Introducing reading to children with Vaishali Shroff

vaishali shroff feature
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Vaishali Shroff is an award-winning children’s author, script writer, and columnist based in Mumbai. Her popular works include The Adventures of Padma and a Blue Dinosaur, Raindrops, Ari, The Missing Bat, The Strange Case of Nayantara, The Boy in the Dark Hole, There’s a Leopard in My House, among others. 

She will be participating at the Bookaroo Children’s Festival 2022 to be help in Art District, Amber City, Vadodara, taking place on 19th and 20th November. Excerpts from pre-festival interview about the magic of reading, her own journey as a writer, and what we can do to get children to read.

When did you discover your superpower of being able to talk to inanimate objects and they talking back to you? (Just our way of asking, When did you decide you wanted to be a children’s writer?)

Vaishali Shroff: I’ve been having conversations with inanimate objects all my life! I would talk to my school bench, windows, the trees outside my windows, or just any random object that caught my fancy. I was not much of a social person and was always conscious of speaking with other humans. These objects made me feel safe; I felt like no one would judge me. My parents and friends have even caught me talking to ‘myself’ at times. My kids catch me even now! So, stories are something that I always lived with; sometimes inside my head and sometimes outside. But we’ve coexisted. And it was only a matter of time when I started using writing as my preferred mode of expression. My first poem was published in the Indian Express in 1992, when I was in Grade 8. I wrote about the corruption and injustice in our country back then. Not much has changed, though. 

In 2008, when corporate life was throwing too many lemons at me, I decided to make the tastiest lemonade ever and share those conversations and stories with children. Because, I believe that everything around us has a story to share. All they need is a channel, a voice. That’s the basic premise of my new offering, Batata, Pao and All Things Portuguese as well. Let’s listen more. Let’s learn more. Let’s share more. That’s my mantra. 

How has technology impacted (positively or negatively) children’s minds? How has that changed your role as storyteller?

Vaishali Shroff: Technology has more negative impact on children than one can imagine because the more technology enters their lives, the more they stop doing something that comes naturally to them. For instance, now they’ve nearly stopped playing games with real humans and with real objects. They even make virtual friends. We try to make ourselves believe that there may be some positive impact because there’s no way out of it.

As an author, not much changes for me. I continue to write the stories I want to share. Yes, I am indeed more conscious of how I write them considering the metaverse our children live in, we live in. And societal changes must reflect in the stories we write so they stay relevant. Having said that, I avoid references to technology simply because those references would get dated in no time.

What are your three tips for parents looking at introducing their children to reading?

Vaishali Shroff:

1.     Read yourself first. We’re monkeys, remember? Our children copy our behaviour.

2.     Let them decide what book to pick. Don’t be their gatekeepers.

3.     Consider works by Indian authors—there’s a wealth of good Indian authors and good literature out there.

4.     Join libraries and book clubs, visit bookstores, register for literature festivals like Bookaroo.

5. Read together. Fix a time of the day, say bedtime, when everyone picks a book of their choice and reads quietly for 15-20 mins or one can even decide to read aloud to each other. That time is indeed special!

Some of your works have been translated into Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada and Gujarati. Do we see it happening for your other works too?

Vaishali Shroff: My works have been translated to over 20 languages, including Chinese. I’m hoping that Sita’s Chitwan gets translated into Nepali someday or Batata, Pao into Portuguese. It’s an amazing feeling to know that your work is being read in indigenous languages across continents. We need to keep our languages alive and what better way than sharing stories in more languages. We have a rich history of oral traditions and the only way we can ensure that languages continue to survive and prosper is by singing songs in our mother languages, sharing stories, and having conversations in them.

What is the next untold place, history or issue you are currently working on?

Vaishali Shroff: I’m a conservationist at heart. With the next untold place, history, or issue I’m addressing in my upcoming books, I hope to bring about the changes we wish to see in this world in whatever little way I can. The true journey of any book begins once the reader finishes reading it. The thoughts that stay with the reader, the actions the story incites, or even that sense of belonging that a story and its characters bring to the reader, define the book’s journey.

Prakruti Maniar

Prakruti Maniar

Prakruti Maniar is editor and partner of Purple Pencil Project, and hustles as a writer, researcher and more. She is deeply invested in cultural heritage, especially stories, and is committed to saving the literary heritage of India. She has a Master of Arts in Digital Humanities from Loyola University Chicago.

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