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Indian Festivals & Stories – How to Introduce Mythology to Children

Look around you…Oh so many magical resources to make Diwali so special. I hope you are enjoying the Diwali Dhamaka Blog Hop!

And why not? Diwali is the mega-festival of the country when there is bountiful cheer and happiness. We prep our homes, by scrubbing them clean, renovating and up-scaling the decor, light diyas, prepare gourmet sweets and spread the joy of the festival with friends and families.

With a 3 year old toddler at home who is always bursting with questions, my role as a parent is to bring in experiences that answer his questions thoughtfully. What is Diwali? Why do we celebrate it? And why do we celebrate it the way we do? To a 3 year old this may seem like a barrage of thoughts but as a parent and a storyteller, I look at it as a gateway into the magical world of Indian mythology.

 Is 3 then the threshold into Indian mythology? I’d say no! I had a 2 years old listening to Ramayana and liking Surpanakha the best! 🙂

Mythology is a tricky genre. Especially Indian actually. There are too many Gods and Goddess, too much violence and anger and definitely a lot of bloodshed. Let’s not get into lust, envy, debauchery, treachery and revenge. The first time I ever touched mythology was during a telling of Krishna and other mythological stories during Holi. With the youngest in the audience being 2.5 years, the real challenge was to glean out the cruel acts of King Harinyakashipu and his intentions behind killing his own son! Sacrilege!! A father killing his own son? Unfortunately these are the tales that make up Indian mythology. So do we not tell them to young children? I’d say why not? What matters is the telling – what you tell them and how you tell them.  

For most of us our childhood was marked by Ramanand’s Sagar epical Ramayana on television. How can we forget those days? Huddling before the television to watch our Sunday dose of Ramayana and then curling up before my grandmother to understand what we all saw. Making sense of television was also an important element of storytelling! Now of course children gather so much from television that it is a little futile sometimes to de-construct visual stories. 

 

Indian Mythology for Children

Indian Mythology for Children

 

The story of Ram ends with Diwali and so any telling of the Diwali story has to begin right from the start. My tryst with Ramayana began ahead of Dussehra as I told the Ramayana for the first time. With an enthusiastic bunch of kids some who knew the epic very well, others who were getting a taste of it for the first time, the challenge was to make it fun and engaging for the kids. So really, how can we retell Ramayana to children minus the gore, violence and the tyranny of a step mother? How can we really make Ram more alluring to children than the fantastical Ravana with ten heads? Who is the hero, who the villain? Do we really want to make the distinctions for children? What to keep and what to eliminate in the telling of an epic poem? 

Ramayana Collage

The Ramayan Star Cast

 

If you haven’t tried telling the Ramayana, then a good starting point would be now. And this is how I did it.

Filter & Structure

Ramayana is a poem that runs into 24,000 verses none of which our generation knows. It’s a mega story with several characters, many inter-connected events and innumerable lessons. So pick what suits you and your child. Pick the elements that string the story in a beautiful chain of events that make sense for the child. The key in the entire exercise is to enjoy the story, because that’s what makes any story memorable.

I built a structure of Ramayana around events in the story that are enough for a child to make sense of it. The story begins with Dasharath, his three wives and four sons. Of how Dashrath chooses Ram to be King and how Kaikeyi wanted Bharat to be King instead. So Ram is sent off to vanavasa with Lakshman and Sita in tow. The forest is a dangerous place where there are many demons and demoness. Surpanakha is one such demoness. When Lakshman cuts Surpanakha’s nose she runs back to Ravana. Ravana gets very angry and decides to punish Ram and Lakshman. So he abducts Sita and takes her to Lanka. Jatayu the magnificent tries to save Sita but Ravana clips his wings. Ram and Lakshman on their way to finding Ravana reach Kishkinda, the land of monkeys. There they meet Hanuman who becomes a loyal friend to Ram. Hanuman flies to Lanka and finds Sita. He decides to give Ravana’s demons a tough time so he burns down Lanka. Ram and Lakshman reach Lanka with a band of monkeys. A fight ensues and Ravana is defeated. Ram, Sita, Lakshman fly back to Ayodhya with Hanuman, their personal carrier.

This basic structure, filled with dialogues, songs and descriptions is a compelling telling. You may want to tell the whole thing at one go or make it episodic.

Tweak the Elements

Kaikeyi is the archetypal ‘step mother’ who we have grown to fear and dislike. Given modern day families and their structures, I feel it is better to distil the concept of the ‘evil’ step mother. So yes, no Cinderalla! Why feed on stereotypes? So deflect Kaikeyi’s story to say that she wanted Bharat to be King! Simple enough with no controversies.

Scholars believe that there’d be no Ramayana if it wasn’t for Kaikeyi and Surpanakha. So a lot rests on the two women who become catalysts for the story. In truth Surpanakha wanted to kill Sita so that she could take her place. Lakshman stopped her and struck off her nose. I prefer the scissor / pinch motif to talk about Surpanakha’s nose.

Be careful of how you mention elements like the cutting of the nose, killing of demons and Ravana. Instead, say ‘pinching’ of the nose, or a funny fight dance with the demons. We cannot eliminate violence, but we surely can cushion the impact on little minds.

Identify Emotions

Emotions connect us to stories. We remember stories because we remember the way we feel about them. In all the stories I tell, I like to bring out the emotions that a story has. So illustrate the emotions of loyalty, sibling affection, bravery, courage, awe, joy and happiness. Filter the negative emotions of disgust, hurt, envy and revenge.

Revenge is a very strong emotion that children may feel vulnerable to. How we present it is important. I chose to explain it by explaining the relationship between siblings where the older one looks out for the younger one. If the younger one is bullied then doesn’t not the older one go and sort it out?

Make it Fun

What good is a story, if it isn’t fun? So make up a song, hum a ditty, jump, prance and make up a fight dance. Give Surpanakha a funny face that is meant to scare but adds tickles their bones instead. Give her a voice that makes your little audience giggle and guffaw out laugh!

Hanuman’s Lanka escapades are a brilliant moment to improvise with your child and make him / her enact all monkey antics! So go ahead and have some fun. Explain the concept of a Vaanar Sena and enjoy monkeying around!

I composed two songs for the story, something that became a great hit:

Chale Chale Chale Chale Ramji Vanvas,

Ramji Vanvas,

Sita aur Lakshman Chale Unke Saath,

Unke Saath

Or

Hanumanji Udd Ke Chale, Udd Chale Lanka,

Apni Poonch Pe Aag Lagai Bhasm Kiya Lanka,

Hanuman Ki Jai,

Jai Jai Bajrang Bali Ki Jai

Use everything that you have in you to recreate a character. So give your characters a voice, walk and personality. I used several props in the story that became a source of wonder for my little audience, but then as a parent you may find it a cumbersome exercise. So go with your natural instincts and spend as much time as you want on a character or moment.

Please Don’t Preach

Ravan is the more colourful character in Ramayana. Look at it from a child’s point of view and you will see what I mean. A man with 10 heads? What a fantastic image! So it is natural for kids to be excited by Ravan. So let them be!

Some things are left for children to understand. They don’t need to be told that Ram is the hero and Ravan the villain in the story. Let them decide the course of the story. Give them a story that they can make sense of. Give them a story where they decide who they like. Let them enjoy a story for the spectacle and joy of listening, instead of driving home lessons.

Ram’s homecoming and the celebration of Diwali is a wonderful moment to share Ramayana. It is not about religiosity, it is about the joy of a story that a child will encounter twice a year! From Dussehra to Diwali, Ram’s story remains a seasonal favourite.

Rashmi in her blog did a wonderful review of Amma, Tell Me About Diwali.

If you want to go the book reading way, I would like to add two accompaniments.

The first, a prequel to Bhakti Mathur’s Diwali book, Amma, Tell Me About Ramayana has a few more elements of Ram’s story. But if you have the Diwali book, then you can skip this one.

 Diwali is also a good time to talk about Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi and why we pray to them. While Bhakti Mathur’s Diwali book covers a small story of how Goddess Lakshmi favours those who do their duty, I have another delightful read for anyone who is interested in some Ganesha stories. Emily Haynes’ Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is a delightful take on how Ganesha broke his tooth and then went on to write the Mahabharata. The quirky, colourful and intelligent illustrations by Sanjay Patel will  stay with any child and adult. Besides this book becomes the perfect stepping stone to introduce Mahabharata to your child.

The Mahabharata did I say? Well…that’s another story 😀

Come join a set of fabulous bloggers sharing their Diwali moments , easy Crafts, DIY ideas, Recipes and book recommendations with you .

Starting from today till Diwali and beyond, each one of us will be writing a post related to Diwali.
Participating blogs

So sit back, relax and check out all the fabulous Diwali Dhamaka posts from our participating blogs in the linky.



Link up your Diwali posts here


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Love Books Exchange: Pete the Cat – I Love My White Shoes

Ah hello! I hate making excuses but I know I have been away for a long, long time now. So it feels to go straight into the post without a short preamble. We’ve had a terrific time in all this time (more on that later), but one of the things that we have done in all this time is discover the world of children’s literature! In the past 6 months we have built our home library book by book, adding resources to my story sessions and designing easy-to-do book related activities. The latter, as I discovered is a fun thing to do. As adults when we read we internalise the reading experience by our thoughts. For children the experience of reading a book must be extended beyond the reading the story. Children are wired to make connections. They like to decode the world around them and in an attempt to make sense of it they have an innate ability to connect the dots. So when Educators Spin On It decided to host the #lovebooks summer exchange we jumped right in! We sent Rashmi a book and package. I didn’t blog about it because I waited for her to receive and review it first. I will share my ideas on a separate blog later. Here is what Rashmi thought about the package On-board the Mommyship sent her. It was our turn! The lovely Bubble Ink and I were paired and voila! She was right…V (we) instantly fell in love with the book she sent us! Bubble Ink chose Eric Litwin’s supercool cat Pete and sent us the book Pete the Cat I Love My White Shoes 20140729-072115.jpg Bubble Ink sent us 5 activities with the book. I loved the way she packaged it all in neat zip lock pouches. Her labelling was uniform and hand written. She also gave us an extensive guide to the activities. I hid the activity pouches from V because I know he would jump on them! But of course we began by reading the book. So what’ s the book about? 20140729-071745.jpg

Pete the Cat is an awesome cat who loves his white shoes. He loves them so much that he walks in them singing his favourite song. I love my white shoes I love my white shoes I love my white shoes The book blurb describes the author as: Eric Litwin (Mr Eric) is a guitar-strumming, song-singing, banjo-picking, tale-telling, harmonica -blowing, national-award-winning folksy type of guy. Eric Litwin has a version of the shoe song…but since I didn’t want to go and look it up in the midst of our reading, I made up one of my own!

V loves music. And over a period of time I have noticed that he loves the books in which I sing. I am not much of a singer but while telling a story and reading a book, I like humming, or making up a song from the words of the book. Sometimes when we don’t want to read books we sing them too! Yes…the whole of it! I Love My White Shoes therefore was an easier song to sing. Needless to say that while doing the activity, V sang the song while we went over replacing the shoes. The first activity that we did after reading the book was re telling the story. Bubble Ink gave us wonderful felt cut outs of Pete the Cat and his white, red, blue and brown shoes. We re-read the story, sang the song and did our own re telling. 20140729-080922.jpg I would have ideally liked to do one activity a day, but my little enthu-cutlet had other ideas. Next up, we tried our hand at the lacing activity. Now I have been planning to make lacing activities for V. When he was a bit younger I made one using an egg carton and pipe cleaner. But then I was looking for a more durable material. Bubble Ink gave us shoe cut outs in a plasticky material which definitely is a ‘must have’ for us now. 20140729-083329.jpg Since this was V’s first time, he struggled a bit to understand the activity.like any other independent toddler he wanted to figure it out himself. This one needs some more rounds of practice. The third activity for the evening was colour matching. Bubble Ink gave us. Wonderful deck of colour sorting cards…with coloured shoes and matching coloured objects. V is good with colour sorting and he didn’t need help in this one. He loved it though and we did this activity several times after our first attempt. 20140729-083756.jpg We often carry our books, toys and activities to the dining table. They are perfect accompaniments to the (sometimes fussy) little eater. We keep those hands busy and the mouth opens up to whatever is on the plate! So one fine day at the breakfast table we did the fourth activity of paint the shoes. Which toddler doesn’t love the exercise of dipping his fingers in a pot of paints? Dip, dip, dip and splitter, splatter across the drawings…V loved to get his hands messy with the paints. 20140729-084641.jpg The fifth activity where mommy had to cut out Pete and his shoes from felt was not as much a winner. V preferred the Velcro version as Bubble Ink made in her kit because they stuck and stayed. He enjoyed the whole exercise of sticking and peeling the shoes from the Velcro dots. Bubble Ink was right…Pete the Cat is an excellent story for my sessions and currently out is reigning as one of V’s favourites. We replay the activities of shoe lacing, re telling and colour sorting while we croon…“I Love my white shoes …because it’s all good! A special thanks to Educators Spin On It for facilitating the books exchange! 20140729-120052.jpg

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Book Review: The Little Giraffe

There is a certain magic in stories. For one, it can transport you to magical places in an instant! And wouldn’t it be lovely to share this joy with your child?

As a book lover, trying to raise a little reader, I try to pick books that take us (yes, ‘us’ because reading to us is a journey that V and I have taken on) to different places. For a two and half year old who hasn’t seen much of the world it is a wonderful promising adventure to hear and read about places that I hope he will see in his lifetime. Add to that the magic of folk lore. As a story lover, I have grown up on a staple of Indian mythology and folk tales. And who hasn’t? However, as a story teller I find it equally exhilarating to discover stories from different parts of the world.

This week we travelled all the way to Africa to find a story. We picked an Usborne First Reading Book from our friendly neighbourhood children’s library Buzzing Books.

TLG

The Little Giraffe is an endearing folk-tale from Africa, retelling the remarkable story of how the world’s first ‘little’ giraffe became tall! The Little Giraffe and his best friend Rhino are very, very hungry. What happens next changes their lives forever. The story is that of a little Giraffe, who happens to be the world’s Giraffe! He is a little Giraffe and does not have a long neck and long legs. Together with his best friend Rhino he goes around the dry, parched and of the forest looking for food. But the harsh sun makes it difficult for anything to grow. The two friends remain hungry and sad.

One day the two friends decide to go the wise old man in the village and seek his help. The wise old man asks them to visit him the next day and promises to brew up a magic drink for him. The next day, however, only the Giraffe lands up at the old man’s door. The old man gives the bowl of magic drink to the Giraffe. As he finishes drinking it, the little Giraffe begins to grow. His neck grows longer and his legs grow taller. And very soon, he resembles the Giraffe we all know of!  The old man tells him that now the Giraffe can reach up to the leaves up high in the trees. Now he won’t have to go hungry any more!

When the Rhino meets the Giraffe he asks him what happened! The Giraffe tells him about the magic drink and that there is none of it left! The Rhino is left eating the dry grass. He is furious with the wise old man, his friend the ‘not-so-little’ Giraffe and even with himself!

And that’s the reason why he is still very angry today!

Why The Little Giraffe

The Little Giraffe as a story works for me and here are my reasons:

1) To a young reader, it works beautifully because it has animals he is familiar with

2) It is a story that answers questions like, “Why does the Giraffe have a long neck?”

3) It is a story about friendship

4) It is a story about food and nutrition

5) It is a story about thoughtful behaviour

For Ages

There are many lessons from this simple story, and depending on your child’s age you can introduce them at the appropriate age. This book is therefore suitable for ages 1- 6.

Mommy’s Story Telling Technique

As a story teller, I try to pick stories that I can dramatise or show. The Little Giraffe worked beautifully thanks to wooden animal blocks that we have in our home. I used the wooden Rhino and Giraffe and puppets in my story telling and shared the story with my son.

The Little Giraffe

And even though he is a child who love his juices, I particularly spoke to him about the magical juice that the Giraffe drank. I told him if he keeps drinking the magical juices we give him he would grow up to be tall and healthy like the Giraffe.

Concepts Shared

The novelty of reading a book adds to the magic of story telling. When I read The Little Giraffe for the first time, I realised that it is a lovely book to teach three very important things.

1) Importance of Food – It is important for a child to understand the importance of food. It is also important for a child to understand the significance of hunger. As parents, we hope, pray and try our best to never have a hungry child. But it is also important to teach a growing child to identify the signs of hunger. From being fussy and picky eaters, to forgetting food in the middle of play, we mothers have a lot to deal with anyway! So when there is a story that talks about how it is to not have food and stay hungry, it becomes an important read!

2) Friendship – How do you teach a child to be a good friend? Difficult isn’t it? But maybe through this story of friendship you can share a thing or two. By telling him / her that the Giraffe should have shared the magic drink with his best friend Rhino! After all, they were in it together.  Or by talking about how the Giraffe could use his long neck to tear leaves from the trees and share them with his friend Rhino? Fantastic, isn’t it? Or how about the Rhino forgiving his friend Giraffe for drinking the magic drink alone?

3)  Actions & Reactions – Anger is a very natural emotion. And children experience it more than we imagine them to. Anger is a negative emotion and therefore it is important for us to teach them how to manage it. To begin with, this story teaches a child that the Rhino forgot about the old wise man. He found dry grass on the way and he chose to eat it instead. The Giraffe kept the meeting and that is why he went ahead had the large share of the magic drink. The mistake was clearly the Rhino’s! As Giraffe’s best friend he should be happy for him,instead of being angry. Being angry at the wise old man is also of no use, because he clearly asked for the Rhino. He let the Giraffe drink the whole lot of the magic drink! It is also of now use to be angry at oneself, because not just does it push away friends and loved ones, it also makes one bitter.

About the Publisher

I particularly like the Usborn collection of books. There is one for all kinds of readers and there a definite thought that has gone behind the making of these books. The Usborn Reading Program has thoughtfully researched and adapted books for its varied readers. The illustrations are bright and friendly, enough to tickle the little reader. The language, presentation and intent is to equip a reader with necessary reading skills. Some of the books also come with puzzles at the end of the book that help a child refresh his memory with regard to images, words and sentences that he has just read.

About On-board the Mommyship & Buzzing Books

I am delighted to collaborate with Dr Neha Gupta at Buzzing Books. With our common love for Children’s Literature, reading, storytelling and pro-parenting we have decided to come together.

We are happy to announce the first of our BUZZING BEES Workshop for Mothers & Babies on 7th an 8th Feb. Head over to our events page on Facebook for more information. Or write to me at rituparnaghosh (at) outlook (dot) com.

Don’t forget to check my story telling page – GOLPO for updates on upcoming events.

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Buzzing Books a.k.a BB is an online book rental service, especially designed for children from toddlers to teens to enrich their reading experience. To cut it short, it is a CHILDREN’S LIBRARY, first of its kind in NOIDA! BB services all of Noida and several parts of Delhi. Got questions? This will help you.

on-board the mommyship WP

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Book Review: Watch Out

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I have a curious obsession with language. We are Bengalis and most of our conversation at home is in Bangla. Most of our books are in English. When it comes to V and his books, I read them to him in English and translate it with words he is familiar with. As V grows up I know Bangla will recede into the background. Much like it is for us. And English will become his first language too. You can read a previous post to know better.

So when I found this delightful bilingual book from Tulika Books, I grabbed it.

Watch Out is a beautifully illustrated, action-packed book about three baby lions. One morning their mother sets off to get her baby lions food. While she is away the baby lions decide to play. And in their innocent play they encounter some very dangerous animals. From an eagle that threatens to scoop them away, to a crocodile that crawls towards them at the watering hole, the porcupine scares them unknowingly and a wicked hyena that growls at them menacingly…life without mommy lion is difficult and unknown. Like with every other nice story, mommy lion returns right on time to defend her babies. She roars back at the hyena, sending him running back to his pack.

IMG_20131109_113851[1]

V has a set of wooden animals. So while we were reading I decided to bring out his crocodile. He made an instant connect and in his baby language all right said, “Crocodile is here, run away!”

Watch Out is written by Shamim Padamsee. A grandmother of four, she is passionate about wildlife and has written children’s literature. Most of the text contains action words like, “Let’s play”, “Let’s pounce”, “Let’s drink” or “Let’s roll”…making children instantly connect with the histrionics of these playful cubs. But the jungle is not a safe place. The animals come for the cubs but the text doesn’t namr them. Elsewhere in the book (on the inside covers actually) the animals are drawn with their names im English and Hindi.

For V it’s his first exposure to some of the animals. The Eagle (since his understanding of birds extends only to the harmless pigeon) and the Porcupine (I am trying to make him understand the existence of an animal with prickly thorns) to be precise. What’s a revelation for me are the Hindi names of some of these animals. For the longest time I thought a crocodile in Hindi is called magarmach, well it is also called ghadiyaal. Thanks to the book I know that a porcupine is called Saahi in Hindi. See, there’s something we learn everyday. 🙂

Watch Out is a bilingual book from the house of Tulika Books available in a combination of different Indian languages with English being a common language.  But I discovered this only when I checked the book on their site.

Ajanta Guhathakurta and her beautiful illustrations for children’s books is well established.  I particularly loved the three cubs…with bright and naughty eyes, that’s how kids are, no matter which species. I also liked the double page silhouette illustration of dusk.

Do you read bilingual books to your kids? Tulika Books recommends Watch Out for 2 year olds. Mine enjoyed it.