learn new words and build a beginner’s vocabulary of the language. I still remember a few of those couplets and I’m sure all of the aforementioned works have (either consciously or unconsciously) influenced the writing of Animal Antics and to them I acknowledge my debt. Animal Antics is also inspired by the humourous genre of Nonsense Verse, with an important difference – though humourous, the verses in the book are not nonsensical. Each poem contains factual information about an animal or bird such as where it lives, what it eats, how it behaves and what it looks like – in a rhyming format that makes it easy for a parent or teacher to read aloud, or a child to learn, elocute or act out in a classroom or activity area. That’s why I call it a book of fun and factual poetry.
Why did you decide to write in verse?
I enjoy writing in verse and have also created a verse form - the Twuplet - which is a tweet in rhyme.
This book emerged because, about a decade ago, I was teaching a batch of 10th grade students the science syllabus for their annual high school examination. They were a bunch of bright 15-year-olds and our discussions outside the classroom included popular fantasy novels of the time, which they enjoyed reading. I realized the teenagers were very aware of many fantastical creatures; however, to my surprise, they were not aware of some amazing real-life creatures that we encountered in their science textbook, as we discussed the chapter on evolution. Since I remembered growing up surrounded by books, of which a large Readers’ Digest Atlas of Animals was a favourite, as well as the animal expeditions of Gerald Durrell and Sir David Attenborough’s Living Planet, I found it odd that these bright young teenagers had such gaps in their understanding of the living world around them, particularly since there are several channels dedicated to wildlife programming on television, which were not around when I was at school. I wondered how these teenagers were up-to-date on fantastical creatures or cartoon characters but not on living or endangered forms of life. Was it simply because information was presented in a fun and more engaging way through cartoons or fantasy novels? It made me wonder about whether I could write something informative and easily readable about animals and birds from around the world?
Some years ago I had written a poem about a Polar Bear cub, which had several facts in rhyme. I went back and searched through my incidental writings and found the poem. I thought about composing some more poems to put together a slim volume of fun and factual poetry. The idea was to create a basic introduction to some wild and endangered creatures, without intending to replace any textbook, though the book could become a learning resource that an innovative teacher or school could use in an English or Environmental Studies classroom. I felt it could also be read by any general reader interested in wildlife or anyone who enjoyed reading humourous verse. A few more fun and factual poems then began to emerge...
Why do you think the book didn't get any takers in the world of publishing?
Though the manuscript was sent to most of the leading publishers in India (including general, educational, and children's publishers) and turned down by them, I understand that each book is an investment on the part of the publisher and it is possible that many publishers were reluctant to invest in a book of poetry, which they perceived might not sell. I did feel strongly, however, that Animal Antics was worth publishing and would surely find an audience once it was out in print, and therefore finally chose to self-publish it.
What were your favourite books as a child?
When I was a child, some of my favourite books were The Jungle Book and Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling, the humourous rhymes of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Hilaire Belloc and Roald Dahl, the wildlife expeditions of Gerald Durrell, the veterinary tales of James Herriot and books about the environment such as The Living Planet by Sir David Attenborough.
What has been the reader reaction to your book?
I've received very positive feedback on the book from young readers, parents, grandparents, teachers, and general readers. Many parents have told me their kids take the book to bed with them, which is what they do with their favourite possessions - it feels great to hear this.
What lies ahead? More books?
Definitely. I have plans to bring out a sequel to Animal Antics. So More Animal Antics is a work in progress. However, since I work full-time it's been difficult to make time out to finish it, though I hope to do so this year.