Read Aloud Festival with Nirupama Kaushik: “‘Once Upon a Time’ is the Foundation on Which Communities are Built.”

This guest piece is a part of the Read Aloud Festival, organised by Hasirudala and Buguri Community Libraries, and supported by Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz to mark ‘World Read Aloud Day’ on February 1st, 2019. We reached out to children’s books authors and editors, community library groups, educators, parents, and other practitioners to share their personal experiences of read alouds and the benefits the practice promises.

I have loved books for as long as I can remember. My most cherished childhood memory is of my parents telling me stories every night till the lights went out. They took me on enchanting adventures with fairies, pirates, animals and other unfathomable creatures that you would only find in a book. As an adult, it enthralls me beyond measure to create the joy of reading for young children every single day. The best way to capture their attention is to open a book together and read it out loud.

Working in a school library gives me the opportunity to introduce children to all kinds of material – picture books, letters, memoirs, young adult fiction to name a few. I have found that reading picture books aloud provides children an occasion to listen to a language, build their vocabulary and process information as the story unfolds. It draws their focus to a book that may have gone unnoticed on the shelf otherwise.

Reading a book aloud is also a powerful way to open a dialogue with the listeners. An incident that comes to my mind is reading ‘The Night Monster’ by Sushree Mishra to the students of a kindergarten. Their eyes grew big at the hooting of the owl. They squealed with excitement when they discovered how Avi, the main character, dealt with his problem. They made Avi’s tale their own. But more importantly, the story gave me a platform to talk to children about their fears. Like this, I have used read aloud sessions to discuss topics like gender, death, peer pressure etc. across age groups. The ‘Why Why Girl’ by Mahasweta Devi is another story that never fails to channelise children’s thoughts towards the lives of those who are different from them.

Reading aloud and discussing characters in a group develops a sense of empathy in children. It gives them a window through which to discover the world. We also add elements of fun while reading a book together. ‘Tikki Tikki Tembo’ by Arlene Morsel is a sure winner here. Children are always amused while rattling out Tikki’s full name, mixed generously with chuckles. ‘Icky Yuck Mucky’ by Natasha Sharma is another hit! Last year, on World Read Aloud Day, teachers, support staff and administration staff were encouraged to read to the students. The garden, basketball court, and stairs were transformed into cosy spaces. The students listened to stories in English, Hindi, Marathi, and Gujarati. The buzz generated by the event led to the creation of a blog for the library where teachers now share their pleasant experiences with books. Children deserve enthusiastic adults who help them foster a meaningful relationship with reading. ‘Once upon a time’ is the foundation on which communities are built.

Over the years, my library team and I have learnt that not all books can be used for a read aloud and it requires careful preparation and planning. Voice modulation and expressions play a huge role in making the story come alive and like they say, practice makes perfect. As much as possible, we choose books that are open to interpretation. ‘Moral Stories’ never make it to our list. We spend time poring over each page to frame questions that will engage children’s imagination and abilities to predict, analyse, and infer information. When we see children rushing to borrow a book that has been read to the class, sitting together and going through each line, we know that the result is worth the effort.

I believe that there is a book for every reader and a reader for every book. How we present it to them is where all the magic lies.

Written by Nirupama Kaushik.

Nirupama Kaushik is the Library Educator of The Somaiya School, Mumbai. She supports students in developing cognitive, social and emotional skills through books and stories. She also works with teachers to connect the curriculum to the library collection. If not lost in a book, she is usually found shopping for craft supplies, doodling or listening to The Beatles. Dogs and chocolate chip cookies rule her world. She hopes to run her own library one day.

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