Carefully designed book extension activities in libraries play a key role in engaging both readers and non-readers. Activities introduce new books and genres, open up discussion and motivate children to reflect on their reading.
The key feature characterising student-facilitator interaction in Parag libraries in Yadgir district of Karnataka is the use of activities. They achieve two different but related ends: on the one hand, they are aimed at ensuring that the library as a space is attractive to children. On the other hand, the methods that the librarians use to engage children are valuable for the way in which they attempt to connect the narrative of a book to the world around us.
The activities are carefully developed for the session and its participants. Each serves a specific purpose. In the Minaspur, Nazarpur and Chaptela schools, sessions begin with singing and dancing. The lack of inhibition is palpable—the library space is one in which no child is too goofy, no thought too ridiculous; in the Putpak school a game of Idli-Vada-Dosa serves the same purpose; a video of a play put up in the M.T. Palli school shows a child trying to walk a tightrope for a scene set in a circus. He takes a step, wobbles, and jumps off laughing. The rope is then laid on the ground and he pretends to walk the rope like it is strung high up in the air; in the Chapetla school, in another play, a child pretends to be a dog. He crawls around on all fours and emits a series of very convincing yipping noises. Everyone is entertained. The librarians like to reiterate that the library allows the children to think “how it might be” if you were a dog or a rooster or a teacher, and that essentially, library activities are empowering the children’s imaginations.
At the most fundamental level, these activities establish the library as a space that the children are naturally drawn to, one that they seek out in their free time, one they associate with boundless enjoyment. “Without limits,” “without restrictions,” are phrases that principals frequently use when referring to the environment of the library.
The children don’t need to be in a circle or on their feet to be engaged in the world of the library. Some activities centre around a single person’s presentation of a book, be it a read-aloud, a storytelling, or a book talk. In these cases the focus is more careful: one voice holds forth and everyone else listens dutifully. This act of sharing is a little more structured, and brings a sense of purpose to the space. A reading of Mele Kelage (Up and Down) by Chowdamma of the Minaspur school begins:
“Are you all here? Or outside?”
The librarians’ words and tone are honed in training, brought to a point where their calls for attention are flawless, deeply effective, met with a roomful of ringing responses:
“We’re here only, teacher!”
Read-aloud and storytelling sessions operate in accordance with a painstakingly drawn-up lesson plan. Children are prepared, brought into a state from which they can engage with the content of the story. Chowdamma walks over to one end of the room and brings a chalk piece back with her to the front. Tossing it up deftly, she says:
“What is this? It’s a chalk piece. What happened when I threw it upwards?”
And the children, gearing up for the story they know is coming their way, answer, “It fell down!”
“Now, the story we’re going to read today is called Mele Kelage. It has been written by Vinayak Verma…”
In Putpak, the reading is of Indu Naguviralilla. An understanding of the story rests on the children’s ability to recall the nature of sorrow, and the experience of being around a sad person, to make sense of what is given in terms of what they know, and to extend their knowledge of the range of experience through what is discovered over the course of the story. On the last page of Indu Naguviralilla, Shanti holds a bright green frog in her hands and her mouth is thrown open in laughter. There is a strip of shiny pink gum where her front teeth should have been. Sreelatha, the librarian asks the children why they think Shanti hasn’t smiled all day and they guess wildly, and as it happens, incorrectly. Finally, the teacher draws their attention to the details of the illustration, asking, “Haven’t any of you ever lost teeth?”
The read-aloud places emphasis on how to learn by locating oneself with respect to the narrative of the book. It draws on the ability of the children to relate their world to the world of the text. So an ‘Up and Down’ reference can be made by asking whether the togri bele (tur dal) plant grows upwards or downwards, and the experience of sorrow can be invoked by asking the children what makes them sad. The progression of the activity is such that it brings out the nature of the relationships between the content encountered in the library and the real world.
It is clear how this mode of engagement with the story can aid the development of higher order thinking skills: that is, by facilitating the growth of children’s imaginative and cognitive capacities—where the story works as a springboard that launches thoughts and ideas. The activities hinge on the mode of processing most inherently present in (and most crucial to) the act of reading. They posit that in order to read actively, the children must build links between the planes on which life and the story respectively, exist.
Activities as they take place in these schools are a way of lending both structure and freedom to the library space. There is an overarching design that explains the inclusion of such tasks in the library programme—whether to do with refining cognitive tools that will benefit the children in other spheres of life as well, or to do with the immediate need to present books in an animated and lively fashion. But it is clear that they afford the children access to their creative capabilities in a realm free of any kind of cut and dried rewards, and in this sense foster an unstructured and genuine enjoyment in the act of reading.