I conducted my 50th book reading, yesterday! 

I can still recall, rather vividly, the sheer terror that threatened to overtake me at the launch reading of Icky, Yucky, Mucky! at the Kala Ghodha Arts Festival in 2011. The moment when the tremor in my voice stopped and I was enjoying being Maharaja Icky, juggling rosogullas. Since then, I’ve published eight books across different age and genre and tailored readings to suit different groups. It has been a tremendous learning experience and even though I still get collywobbles the night before, the moment I am in front of a group of kids, everything else falls away away and I’m there to have fun. IMG_3268

So what have 50 readings helped me learn?

  • School readings work differently from readings at festivals and in bookstores. In schools you read to a group that is homogenous in age, in a controlled environment conducive to a reading and where the children are in their comfort zones. At festivals and in bookstores, you have to account for a varied age group, a kid crying for his mother, late arrivals, kids kicking each other and higher ambient sound. Hence, they need to be planned differently.
  • For readings at festivals and bookstores, I simplify, plan for it to work across a broader range of ages and work in shorter activities that I can pick from, during the reading.
  • Unless you have an assistant, plan something you can manage yourself. However, don’t hesitate to ask for help from teachers and parents in distributing activity sheets, pencils, wobbly eyes and such.
  • Have a backup for everything, even when you have asked for it – especially when it isn’t at a school! I’ve had to deal with making do with two boxes of fevicol across 80 children doing collage! Learnings: NEVER attempt collage with a large group of small kids. Be resourceful: I squeezed on blobs of glue onto scraps of paper and distributed that. I also now carry backup marker pens, colours, staplers and glue sticks. I know it’s a bit extreme, but I think of it as preserving my sanity.
  • Stay tuned to your audience. Be open to changing the flow. With 250 kids before me ranging from the age of 2-5 years, I’ve knocked off a colouring activity plan (think 250 tiny kids clamouring for colouring sheets and crayons, all together) and gone with an extended song, dance and orchestra done by kids, for Rooster Raga.
  • When you prepare at home (yes, don’t wing it), shut the door, stand before a mirror, record yourself on the computer if you need to and practise your first reading. Time it and see where it flags.
  • The first reading of every book throws up much to evaluate. What worked? What needs to be cut out? What got the kids hooked?
  • Make it lively – use sounds, music, props for younger children, if that’s your strength. Modulate your voice as you read. Be excited about your story and the kids will be excited as well. Figure out what you are good at and see if you can work it into your reading.
  • Tell them something related to the story that only you, as the author can share. Otherwise, it could be just anyone reading a story to them. A reading is not just a plain reading when the author is present!
  • Use a different approach for each book.
    • For Icky, Yucky, Mucky I use exaggerated sound effects in the background as I read (I also don a moustache).
    • For Kaka and Munni, simple props help create a visual focus for the cumulative story.
    • For Bonkers! children love hearing about my real life experiences growing up with many dogs.
    • For the History Mystery series, I share the unbelievable facts I came across as I researched my books, we play a quick quiz, try historical tongue twisters and sometimes crack codes.
    • For Rooster Raga, I created some rooster headgear and we dance and sing to the Rooster Raga.
  • Stay in control of the session. Children will connect their nail biting third cousin, their aunt’s dog and their father’s moustache  to what you say. A session is great fun when interactive, but if it’s straying too far off course, pull it back to where you want it to go.

Read more about my readings here.