It’s the last week of school before the term break and the library is buzzing with the excitement of Pratham books ‘One day, one story', to celebrate International Literacy Day across India. Storytelling and read aloud sessions are conducted in many different languages by volunteers.
I absolutely loved both the books chosen this year, but given that I work with elementary children, I chose to go with Priya Kurian’s ‘Beauty is Missing’.
I started my sessions a week ago, reading aloud this story to children from class 1-6.
I decided to focus on the fact that Priya Kurian is the author-illustrator of the book and highlight her illustrations by nudging the children to ‘read’ the illustrations and look for ‘clues’ as we read the book. Not clues about the ‘whodunnit’, rather the clues that illustrations give us to the place/setting or to the nature of the characters and then to the mystery as well.
“Reading expressions’ is an important skill to build not just as readers, but also in our everyday interactions with others. Priya Kuriyan ‘s illustrations are perfect to develop visual literacy in children.
Given that I have read this story to 9 different groups of children, the responses shared below, did not all happen with one group, but are a compilations of responses from across the the groups.
We started with...
The cover, with its missing persons poster background set the tone, setting off a volley of sharing about all the missing posters, mostly about missing pets that they had seen around the place. Children commented about seeing these posters on their parents phones…digital missing persons posters.
Some of the children noticed the writing on some of the posters and figured that it wasn’t Tamil. They guessed correctly, by elimination that it must be Malayalam.
Where do you think this story is set?
Look at the illustrations, the dress the lady is wearing, the building, the feel, that this spread sends out.
The answers varied from…’in a village’, to ‘a very green place’, and some correctly inferred Kerela.
Why do you think it is set in Kerela?
Most children looked at the architecture of the police station and stated that they had seen buildings like this either in Kerela or connected it to the Kerela houses at Dakshin Chitra, an open air museum of the four southern states, which is situated on the outskirts of Chennai.
The old lady’s dress is not something they see in Tamil Nadu and the banana trees in the illustrations helped them make connections to banana chips and the best ones are from Kerela!!
One child came up close and read the KL on the number plate.
So many different ways to infer where this story is set.
What children are doing here is to take what they know, i.e. engage their schema, to make connections in order to comprehend and appreciate the book better.
The focus here was on Jincy Jose, the new constable at the Erumanoor Police Station.
Can you look at her stance/posture and her expression and give me words that best describe her?
Some of the words and thoughts the children had were:
Angry, irritated, annoyed…because the others were laughing at poor Tessama.
Disappointed at how the other policemen were behaving.
She means business.
Embarrassed….because the other policemen were not doing their job.
She’s very neat.
Strong, tough, fit.
Don’t mess with me.
There was some more comments on the missing persons board and how they’ve seen such posters for missing pets especially, on lamp posts or walls and at shop entrances.
The children took continued to observe Jincy’s expressions from the previous spread.
Expressing how kind she looked, how helpful and how she was doing her job and not wasting time laughing at Tessama.
The children commented on Tessama’s outfit…the ‘mundum neriyathum’.
This spread was loads of fun as we discussed the meaning of the term ‘traffic-stopper’ in English, comparing it to how Beauty was a literal ‘traffic-stopper’.
Children joined in with Bollywood/Kollywood tunes, one belted out a Malayalam song and other melodies as we read about Beauty’s eclectic taste in music.
This was a spread that I didn’t expect to garner much ‘reading’ of the illustrations.
However, Thommachan, oh Thommachan, proved me wrong!
Every child raised their hands to say they knew ‘know-it-all’s’ like that.
Some claimed their Maama (uncle)/ Thatha(grandfather)/ friend/ cousin, was just like him. They were the kind of people who knew EVERYTHING, thought they should teach you ‘lessons’ or lecture you and thought they were the best or that everything they had, was the best.
I asked why they came to this conclusion about poor Thommachan.
“Oh, just see how he is standing and wagging his finger at Jincy.’
But then Priya Kuriyan’s detail of the cow pooping, stole the show on this page and many incidents of how they see cows pooping ALL the time!! And appreciation, loud unanimous appreciation...for how the illustrator has drawn is so close to real life.
Potty humour never fails to get kids excited!!
This led to some talk about the uses of cow dung.
This page got some children indignant about why Remani thought it was ok to whack an animal. and annoyance at her general attitude.
Many of the older children by this point had guess that the truck driver was the kidnapper…catching on to the fact that music was playing and that the truck driver had given himself away.
They all commented on the egrets.
The page with the lay our of Erumanoor was delighted over and they expressed that it gave the feel of how Jincy went all over the village to try and find a clue about Beauty.
Children pored over the details in Dulquar Ikka’s little tea stall.
What can you see in the photograph that is missing from Beauty’s shed?
Some groups that had not guessed the kidnapper thus far, had a-ha moments at this point.
There was much joy and pride at having figured out the ‘case’ by this page.
Look at the two pairs of eyes amongst the fire flies.
Children marvelled at how just the different shapes and placement of the pair of eyes could convey so much.
One pair looks angry, annoyed, fierce.
While the other looks surprised and a little bit scared.
Can you see that here?
The illustration of Jincy swinging into the truck shows that she is confident that she is going to find Beauty and catch the kidnapper…the children said.
Here the comments were about Tessama and how grateful she looks and thankful to Jincy for finding her precious beauty.
The page of the right, inspired some cartoon drawings, in response to the book.
Some expressed that Tessama's eyes were full of love for Beauty.The comments were all about what a beauty, Beauty is!!
Others on how the policemen’s expressions conveyed that they thought so too, although one looked ‘sheepish’ that they had laughed at Beauty being called so.
What a great book!!
I absolutely loved the choice for this years, One day, one story by Pratham books.
It was a masterclass in Priya Kuriyan’s detailed illustrations and how they carry the story forward so beautifully.
I shared other books that Priya has illustrated, so that children can explore her body of work.
In response the children were free to draw anything from the story…whatever captured their attention.
Swipe left to see some of the responses to the book, using illustrations, inspired by Priya Kuriyan.