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Children’s Book Review: The Famous Smile

Kulkoochi…yup, say that again…Kulkoochi.

That’s the Bangla word for ‘rinsing one’s mouth’ with a gurgle of water. It is a ritual in the house now, considering it’s only been three months since V has learnt to kulkoochi after every meal; even after he picks onions from Daddy’s meals.

One cannot but emphasise enough the importance of oral hygiene. Like everything else in life, good habits begin early. We have a strict aversion to chocolates and we only resort to small tid-bits like Gems and Fox’s during public meltdowns. Research shows that tooth decay in milk tooth is devastating for children. If it remains untreated, pediatric dental disease can lead to malnourishment, bacterial infections, required emergency surgery and even death!

Scared? You should be…whatever the state of dental hygiene it is never too late to begin.

What better way to talk about the importance of good shining teeth than with a book?

And thanks to our friendly neighbourhood children’s library Buzzing Books, I have one!

Agar Magar

The Famous Smile is a Katha Classic, written by its founder Geeta Dharmarajan and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh. Before I move to the text and story, I must begin by talking about the wonderful imagery in the book.  Because in truth, that is truly the biggest pull of this book! Rashin Kheriyeh is a young Iranian illustrator, painter and animator with a global footprint of her work and art.

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One look at the toothy grin of Agar Magar, the crocodile and you know that The Famous Smile is a book with an unusual tale.

The book blurb reads, “After several failed attempts, Agar Magar finally makes it big. Come, take a tour of the mighty river, the deep forest and the big town, as Agar Magar goes places, flaunting his sparkling shiny teeth and his Famous Smile.”

At the outset it is the story of Agar Magar the flamboyant crocodile who has the ‘most sparkling teeth in the whole jungle’. Every day he would brush them with neem twigs and lie on the riverbank hoping someone would notice his smile and exclaim, “Oh Agar Magar! What beautiful teeth you have!”

The imagery of Geeta Dharmarajan’s words is perfect for the young mind. And here is a sample, “Every once in a while, Agar Magar would move his head just a wee bit. How the sun shone on his teeth! How they sparkled! How they twinkled! As if someone had stuck millions of big and little stars on them!”

(If you are struggling for ways to motivate your child to brush his teeth, this is the perfect line for you!)

Agar Magar sets off to show off his starry teeth. He meets little fishes, but they dart away at the first instant. And why not? “Who wants to be eaten by a huge crocodile with teeth like sharp knives?” The book is a visual treat not just because of Rashin’s illustrations, but also the way the text has been imprinted. The above line is written in a circle, making the reader turn the book and one’s head to read through the text.

Agar Magar meets more jungle animals…Zebra, Monkeys, Cobra and the yellow-toothed Tiger. But no one is interested in Agar Magar’s teeth.

In search of a true admirer, Agar Magar reaches the town full of wise people. ‘He smiled his widest, most magnificent smile’ when FLASH! Someone clicks a picture of his smile. “You have the most beautiful teeth in the whole world! I have been hunting all day for this smile!” says a voice.

Click, Click, Click…Agar Magar finds instant recognition. He becomes the face of a toothpaste advertisement. He becomes famous!

“The newspapers buzzed with Agar Magar. Now everyone wanted him in their advertisements, in films, picture books. Even on Cartoon Network!”

Imagine that!

Why The Famous Smile

  1. If oral hygiene is on your mind, this is the perfect book for your child
  2. An animal story is always a personal favourite, because children connect with it instantly
  3. Unusual illustration and text – The book is a visual treat
  4. The book offers instant gratification with a simple formula => Smiling teeth = Fame

For Ages

A book like this is open to a large age group. I read this to my 28 month old, because we are driving in the importance of brushing and clean teeth. This is also a great book for the independent reader. The text and graphics in the book will require the reader to twist and turn the book around. Fun!

In simple words => Suits 2-6 years

Mommy’s Story Telling Technique

This book is a story teller’s delight! Full of characters, with loads of action and dramatics, we had a lot of fun ‘telling’ the story. I chose actions, tones and we even brushed while telling the story.

Concepts Shared

  1. It’s good to brush and have the brightest teeth
  2. Some people may not appreciate your skills (like the other animals didn’t)
  3. But you will find people who will appreciate your talents (like the photographer)
  4. Your skills will find you fame and renown. And which kid doesn’t want to be on Cartoon Network?

About the Publisher

Katha, a non-profit organisation working with and in story and storytelling since 1988, is one of India’s top publishing houses. Katha also introduces an array of writings from the many oral and written traditions of India to children, ages 0-17. Classy productions, child-friendly layouts and superb illustrations go in tandem with excellent writing.

I find Katha books extremely imaginative. A lot of their books are recommended by CBSE and I am particularly inspired by their determination to make stories an intrinsic part of children’s lives, especially that those of the underprivileged. We have an array of titles in our own baby library and so has Buzzing Books.  Buzzing Books is also an authorised seller of Katha titles. So you know where to go to buy some awesome books.

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.

logoBuzzing 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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In Search Of A Good Story

“Mum-um Golpo bolo”

(Mother, tell me a story)

Storytelling is a parenting hazard! Oh yes, it is…especially if you have a kid like mine who asks for a ‘golpo’ (story) all round the day. At meal times, play times, ‘me’ times, bedtimes, in between a story, after a story, before a story. Stories about his car, bike and toys. And stories about Spiderman, Poo, Momkey and Hamba (cow) Stories about his father, uncles and aunt. His own stories and stories of Thakur (we happened to watch a bit of Sholay together)…Phew!! Oh yes! He has a voracious appetite for a story.

😀 *touchwood*

Nothing gives me more joy than to read a book with V. Like Baby Bing in ‘Baby’s Day Out’ V gets stuck to a favourite book. While it is sometimes a struggle to break away from his favourites, it is also a delight to lure him towards a new read. We snuggle together, read together, make funny faces together, emote together and enact the book together.  We pick the characters in the book and mix them with characters from another book. We make new stories and experience our stories in a new way every day. How else can I explain that V gets up in the morning asking for Simba’s hug?  😀

Reading Collage

Over the past several months I have come to experience the power of books and storytelling as a parenting tool; one that EVERY parent must have in her / his armour. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to be a reader, really. All you need is to want to spend time with your child when he / she has your complete attention. I don’t want to get into the benefits of reading to your child, chances are that you already know it. If you don’t, I will leave that for another post. But before that, here are the top 5 reasons why I read to my 28 month old.

1)     Connect

 There is no better way to connect with my child than read a book together. Our reading sessions are short and crisp…lasting about 15-20 minutes. Sometimes I have been able to stretch it to 30 minutes! We almost always read more than 1 book at a time. Mostly it is 2 books, sometimes it is 3. But that’s because he wants to read more than one. In those precious moments we are one, connected by a single tale that draws us in. When I bring a book out, we take time to explore the book. We look at the cover, the illustrations, the clothes and mannerisms of the characters, the tiny small details that do not play a role in the story but form an essential part of the image that the child sees (for example, the image of a lizard on a wall). We try and judge the emotions the characters go through mostly their expressions tell us that.  Even if the book is a re-read, we do the same drill. It is only after this that we really read the book. And through it all, we cuddle and have a great time.

2)     Vocabulary

In a Bengali household I make sure I talk to V in Bangla. But that’s because I know as he grows up, this language will become his third preference, lest it slips further down in his choice of languages. So a lot of times I have read stories to him in English and translated them to him in Bangla. As he grows up and nears his play-schooling phase I have ensured his basic English vocabulary is built up. Thanks to some stellar Indian publishers, there are some great bilingual books available today. So no matter what is the age of your child, you always have a choice and resource to teach your child more than one language.

3)     Imagination

 If you are a parent I am sure you have been washed away by your child’s imagination. To look at a picture and interpret possibilities without considering its real meaning is truly a child’s genius. Give me an image and I will only look at it for it is worth and not what it can become. But that’s not what it is to V. And I am sure it is the same for your child too. So when we read I leave the book to his imagination and interpretation. “What is this?” we often ask each other. While he tries to eke out answers to questions in his head, I love to hear his babble of possibilities.

4)     Lessons

Do all books come with a lesson? And when is the right time to talk to a child about morals in a story? Yes…all stories come with morals.  It is up to us to pick them. It is never too late to begin talking about lessons and morals in a story. I dislike The Ugly Duckling for instance, and for V I have a different version of the story. Emotions, feelings and behaviour are very delicate issues that must be shared with children at an early age. As adults we often underestimate the understanding of our little ones. Concepts like sharing, kindness, gratitude, empathy and are not too tough for them. They are waiting for experiences, and it is up to us to give them the perfect examples; through books and stories and otherwise.

5)     Children’s Literature

Did I tell you I am smitten by Children’s Literature? Oh yes, I am! So much so, that my own reading list is lagging behind. And it stands at a dismal level! Everywhere I go, I walk into a book shop losing myself in the children’s section. I am constantly browsing through online libraries, making notes, pinning posts on Pinterest and all I can think of is the next kiddie book that I want in our library. Yes, I am so loves truck that I can’t bear to call it his library! So I dig into his liberally. Today we have more than 200 titles that stand on V’s bookshelf. *Yikes*

So in between of all this reading, where did story telling come in?

I have told stories all along. Professionally as a television producer, story tilling and telling is what I have done always. From political documentaries, to lifestyle shows, travelogues, to human interest. Sometimes we’ve dug up the archives to bring to life stories of the past, at others we have scraped the truth of what is being hidden. For 9 years I have done just that and I have loved every moment of it.

To be fair to my source of inspiration, V was the reason I took to storytelling. I wanted to be a better storyteller to him, to entertain him and play with him. With my heart in its place I trained under Simi Srivastava at Kathashala. And it took me away like a leaf in a storm!

To write about my experience as a story teller will be tough and I am not sure I have the words to truly describe it. But I will give it a try…

ð  To decide to be a story teller as a hobbyist or a professional is a HUGE risk that I take. At 32, it has taken me great courage to push myself towards a creative field once again. And to enjoy it thoroughly, as much as I do has taken me by complete surprise. I didn’t realise I would have so much FUN!!

ð  There are clear divisions here when it comes to experiencing a story. There is a difference between ‘reading’ a story, ‘telling’ a story, ‘performing’ a story and ‘watching’ a story. As a story teller, I get to experience one story in so many ways.

ð  To watch a wide-eyed audience, almost stupefied by your performance is surreal. I have addressed mixed crowds of children and adults and I have never seen so many happy faces. “In all my 60 years no one has told me a better story!”this is the one compliment that will remain with me forever.

ð  Everyone enjoys a story, well told. And that has been my objective behind being a story teller all along; in television and now. To tell a story like no one else can. Whether I am able to do this in the future will be a test for me.

ð  I am the Chief Entertainment Officer for my kiddo. So why not do that for some others do. It is best to make people smile than to make them cry, right?

ð  I’ve always wanted to have a bookstore. Yes, as long as I can remember that is the one thing that has driven me. Now I may not have a book store really, but I have a ready excuse to be around books and stories.

ð  Oxytocin and Serotonin – are at their best! These are two very powerful ‘feel good hormones’ that the body releases after a feel-good, successful act. So why not make it a daily affair? Say goodbye to negativity and pessimism.

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If this has interested you and you want to know more about my adventures with reading and storytelling hop over to the GOLPO **page. It has listings of all my forthcoming events. Feel free to connect through the Contact Page or mail me at rituparnaghosh (at) outlook (dot) com.

I’ll be delighted to tell you a story!

 **’Golpo’ is the Bangla word for Story**

 

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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.

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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.