Writing & Finding Community
When anyone asks ‘So, was Anushi always a writer?’ My mom wrinkles her forehead and answers, “Uh…she used to write a lot of cards to her friends in school.’ (Thanks, Mom...you are right, card writing was the onset of my *unique* path to writing!)
To be honest, my mom wasn’t wrong. I really never considered writing as a career opportunity, because, well, I read The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy when I was sixteen. And, that’s when I decided writers are from a different universe.
About a decade later, I started telling my daughter stories (quite unlike Mrs. Roy’s) which prompted my husband to say “Why don’t you write books?”
Hmm.. not a bad idea.
Of course quite quickly, I realised being a writer is basically synonymous to treating yourself to a lifetime of rejection and dejection.
The single thing that has kept me going is not playing with the written word, but rather my ‘pen-pals’. Of whom, mind you, I have met none. About as often as I was told to have thick skin, I was also told to join *”critique groups”.
As soon as I joined a critique group, I kind of got addicted. Whoever thinks writing is a solitary journey is so wrong. My critique partners are my friends, confidants, shoulders to cry on and the ones who cheer me on every step of the way.
I am part of a Picture Book Critique Group and I co-founded a Chapter Book and Middle-Grade Critique Group. I am so incredibly pleased to have met some friends who I would easily call my 3am friends (let’s not get into time-differences). I am particularly amazed to see how #MGWaves has grown! It started off as a tweet I posted during Pitch Wars, now we are a group of 31 writers who support each other.
So, anyone contemplating whether they want to suffer a lifetime of failure and suffering...you’ve got a friend in me!
Middle-Grade Novels I read in 2020
This is the first year that I really considered writing Middle-Grade. Above you can see a graphic of all the MG that I read over the last six month - it is really hard to pick a favorite!
If you click on the author's name below - you will be directed to their webpage and you can read more about the books!
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller
Kick by Mitch Johnson
Pay Attention, Carter Jones by Gary Schmidt
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins
Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz
Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
RESOURCES I LOVE
The boards, lists and cards on Trello help me organize my research, photos, inspiration and lightbulb moments in one place. I have just started using it, but I am really enjoying it. It gives me all my information in one place. I used to make handwritten spiderwebs with ideas, but inevitably the next time I would look from my work, it would be nowhere to be found. Trello makes sure I don’t have to worry about losing my work!
I have various folders on the drive. Some are shared folders that all my critique partners have access to - we upload our submissions, research and critiques here. Other folders are just for me to access where I store all my work in progress.
Slack is free platform, until you have x amount of posts (which #MGWaves is close to reaching- yikes). Initially we had a private group on Twitter, but it became harder and harder to keep track of the amazing resources, thoughts and debates. We decided to move to Slack and we have multiple channels on everything from marketing to brainstorming to pity parties :).
This a group of almost 750 picture book writers with a wonderfully supportive private forum. I absolutely love the webinars, Julie and her team bring in some of the most established writers within the picture book field. It is great to get my questions answered by these well-regarded writers. I also found my picture book group critique group through 12x12 :).
Oh, and watch out because each of these MG ripples is going to take the world by storm!
One of the best things about our community is the resources we share. Be sure to check out every wave's link to collect valuable resources and tips along the way!
Susan Leigh Needham
The Case for Reading to Babies
A few weeks ago, I posted a book recommendation give-away and got more than 50 comments with moms tagging other moms. I realized that new moms really want to read to their babies, but just don’t know how to start or what types of books to buy. While I didn’t get a chance (or feel comfortable) talking to myself while pregnant, I did start building my kids library when they were a few months old. As a new mother and very little access to public libraries I was lost- where does one look for age appropriate books? This led me on my journey to discovering more about the world of kidlit.
This series is unique because most of the Instagram tiles only feature a few words on the types of books you should look out for. The reason behind this is so that you can screenshot it and keep it as a reminder for the next time you visit a bookstore in search of books for your little one. Moreover, some of the titles are ‘mini-presentations’ on each feature so you should definitely swipe if you haven’t already done so.
Ok so lets begin:
Advice Number: 6789532- “You should share stories with your newborn.”
Great! On top of feeding, cleaning diapers, burping, bathing, sanitizing everything in the house, coming to terms with a new, unpleasant sleep cycle, now I have to READ to my ten day old child too?!
It exposes the baby to the sound of your voice, which is soothing for him." In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that reading to babies in the NICU can help parents develop the same feelings of intimacy that parents of healthy newborns cultivate in the days and weeks after a baby's birth.
Reading books together allows you to bond and helps a child understand the world is a safe place to play and explore. Moreover, bonding (cuddling, talking and singing) release growth hormones.
Did you know that kids who are read to every day are exposed to around 78,000 words each year—over five years, that adds up to 1.4 million words heard during story time?
0-6 months: BLACK & WHITE
Newborns and still developing their eye sight and ability to see color. High contrast colors help optic nerve grow. Research indicates that high-contrast colors like black and white register most strongly in a baby's brain and help the optic nerve to grow. Due to an underdeveloped retina, keep objects and your face around 8-10 inches from the baby’s face, so the baby can focus as best as possible. You can and should consider high contrast for your clothes, the baby’s toys, books, the mobile, crib bedding, room decor, blankets, items that you put around the car seat, and footsies. Preferably dark and light stripes.
Let’s knock down two sticks with one stick- reading and sensory play! Hypothesizing experimenting, observing, drawing conclusions what now? This language takes me back to Ms Helness’s class, straining to listen to her soft voice from the back benches and, miserably failing! Either way, I am finally putting good use to all those lessons!
Thanks Ms Helness! What is sensory play? It includes any activity that stimulates baby's sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, or hearing. The idea is to encourage little ones to use their senses to play, create, investigate and explore. Sensory play can be an early, but important step in the development process.
With sensory play, there’s always much more going on than meets the eye. Sensory activities, in addition to being fun and interesting for babies and young children, encourage children to explore and investigate. Furthermore, these activities support children to use the ‘scientific method’ of observing, forming a hypothesis, experimenting and making conclusions.
Sensory activities also allow children to refine their thresholds for different sensory information, helping their brain to create stronger connections to sensory information and learn which are useful and which can be filtered out.
Sensory activities help to build nerve connections in the brain and encourage the development of motor skills. Moreover, they encourage ‘scientific thinking’ and problem solving.
Next week, I will talk more about my crowd-funded campaign with The Community Library Project. I hope to do some Instagram lives to discuss the brilliant work they do! I will also be sharing more about the database I am working on and can’t for you’ll to hear more about it!
The Power of Stories
I have witnessed time and again, firsthand, the power of stories with my children. Navyaa is more observant, curious and empathetic of those around her because of the unique window that books give her into others' lives. While SULWE (Lupita Nyong'o) taught to love her dark skin color, MACHAR JHOL offered her a glimpse into the world a blind boy. Mahir at two, has been exposed to life in Africa through HANDA’S SURPRISE (Eileen Brown) and is already learning to be a feminist during our weekly revisits of (WOMEN TRAILBLAZERS).
Stories are so powerful and this has been the leading driving force for this passion project. Over the last few weeks, I enjoyed sharing and reading some of my favourite books. I hosted two instagram live sessions with two incredible women. Click on the photo BELOW to be redirected to the instagram page :).
My first Instagram live was with Priyanka Bhansali:
Priyanka Bhansali is an NY state certified Childhood Education and Special Education Teacher with a Master’s in Educational Development. She moved to Antwerp 8 years ago and taught English as a second language to adults and kids. She is a mom of two boys, ages 2 and 4 and an instagram blogger for toddler activities and games.
Everyone knows that reading with your child helps with language acquisition, vocabulary expansion and brain development, but what else?
Priyanka and I discussed some of the less obvious, more meaningful benefits of reading
Priyanka is as passionate about children’s literature as I and as mothers, both of us had aligned visions about raising empathetic, kind and open-minded children ABOVE all else! We unpacked the importance of reading aloud at home and shared some of our favorite books and the impact that they have had on our children! I’d love for your thoughts on the live session.
We spoke about reading routines and how we pick the books to read with our children. After this we broke down THE POWER OF STORIES into three different segments
INTRODUCING NEW TOPICS because allow you talk about things so organically.
CHALLENGES THEY FACE whether getting glasses or a new sibling.
BEING INCLUSIVE MEMBERS OF SOCIETY a child can play their small part in a big world
My second instagram live was with Samina Mishra:
Samina Mishra is a documentary filmmaker, writer and teacher based in New Delhi, Her films use the lens of childhood, identity and education to reflect the experience of growing up in India, and include The Teacher and The World (2016) and Stories of Girlhood (2001). She has written children's books published by Duckbill, Scholastic, Tulika and Penguin. Her interest in the ways that the arts can be included in education led her to head programming at the Nehru Learning Centre for Children and Youth where she focussed on using the arts in a variety of ways with government school children. She is currently teaching the International Baccalaureate Film programme Noida and collaborating on Torchlight, a web journal on libraries and bookish love.
This was one of the most special and memorable conversations and one that I can hear over and over again to hear Samina’s beautiful words of advice. Her work focuses on ‘seeing the world anew’ and being able to show the world in all its diversity.
‘We The Children of India’ is incredible on-going project that was started in 2019 particularly stemmed from the debate on what it means to be Indian. The project focuses on abstract ideas of identity and culture and uses the medium of poetry to allow children to understand their place in the world through everyday things they experience.
She advises parents to encourage children to write poetry because it’s really not a high-art. She says that poetry is NOT only about rhyme, but actually about rhythm. More than anything it should be based on repetition and then the last line you break the rhythm. Children are introduced to songs and rhythm so organically. If you child does write a poem (in their mother tongue or in any language) let them send it in.
She’s not trying to raise every child to be an artist, but at least be self-aware and more engaged with their place in the world. We spoke about the importance of sharing untold stories to our child for them to see themselves reflected in the world, as well as seeing other people’s stories.
Below I am sharing some of her top film and book recommendations for young children (5+)
Youtube - The Red Balloon (1956) by Albert Lamorisse
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (1969) Satyajit Roy
Children of Heaven (1997)- Majid Majidi
My Neighbour Totoro (1988) Hayao Miyazaki
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore
Indian publication has made huge strides in the last two decades, here are some of her recommendations!
Anushka Ravishankar - captures place of play and real big ideas that all individuals grapple with
MOIN AND THE MONSTER
TODAY IS MY DAY
Uma Krishmaswami- BOOK UNCLE AND ME (8+)- written entirely in worse
Samina Mishra- MY FRIEND IN THE CITY
Nandini Nayar - WHAT DID YOU SEE?
Shals Mahajan - TIMMI IN TANGLES
Thank you so much and stay tuned for the next series!
Phonics & Literacy
What a great few weeks its been. It was a lovely to take a deeper look at phonics and it brought me back to my past life as a teacher! We looked at early readers, ideas for the youngest readers on phonemic awareness, unpacked some of the basics of phonics with Ms Karishma Nichlani and stirred up ideas for DIY activities at home with Ms Karishma Mehta!
There are 26 letters of the alphabet but they make 44 sounds.
Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another in the English language.Phonics involves matching the sounds of spoken English with individual letters or groups of letters. For example, the sound k can be spelled as c, k, ck or ch.
Frequent opportunities for children to apply what they are learning about letters and sounds to the reading of words, sentences, and stories
Most poor readers tend to rely so heavily on one reading strategy, such as the use of context and picture clues, that they exclude other strategies that might be more appropriate. To become skilled, fluent readers, children need to have a repertoire of strategies to draw on. These strategies include using a knowledge of sound-spelling relationships — in other words, an understanding of phonics. In addition, research has shown that skilled readers attend to almost every word in a sentence and process the letters that compose each of these words.
Therefore, phonics instruction plays a key role in helping students comprehend text. It helps the student map sounds onto spellings, thus enabling them to decode words. Decoding words aids in the development of word recognition, which in turn increases reading fluency. Reading fluency improves reading comprehension because as students are no longer struggling with decoding words, they can concentrate on making meaning from the text.
In addition, phonics instruction improves spelling ability because it emphasizes spelling patterns that become familiar from reading. Studies show that half of all English words can be spelled with phonics rules that relate to one letter to one sound.
Pre-phonics Skills to develop at home:
All books, rather, ANY book is great to read with your little one! There are some that I particularly find worthy of doing as pre-reading skills- I try to look for books with 3R’s- rhyme, rhythm and repetition. I have seen that having one or all of components in the stories you read helps your child pick up new words, sounds, phrases and sentence structure with ease.
Ms Karishma Mehta also suggested some lovely activities to do at home : click here
Early Readers - schools will often subscribe graduated reading programme
Early readers – also referred to as first readers – are stepping stones from picture books and reading scheme books to longer chapter books. They're carefully developed to tell a great story, but in a format that children are able to read and enjoy by themselves, using familiar vocabulary and appealing illustrations.
Devising an early reader isn’t an easy process, which is why publishing houses often work with best-selling children’s authors. . ‘An author can spend hours and hours on a sentence of just 10 words.’
There’s no precise science for developing an early reader, but publishers take into account children’s reading ability, vocabulary and use of grammar. Font type, size and layout are also important. ‘For example, for newly independent young readers, a page should finish at the end of a complete sentence, rather than the sentence continuing on the next page,’
Gerald and Piggie
Activities and guides included
The Elephant and Piggie books are fun to read aloud to younger children who love the funny stories about the two friends. I recommend the books for ages 4-8 and especially beginning readers from 6-8 years old.
Collins big cat
whole-school reading programme that provides complete support for primary reading. Teaching resources to support developing and assessing key reading skills at all stages from early reading through to phonics, to guided, whole-class and independent reading for more confident readers.
Foundation Stage up to Grade 2 (3-7 year olds), multi-layered, rich fiction and non-fiction titles, learning guides and assessment trackers are also provided
I can Read
I Can Read! books are organized into color-coded levels. With hundreds of titles featuring award-winning authors and illustrators, and the most beloved character friends in the history of children’s literature,
This level is just right for readers who are beginning to sound out words and sentences. Books on this level, like Danny and the Dinosaur, are written with simple sentences using familiar words. Many of the books at this level are filled with animal characters that have wonderful adventures! The vocabulary is just challenging enough to stay interesting. Children looking for favorite characters at this level will find the Berenstain Bears, Pinkalicious, and more.
Oxford Reading Tree
millions of children around the world learn to read with the guidance of this program. They have more than 800 books at their disposal.
Orion Early Readers
Over 4 million copies of the Orion Early Reader series have been sold. Packed with illustrations, they're stepping stones from picture books to reading books for children to read independently and come in two stages: Blue (to be read with an adult) and Red (a more advanced text for children to read alone when they're ready)
Ladybird Read it Yourself
a levelled reading book series (70 books, 4 levels). As well as classic fairy tales and adapsted Beatrix potter stories you can choose from modern stories and favourite characters (Charlie and Lola, Moshi Monsters) for your child. An app and eBook versions are also available.
DC Super Friends
Perfect for children who are beginning to recognise words and short sentences, DC Super Friends is a Random House colour first reader series based around superheroes like Batman and Superman.
Here are the questions that Ms Karishma walked us through during the live IG!
What is phonics?
At what age do children start learning phonics at schools, by and large?
Can you explain phonics terminology? Digraph
tricky words/ High frequency words, sight words
Structure of phonics lesson
What is the link between phonics and reading?
How can we incorporate phonics in daily life as parents?
Thanks so much and special shout-out to both the Karishma's! :)
June is PRIDE month and there could be no better way to celebrate than sharing picture books related to gender nonconformity. This post is a summary of things that have been featured on the instagram page, but you will find some interesting stories and visuals there you may want to check out (thehappybookerin).
This all started because my son LOVES lipstick, pink and purple lip balms, blush, nail polish. Everyone around me seems to be on a mission to stop this craziness.
Heck! Even I joined in for a few moments. “Nail polish is for girls!” “Boys don’t use lipstick.” but then I asked myself why? Why can't (not even) 2 year olds play with a item that is so easily accessible at home? Why would they not be curious about an item they see their mom using regularly ? While I understand that babies should not be using such products, I already see preconceived notions, biases starting to bubble in his mind. He can easily fill in the blank Only___ wear blush”. Quite frankly, at this point, I think my 23 month old is purely drawn by opening and shutting the lids and seeing the fluorescent colours of the chapsticks. But even if it was more…so what? These societal restrictions must stop. This is a question of freedom of choice, which must start young and start at home.
These are the very things we talk about everyday on the News. There is a definitely a correlation between early socialisation and future gaps and inequality in education, employment, income, empowerment, and other significant outcomes of well-being.
After @jkrowling's disregard for transgender people, it is even more crucial for us to shed light on sensitive topics like these! Please note that while your child may be gender conforming, I would highly reccomend sharing a few books with them to allow them to understand, be empathetic and have friends who may be gender nonconforming
Respect the words people use to describe themselves. Transgender people use many different terms to describe their experiences, and not all terms fit all people. It’s important to ask people what language they want you to use. It’s okay to ask someone for their preferred name and pronouns. Always use the name and pronouns they tell you.
If trans people aren’t sure which identity labels fit them best, give them the time to figure it out for themselves. The terms or language a person prefers may change over time, and that’s totally normal and okay.
A transgender person is someone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. A transgender girl, or transgirl, is a person who was born with male genitalia but identifies as female. A transgender boy, or transboy, is someone who was born with female genitalia but identifies as male.
Genderqueer refers to someone who identifies as neither entirely male nor entirely female. a gender-nonconforming person is someone whose behaviors and interests — in things such as clothing and toys — don't match societal expectations for their biological sex.
In India transgender individuals are known as Hirjas or Eunichs. They prefer to be known as Kinner or Kinnar (mythological beings of dance and song). They had a troubled history- under British rule, they were criminalized and we see the effects till date. Now, 96% of them are denied respectable jobs and face gendered violence and discrimination at home and public spaces According to Hindustan Times, thousands of children leave school because of non-inclusive spaces.
The Swaddle states that, “Trans individuals comprise 0.04% of the total Indian population, roughly 490,000 people, and only 30,000 of them are registered with the Election Commission of India. Denying equal opportunities for a sustainable livelihood to this minority not only has serious social implications but also impacts the economy adversely.
The 2016 World Bank report estimated India’s loss in GDP due to homophobia (and by extension, phobia toward the whole LGBTQIA+ community) up to US$32 billion, or 1.7% of the GDP. Research globally shows that LGBTQIA+ inclusion leads to both business innovation and happier workplaces because employees can be themselves at workplaces that constantly protect and empower them.”
A list of board books and picture books from a transgender person who is in the Kidlit space :) Thank you Adrien!
Also here's a list of parents raising transgender children:
Transgender 101 by Nicholas M Teich
Written by a social worker, popular educator, and member of the transgender community, this well-rounded resource combines an accessible portrait of transgenderism with a rich history of transgender life and its unique experiences of discrimination. Chapters introduce transgenderism and its psychological, physical, and social processes. They describe the coming out process and its effect on family and friends, the relationship between sexual orientation, and gender and the differences between transsexualism and lesser-known types of transgenderism.
Transitions of the Heart by Rachel Pepper
This book contains 32 essays written by mothers of transgender or gender variant children.
The Gender Creative Child by Diana Ehrensaft
Psychological, medical and anecdotal stories are woven together into an affirmative and loving celebration of gender creative children and their families to provide a thorough view of all the elements of raising or otherwise supporting a gender creative child.
The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill
Combining research and personal stories from parents, family members, and transgender people themselves, the authors provide an accessible resource that will prove itself indispensable not only for parents and families of transgender children, but also for anyone who works with young people.