One of the most prominent nonprofit children’s publishers, Pratham Books recently launched GIF books as a way forward in encouraging a better reading experience for children. In a brief tete-a-tete, Suzanne Singh, Chairperson, Pratham Books and Purvi Shah, Head – Digital Initiatives, Pratham Books, talked to Express Parenting about GIF books and their other initiatives. We also asked them about the merits and demerits of kids being introduced to books on a digital platform.
How did Pratham Books come up with the idea of GIF books? Was it demand-based or more of an initiative towards revolutionising the art of reading?
At Pratham Books, we have constantly expanded the boundaries of what a storybook can be and our latest series of GIF Books is one more innovative reading experience that children will love. By using technology to make the books ‘move’ we hope to immerse more children in the joy and magic of stories.
How would you explain a GIF book? In what ways can it engage a reader better than a traditional paper book?
A GIF Book is an immersive experience because you read the story and watch the characters move, bringing alive the book for the young reader. Each medium is special – whether it’s print or digital.
What kind of response have your GIF books been receiving from readers?
It’s been fabulous and very moving! StoryWeaver had an incredibly high number of sessions — 5500 — on the day of launch, and the readership continues to rise. We’ve been getting messages from parents and the kid-lit community, commenting on how much they enjoyed the book. We also launched the book at a Government school in in Bangalore, and the second graders had a blast listening to Gappu’s story and dancing with her. In fact, Gappu Can’t Dance, has already crossed a thousand “reads,” in barely a week.
At a time when some parents are attempting to reduce screen time from children and get them back to traditional forms of reading story books, won’t something like GIF books thwart their efforts?
StoryWeaver was created as a digital platform that would provide content to children otherwise have little or no access to mother tongue reading material. The combined power of technology, open licensing and a collaborative community has helped scale the creation and dissemination of content. Thanks to technology, someone in Birbhum is able to translate stories to Kora, and a teacher in Himachal Pradesh can translate and share stories in Tibetan. Adding a digital component to our work has helped create content in minority and tribal languages, where they may not be enough children’s books being published. Plus, with so many non-profit organisations having a digital focus and with mobile phone penetration on the rise, we believe that digital books are the best way to take books to children where physical books cannot reach. We believe that the combined lens of print and digital books can go a long way in addressing the reading gap among children in India.
From an urban perspective, we understand that some parents are concerned about regulating screen time. However, if your child is going to spend a little time once in a while on a gadget, then we can’t help but think that books are a wonderful option to engage them.
Pratham Books has been experimenting with book forms, from phone books to audio and GIF books. What are the other initiatives you are looking at? Is there an international equivalent?
In addition to GIF Books, StoryWeaver introduced Readalongs in English and Hindi earlier this year — a series of storybooks that we hope will help build language acquisition skills through a combination of listening to the story and matching it to the supporting text. Next up are Readalongs in Marathi and Kannada.
We have consistently added features and tools born out of our interaction with educators and on-ground partners. The Offline Library, which allows access to the StoryWeaver experience even in the absence of internet coverage, is one such feature. In fact, you can even enjoy GIF Books in your Offline Library. Curated Lists, accompanied by classroom activities, is another innovative feature on StoryWeaver, and we have over 40 such Lists already.
What is the driving force behind StoryWeaver?
In India, there are critical supply shortages for joyful reading resources for children – not enough books, in not enough languages, compounded by poor access and issues of affordability. StoryWeaver aims to provide equitable access to joyful reading material in mother tongue languages and does this by harnessing the power of technology and open licensing. Our platform is driven by an extremely passionate community of language champions, educators, librarians, non-profits and parents who realise the need to take stories in mother tongue languages to children. The stories they share with us of how children react to stories on StoryWeaver is what spurs us on to do more and more.When we hear that children were ‘amused and amazed’ to have a story read to them for the first time in their mother tongue, as the Azad India Foundation told us after translating stories to Surjapuri on the platform.
You are not just publishing story books but also STEM books. Tell us more about them.
Subjects like Science and Math are seen by many children as boring and daunting. What we’re trying to do through these STEM storybooks is to change that perception. Our storybooks introduce children to STEM themes using memorable characters, playful art and a bit of humour. For this, we have collaborated with some of the finest writers, illustrators and subject matter experts in the country. Some of the stories that have done this with imagination are: Ammachi’s Amazing Machines in which an inventive grandmother uses all kinds of simple machines to make a delicious coconut barfi; Anna’s Extraordinary Experiments with Weather, the inspiring story of renowned meteorologist Anna Mani; and The Night the Moon Went Missing, a story that explores bio-luminescence through an adventure set on an island. Since Science and Math are perceived as very male-dominated spaces, we have also taken care to show several daring and brilliant female characters.