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Telling more than stories

Vinita Krishna believes that there is always a demand for good books, channel boom notwithstanding. Books today have to be well dressed, though



Vinita Krishna: `Story books are better than any other resource material.' -- Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

VINITA KRISHNA was enchanted when she went to Oslo. The capital of Norway boasts of a children's library for every 200 households, with a corner dedicated to those with special needs. The books are arranged in various levels, so that a child can reach for books meant for his/her age group. "The law makes it mandatory. Amazing, isn't it?" asks the special educator and author of children's books.

One can't aspire for anything remotely like it in India, where it is not uncommon to find fairly large towns without so much as one children's library. "Books are the last priority of parents, more so when it comes to special children," says Vinita, who was in Bangalore for an open forum organised by Sutradhar, a Bangalore-based NGO.

Vinita hoped to fill this gap in whatever little way she could when started Khaas Kitaab Foundation in 1997. It was one of the first organisations in India to develop books for reading pleasure for children with special needs. Vinita, incidentally, is also the founder-director of Tamanna, a group that works with mentally challenged and autistic children. Some of her books have won international awards from Norway and Japan. The International Board of Books for the Young in Norway has recognised Vinita's The Clever Rabbit, The Talkative Tortoise, and Rib and Fuzz as "outstanding books for children with disabilities".


"Story books are better than any other resource material," says Vinita. Children love stories and learn a great deal when you use them as teaching vehicles. One of her books, Pigeons and The Net, for instance, is told in simple sentences, using simple illustrations. Being a Panchatantra tale, it is already familiar to most, and reaches out to children of different age groups and different learning abilities. She introduces tactile elements to make the understanding even easier — a web of threads making up the net, and so on.

Vinita always weaves in elements that make a child "feel" a story. A book that teaches a child to tie knots, for example, makes the child tie up many things — shoe laces, curtains, and so on — as she reads the story.

Vinita believes that books also need to be made more attractive today since they have to compete with the television. "It is important that they are produced in a format that makes a child instinctively want to pick it up," says Vinita. But would it also not mean hiking the prices? "Not if they are mass-produced," she says. If Indian books for children are badly made more often than not, it speaks of indifference rather than lack of funds, she adds. "Whatever it is, there is always a demand for good books."


The business of giving well-produced books at affordable prices, though, is hard on small publishers like her, which does not have either big money or infrastructural backing. "I don't know the tricks of the trade. I just do it because I love it. I publish a book and I put back whatever money I get to make the next book," she laughs. But big publishers can do wonders, if only they have the will, she adds. They could even come up with two editions of one book — one for the high-end market and one for the lower-end market. "They can use the same script, illustrations and so on, but use cheaper material to make it more affordable."

The fact that even publishers such as Scholastic are coming out with low-priced books are reasons for some optimism, Vinita point out.

Does Vinita plan to publish books in regional languages too? "No, I am too small a publisher to do anything like that," she says.

But she would be more than glad to give rights if someone else is willing to do it. The National Book Trust, for instance, has brought out two of her books in Hindi in low-priced editions.

Those who want to know more about Khaas Kitaab Foundation can e-mail the Delhi-based organisation on khaaskitaab@hotmail.com.

BAGESHREE S.

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