When I was a child, summer holidays were all about reading, visiting bookstores and borrowing books from the library. Now that I have a daughter of my own, I have transferred my love of books to her and we buy books almost every fortnight. Or at least we used to. When the lockdown took effect in India, we started looking for other ways to get access to reading materials.
Book publishers, sellers and libraries from India and the rest of the world have risen to the occasion magnificently by offering various reading resources for free online. Suddenly, my daughter and I discovered a hidden universe out there. Nothing comes close to the thrill of holding a book and reading it, but we did love what we found on the Internet.
Children’s writer Philip Pullman once said: “Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.” This especially holds true now as children are part of a world that they simply don’t understand anymore.
Treasure troves from India
One of our favourite resources is StoryWeaver, Pratham Books’ free digital reading portal. StoryWeaver features innumerable illustrated stories for children, all presented beautifully on the screen and yes, all for free! Children and parents will find that the StoryWeaver reading experience comes the closest to the real thing — swiping the picture book with a swipe, or going back to the earlier page with a click, because your child loves a particular illustration and wants to see it again!
Apart from picture books that are presented beautifully for your child’s online reading pleasure, StoryWeaver also offers read-along books, bilingual resources, folktales, myths, schools stories and so much more. Do not miss their STEM stories. There are several captivating and wonderful stories built around technology, engineering and math for both primary and advanced readers. StoryWeaver’s bilingual resources are simply marvellous and you will find stories in Kannada, Hindi, Marathi and many other languages as well as stories with different reading levels.
One of India’s oldest and most-beloved publishing houses, Tulika Books, offers a complete list of its books available online as well as on apps. We particularly love how Tulika has adapted its book Let’s Catch the Rain into a fun ‘rain game’ to teach children about water conservation.
Another Indian publisher of children’s books, Karadi Tales, offers ‘Katha with Karadi’, a vibrant source of stories, free picture books, audio books, bilingual books and activity books. One of our favourite books from Karadi Tales, Sadiq Wants to Stitch by Mamta Nainy, even has a delightful colouring activity accompanying the book.
Chitra Soundar’s Farmer Falgu series is my daughter’s favourite and we were delighted to see that there is a new Farmer Falgu book on offer — Farmer Falgu Stays at Home! You can also read Farmer Falgu Goes to the Kumbh Mela on the Katha with Karadi website. The website features stories narrated by Vidya Balan, Usha Uthup and Nandita Das.
Resources from outside India
If you are looking for books by authors from other countries, you will love Story Line Online, which you can access at https://www.storylineonline.net/library/. You have actors and artistes read out books as famous as A Bad Case of Stripes and Thank You Mr Faulkner.
Worldreader is an app that has books from around the world. You will especially like their curated collections — women in tech, moral stories, inspiring poems and much more. You can track your reading level progress and set reading goals with this app. You will also find interesting Young Adult books here.
Epic! is a favourite app among many parents. It is subscription-based, but you can sign up for a free one-month trial. From the ‘I Can Read!’ series and the Curious George books to comic books and phenomenal children’s magazines like Stone Soup, their collection is huge. There are also some superb non-fiction books to dig into. The ‘Read to Me’ feature reads aloud and highlights every word in the book as it is being narrated. This is a great way for children to learn how to read, improve their vocabulary and learn how to use the language.
Google’s BOLO app has Indian stories for primary school children. You can track your reading progress and children will have a lot of fun learning a new language in an engaging manner.
Katha India, a non-profit organisation that works on education and literacy, publishes many children’s picture books. Katha’s app, KathaKhazana, offers games, stories, animation and narration in different Indian languages, on topics as diverse as equality, diversity and inclusion. One of our favourite Katha books, Abba’s Day, is about a stay-at-home dad and it is available in Hindi on this app!
The FunDooDa Books app has Indian folk tales, stories in Indian languages and activity books. GetLitt is another great app that curates children’s literature from India. It is a subscription based app, but you will find all your favourite Indian authors and publishers here.
Podcasts and audiobooks
Podcasts and audiobooks are also great ways to connect with stories and literature. HeyCloudy is an app that offers audio stories for children. Audio stories include folk tales, stories from mythology, fairy tales and stories for preschoolers.
Circle Round is a podcast that curates folk tales from around the world, all narrated by celebrities.
Geeta Dharmarajan, a writer, educator and the Director of Katha Books, wishes that children and parents share these resources freely with other families. She says, “If you can share it with somebody who doesn’t have access to these books, then it truly becomes a sharing of quality.”
She also believes that parents are the best resources and should share stories from their childhood. “I think storytelling is a very natural talent that we all have,” she says. “If you just let yourself go and are not self-conscious, you can tell a story. Technology is for now, but when sharing happens, it is for life. This is the best investment you can make for your child.”