While every person is trying to find his/her own coping strategy in these circumstances, a focus area is children. The world has shrunk for them in these circumstances. Without school or trips to the playground, or even the option to step out of their homes, they tend to get restless and bored and also miss out on learning during the most important stage for their education. Many of them who are struggling to keep their children engaged while they stay at home 24/7 during the lockdown have found e-books and interactive digital platforms a boon. Even after the lockdown lifts, many parents say that they would be wary of letting their children out of the home for recreational reasons. Also, all this literature is not for young audience alone. Surveys have revealed that many adults too enjoy reading children's literature.
The good news is that literature for children and young adults has seen a boom in the past decade and even better, thousands of these books are available online. The best news is that many of them are on easy-to-navigate sites and free-to-read. Some of these books are pure fun, some of them mix entertainment with a didactic purpose so there is a moral to their tale and some of them are richly informative with an educational intent.
There are biographies of great men and women which are meant to inspire, fun tales of human-like animals, stories which introduce children to things they may not ordinarily know about like marine creatures, and more serious ones which sensitise them to the issues of differently-abled people/the aged, teach them about saving the environment and increasing green cover and so on.
Many of the big publishing houses have a separate imprint for books for children and young adults. Then there are others which focus exclusively on literature for children. Besides these, there are thousands of books for kids by self-published authors which are only a click away, often on Kindle. There are dedicated apps available from some publishers which act as a digital store front.
A substantial section of these e-books from leading publishing houses and online reading sessions have been available for years now. Additionally, many publishing houses have launched new initiatives in recent days to keep pace with the Stay at Home rules. In the last two weeks, several publishers, which offered only hard copies of a certain book, are now coming out with e-versions of these books. Some individual authors of self-published kids’ books have also come forward to self-upload their books online and allow free-of-cost reading. These are welcome given that people are having to adjust to new routines and lifestyles given the COVID-19 outbreak.
Audio books are another option available to the stay-at-home reader. Many children's books have for long had audio-versions available along with print and online editions. More are being made available now. Irrespective of lockdowns, these read-aloud books are a godsend to parents because they keep the kids engaged when the parent is too busy to read it to them. Also, the high-quality audio-book teaches good pronunciation and right intonation along with telling a good story. This makes it perfect tool of education cum entertainment. These are also a boon to the visually challenged. Finally, they are a great way to recreate joy of the grandmother's storytelling days of old.
A perennial favourite with children, Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) has a large collection of books under various categories available online as e-books on Amazon.in and the Kindle store. From books on visionaries and bravehearts to epics and mythology, their range is vast and varied and very popular. ACK and Tinkle announced in March that they were offering a free of cost one-month subscription to everyone. Their books/comics are also available on other digital platforms.
Another big player in the field is Pratham Books. According to their spokesperson, their StoryWeaver (www.storyweaver.org.in) is an open-source digital platform of multilingual children’s storybooks. It contains easy-to-use tools to read, create, translate, publish, download and print books and all are available for free!. All the content on StoryWeaver is openly licensed and free to read, download and print. StoryWeaver has over 19,500 storybooks, as well as resources like the Reading Programme (guides with themed books and activities), and Reading Lists (curated storybook collections). Pratham offers books in 233 languages: 56 languages from India and 177 international languages, including mainstream, vulnerable, indigenous and classical languages. The platform also has more than 650 bilingual books. They are available in multiple formats: Storybooks downloadable as PDFs, Readalongs (audio-visual storybooks for early readers), and two YouTube channels.
Pratham Books also added that educators, community libraries, reading clubs have been integrating StoryWeaver into their online classes. Moreover, #ReadAtHomeWithStoryWeaver is an initiative to enable parents, educators and organisations, to keep housebound children engaged and give them uninterrupted, free access to reading material. Visit: http://bit.ly/ReadAtHome WithStoryWeaver
Another well-known children’s book publisher, Tulika Books informed this newspaper that children can read more than 100 Tulika books online. These include picture books , bilingual picture books like the Panchatantra series and fiction for older children. The publishing house also added: "Our books are available in English as well as in eight regional languages — Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali. Currently, they can be accessed on four digital platforms — the Worldreader digital library that’s available on all mobile phones, the BookBox channel on YouTube, and the Fundooda and GetLitt apps. Interested readers can get a complete list of our books available online as well as links to the various platforms on https://www.tulikabooks.com info/digital-books.”
According to the spokesperson for Penguin Random House India their children’s division publishes over 100 books a year (in English) and both imprints, Puffin and Penguin, simultaneously launch e-book version with all new releases. “We have also successfully managed to create e-books of our backlist as well. Penguin Random House India aims to inspire, inform and entertain with e-books and audio books, which are perhaps the most easily accessible, convenient and safe formats,” added the spokesperson. For this, they have launched an exclusive Kindle-Penguin e-book store on amazon.in. Check out the wide range at https://www.amazon.in/b? node=21272365031.
Audiobooks are also a growing catalogue for Penguin Random House India at the moment. These are available on Audible and Google Books. In addition to ebooks, Penguin Random House India has initiated several campaigns to keep readers engaged during these times like #OnceUponABookWithPenguin and #StayHappy.
HarperCollins India has only a couple of children's books online (on Kindle). However, they have just launched Collins DigiSuite which makes textbooks available for children. Parents can find free material on the platform, with various interactive activities and learning tools designed to keep the child engaged while learning supported by animations and videos. Collins Learning allows free access to student textbooks that combine all subjects in a single grade e-book, for classes 1 through 8.
As Ananth Padmanabhan, CEO, HarperCollins India, said: “Teachers and students in India are already using Collins Learning digital resources in their classrooms, and we have now extended free access to parents who have children at home.”
Karadi Tales have ebooks and audiobooks, which include those in which celebrities narrate stories, as well as picture books and activities section. The publishers announced that during the lockdown they were allowing free streaming of some of their most popular audibooks. Visit https://www.karaditales.com/ kathawithkaradi/
Given that the growth in self-publishing has coincided with that of children's literature, there is a vast variety of books out there by first-time authors as well as seasoned writers. A search on popular websites, Amazon is one example, can throw up hundreds, even thousands of good books for kids and young adults. Many of the authors have also written popular fiction for adults.
In the U.S., a National Emergency Library was set up a few weeks ago in response to the pandemic. This is a global library which offers, until June 30 at least, free access worldwide, to about 14 lakh books including literature for children.. The link is https://archive.org/details /nationalemergencylibrary
In India, the government-run National Book Trust of India, which publishes a large number of books in different Indian languages including books for children, now offers select books for free download. The hashtag of the initiative is StayHomeIndiaWithBooks. Visit http://www.nbtindia.gov.in
Jaico Publishing House has a few titles available online for children. For a long time now, the www.openlibrary.org has been a favourite with parents trying to keep their children usefully engaged and entertained. There is a useful link which has free audiobooks for all ages. Visit https:// stories.audible.com /discovery .
You can also check out the thodareadingcorona daily on video across social media. Authors or professional actors in some cases are doing readings of their books online. These could be part of the series begun by the publisher of different books in their kitty or a personal initiative of the author. Also, while some of these are long-standing programmes, the others are recent initiatives.
According to the Hachette India website, their ebooks are currently available only overseas. For India they will soon be launching their range of titles (as well as those published by their group companies) as ebooks with India prices. For details, write to publicity@ hachetteindia.com with the subject line eBook.