When Amma Went to School

When Amma Went to School

This book is highly likely to bring back memories associated with titles by the same author such as What Did Uou See?, Where is Amma?, Guddu’s Photo and also the popular international series If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

The ‘dialogue style’ adopted by the author, while familiar, continues to amaze her readers, with its freshness that comes with each unique plot! Here, the story is set in semi rural surroundings, with many children, a school, a handful of animals and Amma of course, as the title suggests.

Loyal fans of Nandini Nayar books, familiar with her previous works, are likely be surprised to see the illustrations in cartoon style. Unfortunately, today’s children – both urban and rural – are already exposed to cartoons on television and somewhat of an overload of graphic novels in print media. Every picture book, published in India or elsewhere, could be seen as a huge opportunity to inspire young minds. With so much talent in the non comic genre available, as far as illustrations go, it is a mystery why publishers still think that the cartoon formula works best for children?

In defense of the illustrator, Ruchi Shah, sticking to simple and uncluttered visuals was a good idea. The expressions of chaos and fear are very well captured by the many expressive eyes.
Speaking of the concept of assigning ‘levels’ to books – both sides of the reasoning need to be considered carefully. The NGO Pratham ‘was set up in 2004, as part of the Read India Movement, a nation-wide campaign to promote reading among children’. They extensively document school children’s progress and hence books being graded according to reading ability is understandably at the core of their philosophy.

However, the International Reading Association is moving away from this practice. At a recent IRA conference, many teachers shared the fact that children are attracted to books based on their topics of interest, the book’s title, its cover, the layout of the pages, the typeset and font, the illustrations and colors used and so on. Based on many of these criteria, once they are empowered to choose a book, they want to read it – whether the language is easy or difficult. Hence, they graduate to higher levels of reading better and almost seamlessly in many cases, if the material appeals to them. Since they cannot slip into a lower level, as long as they keep reading, they do not worry about the stigma of wanting to read below their level either.

Secondly, Reading Level 2 is for ‘children who recognize familiar words and can read new words with help’ according to instructions on back cover of the book. At this stage, according to the publisher, ‘children are learning to read’. However, there is no explanation shared about how this works? Does the author use words from a pre-assigned list suitable for Level 2? Or is he or she given total freedom to write a book and the level is then assigned accordingly? At least a handful of words, (including watchman, because, teacher, crying, brought, terrace, etc) seem unlikely to be handled easily by new readers, for sure.

Any book for young children that is written with humor, helps a serious issue to be introduced more easily for discussion and debate. With great ease, author Nandini Nayar brings up the animal-human conflict in our midst, giving parents and educators alike a wonderful opportunity to engage the very young in dialogue. Children could share personal encounters with lizards and cockroaches on the one hand and talk about zoos or jungles on the other. Furthermore, the book is sure to appeal to both rural and urban children.

All in all, When Amma Went To School is a great book not just to be read aloud to young children but also to be enjoyed by independent readers of all ages, irrespective of reading level.

By Rachna Dhir

When Amma Went to School
Author – Nandini Nayar
Illustrator – Ruchi Shah
Publisher – Pratham
ISBN – 978-81-84794-29-8
Price -Rs 30/-
Pages -12

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