Category Archives: books

Reading with Apu

I’m so kicked and impressed – My lovely baby is all mesmerized hearing me read my ‘Wizard of Oz’ book to him. Well what I’m so impressed about is that this is the texty unabridged version – with a few black and white illustrations and lots of text – something I got from a pen pal when I was maybe 10 or 11… And yet he could keep listening for hours if only I would keep reading…
To quote the opening lines of Alice (in Wonderland) – ‘Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book’ though Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’
I had to explain the concept of ‘book chapters’ to him – since I want to read only a few chapters every day, and he can’t understand why the book doesn’t end!

Here he is looking at the drawings in the book while I get dinner ready. (Break between two chapters)

One of the sections we like best is:
‘So the Wicked Witch took the Golden Cap from her cupboard and placed it upon her head. Then she stood upon her left foot and said slowly, “Ep-pe, pep-pe, kak-ke!”
Next she stood upon her right foot and said, “Hil-lo, hol-lo, hel-lo!”
After this she stood upon both feet and cried in a loud voice… “Ziz-zy, zuz-zy, zik!”

(We demonstrated this chant with actions a couple of times to ourselves before Apu went to sleep)

So well, he isn’t always so grown up and all… He misinterprets things all the time – but his logic makes sense too!
Another favorite bed time read is ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’
And there’s one page that reads – ‘Weeks passed, and the little rabbit grew very old and shabby. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit anymore, except to the Boy.’
At this point, Apu always shouts out – “Yes! He looked like a bear!”
Here’s the picture that corresponds to that page :-)


Learning the Caterpillar way…

The book we are currently reading is ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle.
I love everything about this book – the beautiful illustrations, the humor, the learning concepts, the simplicity… This book represents the type of Graphic Design I think of as ‘cool’ design.
Apu loves it too – We have read it at least twice every day over the last couple of days.

The art work is distinctive – I read somewhere that the author creates the effect using paint and tissue paper and layering them in a collage. What makes the art special is that it is not too abstract for children to appreciate.

The number of learning concepts this simple book covers is amazing:
– Numbers / Counting
– Lifecycle of a caterpillar
– Days of the week
– Fruits and other food stuff
– Pitfalls of greed / Healthy eating

The humor and light writing style is the icing on the cake… (The book describes the junk food binge the caterpillar has on Saturday – resulting in a terrible stomach ache!)

I can see us using this books for a couple of years more and in many different ways… As Apu gets older, the simple text is perfect for learning to read. I also look forward to trying out the painting style with Apu.
Here’s a site I found about different ways in which readers used the Eric Carle books –

Definitely one of our favorites – To be treasured and archived on our bookshelf even after we outgrow it.
Highly recommended.

BTW – We have another book called ‘Brahma’s Butterfly’ – Which is also about the lifecycle of a caterpillar. I was very happy when Apu connected the two stories – Asking for that book to be read to him, after we finished reading ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’

Analysis Paralysis, Reading and Review

It’s been a while since my last post. The reason – Analysis Paralysis.

What that means is I have been engrossed in analyzing the data from a recent design research study. This involves listening to hours of user interviews and contemplating the data head-on, backwards, upside down and laterally – Till I am able to filter out the noise and vacuum pack the relevant stuff into Insights. By this time, I’m also cross eyed, saturated and paralyzed as far as writing or thinking goes.
This analysis phase of research really does sometimes feels like paralysis… It is difficult to do anything much outside the data one is engrossed in. Early in my career, I had the luxury of switching off the rest of the world and hibernating into my own little research world, till all the work was done. But with motherhood, I have learnt to switch my analysis paralysis mode on and off as required – switching between ‘research zombie’ and ‘involved mommy’ with relative ease… (Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde?)

One of the challenges I love about design research is to ensure that my own context, beliefs and mindsets do not influence or change the intrinsic meaning of what the research actually says.
This is challenging because coming up with ‘Insights’ essentially means highlighting what is not obvious and presenting the obvious in a fresh and unique way. It takes some doing to make sure that one is creating Insights out of what is actually seen and heard – And not from what is thought to be seen or heard.

I found a nice parallel to what I’m trying to say in a book I’m currently reading. This excerpt is from a section of the book about ancient attempts towards discovering the cause of scurvy:

James Lind, a naval surgeon, conducted a more scientifically rigorous (and less personally risky) experiment by finding 12 sailors who had scurvy already, dividing them into pairs and giving each pair a different putative elixir – vinegar to one, garlic and mustard to another, oranges and lemons to a third, and so on.
Five of the groups showed no improvement, but the pair given oranges and lemons made a swift and total recovery.
Amazingly, Lind decided to ignore the significance of the result and doggedly stuck with his own personal belief that scurvy was caused by incompletely digested food building up toxins within the body.

On a different note – One of the things that helps relax my mind when I am analyzing data is reading. The book I am currently reading (and where the excerpt is from) is ‘At Home’ by Bill Bryson.
Here’s a short clip of Bill Bryson discussing his new book –

The clip and online reviews don’t do justice to the crazy genius of this book. Although not usually a fan of non-fiction, this book turned out to be one of the most hilarious and engaging reads in a long time.

Another excerpt that had me in splits and scheming to implement on my 3 year old:

‘The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb’

(A boy named Conrad is warned not to suck his thumbs because it will attract the attention of a ghoulish figure known as the great tall tailor who always comes

To little boys that suck their thumbs.
And ere they dream what he’s about
He takes his great sharp scissors out.
And cuts their thumbs clean off – and then
You know, they never grow again.

Alas, little Suck-a-Thumb ignores the advice and discovers that punishment in Hoffman’s (the author) world is swift and irreversible:

The door flew open, in he ran,
The great red-legged scissor man.
Oh! Children, see! The tailor’s come!
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.

Snip! Snap! Snap! The scissors go;
And Conrad cries out – Oh! Oh! Oh!
Snip! Snap! Snap! They go so fast;
That both his thumbs are off at last.

Mamma comes home; there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands.
‘Ah!’ said Mamma, ‘I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.’

Book Memories

I love reading. I can’t imagine a world without books. (Horrors!)
At any given point of time, I have about four books waiting to be read on my bedside table – My online library (yes! they door deliver), my office library, my dear friend and inexhaustible book source Ayesha…

Occasionally the luxury of surfing and getting the books I want at the click of a button – And sometimes I go on a book binge – To Crosswords if it is with my husband… or to Blossoms if I am on my own…

The result of the buying (vs. borrowing) is a (several paces faster than) slow and definitely steady build up of books that now line most walls and shelves of our study.

I can trace my first books back to the time I was 4 years old and living in Mysore with my grandparents… There was one bookshop in town – Going into town was a big deal those days – the planning, the dressing up for the ‘town visit’, the list of canned stuff and other goodies to be bought from the big store in town, and the anticipation of the book store stop… I don’t remember the name of the shop, but I do remember it was just next to the big ‘Bata’ shoe shop – I still have all the books I was bought – And now read them to my son.

Little Mistress Magpie - Book cover

Little Mistress Magpie - An inside page

Although the same authors and characters are available at stores today, the reprints are just not the same. Besides the illustrative style and the paper and print quality, there is something invaluable and beautiful about the old books – the discolored paper, the smell, the name, date and other details neatly written on the first page, the memories that go with each book…

Doctor Powderpill - Book cover

When I was a child, I also got a lot of books that were my mom’s when she was young – I eagerly scratched my name below her’s on the first page – to make the book mine. I did not really feel a sense of pride at that young age – to be getting a book that my mom once owned and enjoyed as a girl – but now I definitely do – especially when I give the same book to my son and write his name third on the list – below my mom’s and mine.
These books are even more special, as I never see them any more in the stores – Some of the same ‘type’ of book may surface occasionally in Blossoms – but for the most part, these books are not accessible any more to this generation of children.

Another beautiful book memory I have is receiving two beautifully illustrated hard bound books from an aunt – The compiled works of Hans Christian Anderson and The Grimm’s Brothers. The water color illustrations in these books brought the stories alive for me – I cried when I was read ‘The Little Mermaid’… Laughed at the silly pictures in the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’… Was enchanted and drawn into the saga of the ‘Snow Queen’

Kids growing up in Bangalore and Mysore of the early 80’s also had access to beautiful Russian and other ‘iron curtain country’ books… Today, some of my son’s favorite stories are from these books. Although he is too small to read and many of these books have no pictures and a lot of text, they have captivated him.

The love for reading is one of the most precious gifts a parent can give to a child. If it hadn’t been for my early and easy access to these wonderful books, I may not have really got pulled into and discovered the wonderful and alternate reality of the written word…

Here are some books that I loved as a child, and am now reading to my son:

  • Doctor Powderpill – Published in 1978.. A beautifully illustrated story written poetically.. (‘In the scorching Kalahari, Up on Mount Fernando-Po, Where the grumpy Hippo-Po, Roams the mighty Limpopo…
  • Hans Christian Anderson (Fairy Tales)
  • Grimms Brothers (Fairy Tales)
  • Happy Days – A collection of short stories awritten around the main character – A little Russian boy Vanya. 
  • Jolly Family – The title page says ‘Soviet literature for young people’ – and the book contains several captivating stories like ‘Kolya Sinitsin’s Diary’, ‘Mishka’s Porridge’ and ‘The Pistol’ (My three year old’s current favorite)
  • Little Mistress Magpie – A beautiful pop -up book about a magpie family who ‘earn’ their share of mistress magpie’s porridge…
  • Floppy – Another poetic book about a naughty pup… (‘All are out so do not knock. On the door there hangs a lock. With the family away, Floppy’s all alone today.’)

These books or books like these may be available at second hand book stores like Blossom or the small book store outside the Airlines hotel… Kids Kouch in Indiranagar sometimes has book sales of second hand books – I think you can subscribe to their e-mail news letter.
I am always on the look out for beautiful old kids books – So it would be lovely if you add your personal favorite sources to this post…