Photo by Anita Nagarajan

Books: Stimuli for Conversations, Tools for Learning, Catalysts for Community-building

Books and the stories in them can serve as a strong magnet to bring people together, spark deep conversations on a variety of subjects, and create new connections.

Reading together (Photo by Ben White on Unsplash)

As I work on designing an initiative in which young readers can connect, converse, and be part of a vibrant community, I reflect on my experience facilitating reading, storytelling, and writing sessions for children over the past several years.

Books to kindle memories, to spark conversations

My thoughts first fly to the books chosen for Pratham Books’ annual One Day One Story event that celebrates International Literacy Day and my experiences when hosting these events.

Puppets for The Elephant Bird (Photo by Anita Nagarajan)

The Boy and the Drum evoked a spirit of togetherness as we sang, danced, and drummed up enthusiasm through the story. The Elephant Bird highlighted the power of kindness and courage, and prompted a discussion on standing up for ourselves and our friends. Kottavi Raja and His Sleepy Kingdom elicited grins and laughter, and the role-play activity continued well beyond the end of the event–everyone wanted to play every role!

Fast-forward a few years. Hello, Sun! kindled wonder and curiosity while igniting conversations on participants’ experiences in nature. Everyone had a story to share—a slug that they had seen outside, a babbler that was very noisy, and the joy of jumping into puddles after the rain. Hakeem’s Hiccups opened a window into visits to a family doctor and home remedies for ailments. The underlying themes of kindness and friendship and the elements of humor brought a smile to everyone’s face.

Reading to foster learning, to kindle imagination

As I continue reminiscing, memories of events at a neighborhood library flash into my mind. The Auto That Flew boosted our spirit for adventure and took us on a journey of discovering Delhi. Unhappy Moon served as a spark for further conversations on space travel, the sky, the moon, the planets, and the vastness of the universe. Around the World With a Chilli took us on a thrilling voyage to different countries, evoking curiosity and awe, as we discovered how we are all connected through food.

A journey of discovery (Photo by Bala Ramadurai)

Writing to reflect, to imagine change

I then mull over the deep reflection and remarkable creativity that emerged in writing sessions facilitated for school students. As participants from Pune, Bengaluru, Nashik, and Chennai in India, and from Wa in Ghana wrote stories about wetlands, they shared personal anecdotes, exchanged information about wetlands in their regions, discussed environmental issues, and imagined ways to raise awareness of these issues in their local communities.

Space for creativity (Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

The magic of books

Books (and associated reading and writing activities) offer us myriad ways to connect and converse with each other. They open up a world of imagination, discovery, and learning. A big shout-out to the awesome publishers, authors, illustrators, librarians, and everyone who plays a role in creating books and stories for all of us.

Books for everyone (Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels)

What books would you recommend as stimuli for conversations, tools for learning, and catalysts for community-building?

Anita Nagarajan
Communications and Editing Consultant, Educator