Monday, 16 March 2020

Bedtime Stories in Broad Daylight

As a picture book writer and a storyteller, I take my books into libraries, festival events and bookshops to tell stories. I don’t read from the book – I tell them like a story – sometimes with songs, but also with actions, sounds and interactivity.
Tales on Moon Lane with
Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip, illustrated by Kanika Nair

            Often the audience is a group of children ranging from 3 years to 7 years old. Often these events are in the middle of the day either right after breakfast (so the children have eaten) or after lunch (so the children have eaten). That time between naps and bedtime, the time between playtime and nappy change time. Understandably the children are not sleepy – they are raring to go and want to join in the fun.
            This is fantastic because if I tell the story of Pattan’s Pumpkin, then the story is an adventure. It’s exciting to join Pattan as he journeys down the mountain.

            But I’ve also written three beautifully illustrated bedtime stories. Stories shared by parents with their children with a comforting refrain. These are stories that are meant to be read when the child closes it eyes and is ready to be comforted and lulled into the safety of dreams.
Illustrated by Poonam Mistry,
it was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2019
Illustrated by Poonam Mistry,
it has been longlisted  for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2020
Illustrated by Poonam Mistry,
all 3 published by Lantana Publishing


How do I tell these three stories in the middle of a busy library or a festival in broad daylight when the children are definitely not sleepy? I had to adapt the performances to suit the venue, the timing and the level of interactivity the event organisers demand.
1.    The setting: I discuss the setting, the fauna and the flora of the region in these books. The first one is set in an Indian forest, the second one in the Arctic and the third one in the grasslands. I talk about these habitats, and who lives there, what grows there. Children love to contribute to these discussions. The first book You're Safe with Me has a number of unfamiliar animals and birds that fascinate children.
2.    Discuss the issues and the science discussed in each of the books before telling the story – the first one handles fear and water cycles, the second one about climate change and third one is about mutualism. I discuss these concepts with children – relate it to their own real life and then when I do tell the story, they can make the connections.
3.    Adding songs that are more interactive and noisy than bedtime ones. For example, to perform You’re Safe With Me, I’ve adapted “The wheels on the bus” to my own story – they know the rhyme, I teach them the words and soon we are singing together.
4.    We chant together – the refrain which is also the title appears at the end of each section of the story and the children join in. They are waiting for it and they love to say it with me.
5.    Activities - I always carry colouring sheets, puzzles, word searches all related to the book – so just in case older children have accompanied their younger siblings or a child is less happy to sit down and listen, they start working on the activities. Colouring has definitely opened the door older children to join in with the story.

6.    Workshop – Sometimes the group of children who have bought tickets to my event are all over seven. Armed with a sleepy bedtime book I suddenly face an eager crowd that is worried about being bored. 
When that happens I turn the session into a writing workshop. 
I go through the story with them and then we get on with the writing of their own stories or non-fiction projects.

Chitra Soundar is an internationally published author of over 40 books for children. Her picture books have been translated into German, French, Japanese and Thai and have been included in the White Ravens Catalogue and IBBY International Books of USA. 
You're Safe with Me was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal 2019 for Poonam Mistry's illustrations and their second book together You're Snug with Me has been longlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2020. Find out more at and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.

1 comment:

Pippa Goodhart said...

Lovely blog. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS, Chitra, on the shortlisting for the Kate Greenaway Award! Fingers crossed for a win, but to have been shortlisted is such an accolade amongst the many many wonderful new picture books published. Lovely news.