Engaging, entertaining and educating children about India

Engaging, entertaining and educating children about India

The couple, who  has an enviable collection of children’s books, recently authored Amazing India: A State-By-State Guide (Scholastic), a beautifully-illustrated book introducing all regions of the country in a style that will  educate them about India’s diversity in a fun way. The Vachharajanis spoke to Deccan Herald’ about the importance of the need for book on these lines

How did you conceive the idea for this book?
Scholastic USA had published a book called My World : A Country-by-Country Guide, and our publisher, Scholastic India, felt that a similar book on India would be great. We began working on Amazing India about two-and-a-half years ago. It is a richly-illustrated description, covering everything from India’s forests and animals, to its peoples, arts, crafts, music, film-makers, poets, dancers, warriors and artists.

How did you decide what exactly needs to be included in the book considering that India has so much to offer?
What we did not want to do was give kids a book with a laundry list of facts that they would be tempted to memorise! Instead we wanted to fill kids with the wonder of this large, complex land through an exciting and visually-rich book. We chose to present a mix of facts laced with humour, so that each child who looked at it – irrespective of his or her age and interests – would find it engaging.

How did you go about deciding what to include and what not to in the book?
For each state, we wanted some aspects  on history, geography and ecology; some on monuments; some on people, arts, dance, music and craft; plus some facts and figures. We did focus a little more on ecology, because India’s animals, wetlands, forests, farms, rivers and mountains are all in grave danger. Of course, we kept it flexible – in Karnataka, for instance, we used the monuments built by powerful dynasties to tell the state’s story.

With every state having so much to offer, wasn’t it difficult to leave out quite a lot of info?
It’s incredible that in India, each region is so different from the other, and so full of its distinct species, land forms and cultural practices. Despite this, however, a lot of intermingling happened between the thoughts and practices of different peoples to create what we so easily call ‘Indian culture’ today. To give children a small but memorable peek into this wonderful complexity, we devoted two pages to each state, with a map, informative points, illustrations, a fact file and an arts and crafts section. Space was tight and it was really tough choosing what would
go in.

How did you  research the matter? Did you  visit the states or you relied on available information?
Ideally, we would have loved to experience every single thing we wrote about and illustrated but given the wide scope of this book, that might have taken us a little over a lifetime to do. Researching it was like being back at school, but with the freedom to choose what we wanted to study! Once we spotted an interesting fact, the first step would be to cross-check it across different sources. Then we would go to the next step in the research, which was finding the correct visual references.

The book also indirectly encourages the targeted young readers to explore more about each region. What is the idea behind this strategy?
The underlying  idea was that kids should be tempted to go out and learn more about the places they live in and visit. We have the do-it-yourself scrapbook pages at the end so that kids can slip into an observational mode. Hopefully, when our readers travel after going through the book, they would know what to look out for and would want to preserve their memories!

The mix of words and visuals in the book is almost 50:50. How important is visuals in a book of this nature, especially when the target audience is young?
Any factual book without arresting visuals would be a drag because visuals ensure that a child is drawn in. Drawings were a great way to make the ideas concrete for children and to help them visualize the written matter. Children have a pretty sharp instinct for art and visuals. So when they see good, hand-drawn-and-coloured illustrations, the written word is bound to  engage them. That was why Amit actually drew over 250 drawings for this book, instead of using photos or computer-generated art.

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