A hook into reading

Hooked to reading (from left) Paro Anand, Jerry Pinto, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Anushka Ravishankar   | Photo Credit: S Subramanium, S James, Special Arrangement, KVS Giri

Jerry Pinto’s story had been “brewing in his head for decades”. Paro Anand “wanted a character who was different, but happily satisfied within herself”. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, who is “a sucker for frightening and suspenseful stories”, chose a story he had loved as a young boy. For Anushka Ravishankar, “a little snippet I read about a girl and her cow to become a story about a girl, her cow and her estranged best friend.”

All these authors are talking about the Hook Books, the latest series from Duckbill. The challenge, says Sayoni Basu of Duckbill, was to create books that were “both simple and complex with a vocabulary that works for kids of five and six, who are graduating from picture books to books with more words, yet with a story that would interest a reader who may be a lot older.”

The other aspect she mentions is diversity of experiences. “Living within an urban bubble and interacting only with other children like themselves, it is easy for them to lose touch with the fact that despite belonging to the same country, we are diverse in the way we look, the way we live, the religious practices we follow, and social habits. So one of our goals was also to try to bring together stories of small towns from different parts of the country.”

How did they select the first four? “On the highly scientific basis of the first four manuscripts we really liked,” is the tongue-in-cheek reply. The next batch will have three books by Lavanya Karthik, Asha Nehemiah and CG Salamander.

Paro Anand’s A Quiet Girl

About a little girl who doesn’t talk till her pet colt is going to be sold

Paro calls these books a lovely idea that “give the early reader a sense of accomplishment at having read a whole book themselves”. Her book, however, took a while to write “because I have been writing more for older kids. It’s an incredibly difficult challenge to write a whole book in a few words. And yet give the reader a feeling of completeness.” Pooja was born of a mix of ideas. “Once I was chatting with a child with disability and was struck by how happy he was. He was a person, not a disability. Watching the news, I also realised that too many people talk too much when they have nothing to say. I wanted a character who only spoke when she had to say something important. And I got a WhatsApp forward of a girl in her uniform riding to school on a horse. The image stayed with me. So these three different threads combined into one little book.”

Hansda Sowvendra Shekar’s Who’s There

About a family of ghosts that live in a farmer’s attic

“Cool and useful,” Hansda says of the idea, as he tips his hat to Anupama Ajinkya Apte’s “amazing” illustrations. But a ghost story for young kids? For one, he loves ghost stories. For another, “it was one of those several stories I heard from my family when I was a child and I absolutely love this story. The idea of a ghost family or even a woman ghost giving birth to ghost babies is just so outlandish and heart-warming at the same time. So I just retold this story. The writing was done quite soon. It was whittling down the story to 700 words or so which took time.

Jerry Pinto’s My Daddy and the Well

About a boy’s visit to his ancestral village.

Getting children hooked on reading, is “a very good thing,” says Jerry. “The only fly in the ointment is the parents who want their children to read while they play with their smart phones.” Pointing out that this leads to children wanting screen time and the resulting bargain of “read so long and you’ll get so much screen time”, Jerry hopes the books “will work because then we will have a much more mature bunch of Indians 20 years hence.” But if parents won’t show the way, can Hook Books, he asks. “Having said that, I am now going to go and drink the Hook Book Kool Aid.”

Jerry recalls walking with his father through his village, Moira. “His village, not mine. I was watching him curiously and sadly as he looked for trees he had loved and places that had changed beyond recognition.” When the offer to write a Hook Book came, there was a caveat: Preferably something not based on the city. “I closed down almost immediately because I grew up in a city. But then as I thought about it, I thought about the city boy and the village boy walking and My Daddy and the Well happened.”

Anushka Ravishankar’s Hey Diddle Diddle

About a girl, her cow and her best friend

These books, says Anushka, “fill the gap between picture books and chapter books. With the coloured illustrations, simple stories and large fonts, they help children take that next step towards getting ‘hooked’ on reading.” Anushka’s stories are born from “a little thought at the back of my mind, which becomes a story once I get over my laziness and decide to write.” It took about six or seven years before the little snippet she’d read became Hey Diddle Diddle.

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 12:17:05 PM |

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