When school closed for summer holidays, four-and-half-year-old Anusha Sharma, my daughter, brought home all her art work. But it was not the orange paper-plate sun, the sequin-studded fish cut-out on a stick, or a wall album with pictures of her family that excited her most. Her prized possession is a six-page leaflet stapled together. “My book”, as she calls it, has a few photostat pictures (which she has coloured), and a couple of poems. In spite of having two shelves stacked with more than 80 children’s books, she continues to be fascinated with this raggedy “book”.
“We have seen in our classes, that children relate very well to what they have created themselves, especially stories,” say Nihar Joshi and Sarika Varma, who conduct The Sunlit Path, a storytelling and art workshop, on weekends in New Delhi. They believe that getting a child, especially in the age group of 5 to 8, to make her own book is the easiest thing to do, and an activity that children enjoy immensely. “The best part is that your child does not really need to attend an activity class for this. Making books at home—building on stories and creating artwork for them—is a special hobby that a mother and a child can enjoy together—as long as you don’t aim for perfection,” says Varma.
Page by page: Little authors at work at The Sunlit Path.( Photograph by Madhu Kapparath / Mint)
Step one, according to Nupur Awasthi Gaur, an educator and a storytelling expert who conducts weekend sessions at the Oxford Bookstore, New Delhi, is not to worry about whether your child can write a story, or what the exact sequence of the story should be. “Concentrate on the big idea. Let your child pick a theme, and build on it. About 70% of the input should come from your child, no matter how absurd. You should contribute only 30%, and that too in terms of extra knowledge about the topic.”
Joshi and Varma feel that stories based on animal or children characters, and mama-papa themes work well. “Look for silly things, not mega-serious stuff such as the environment, to start with,” they advise. Gaur is all for picking up an idea from everyday things happening around the child. For example, if it is raining in your city, you could make that the theme.
Once the theme of the story is in place, look for artwork to support it. Pictures cut out from newspapers and magazines, drawings that your child makes, buttons, dried leaves, flowers, bits of cloth—just about anything can be useful. The idea is that your child should be able to move the central concept through three or four situations. “Sometimes it helps to start the story off by giving your child a situation, and then asking, ‘What do you think happened next?’ You can supplement and build on these concepts by adding a song or a poem, but encourage your child to think. Don’t give her ready-made ideas,” says Gaur.
Add to the book by enhancing the artwork with little tricks, such as making flaps, pop-ups, or creating secret pockets. “Children will need help with these, and they add to making the book unique,” says Varma. To make a pop-up spring from a picture, all you need is two strips of paper placed at right angles to each other, and then folded one on top of the other. For a flap or a pocket, opt for a used envelope, let your child colour it, and paste it in the book. If the book is about a peacock dancing in the rain, put in a peacock feather in the flap, so that your child can look at it when she flips through the book.
“If your child is old enough, then let her write the text. If not, you can add the words based on what your child has said. Don’t stretch the book beyond six to eight pages. If your child works on it all by herself, that in itself will be a lot of hours of fun activity for her. Don’t be tempted to lend more than a helping hand, or else your child will lose ownership of the book,” cautions Joshi.
Once those six to eight pages are ready, you can staple them together or sew them. Make sure your child works at making a cover, and has a name for the book. And finally, don’t forget to add your little author’s name.