Sunday, January 22, 2012

"By Us, For Us" - A review

"By Us, For Us" is a collection of stories by young children, presented by HP Write and Read, and Katha.  These stories have been selected from among many stories that resulted from creative writing workshops that were conducted for school children across India.  Prasoon Joshi was the mentor, and he was the one who made the final selection.

The book reached me by post.  As I unwrapped it and opened the book, I couldn't help thinking that this is the kind of book that is the ultimate argument for real books as against e-books. 

It is a gorgeous book.  The pages and the printing are of excellent quality. The font makes you want to just start reading.  And the illustrations are wonderful.  So colourful, striking, and that coupled with the beautiful, glossy pages, I just wanted to run my fingers over the illustrations.  In fact, I could spend hours just admiring the artwork in the book!  I think the HP Imaging and Printing Group have done an excellent job with this book.

As for the stories themselves, it made me smile to read them.  My guess is that the writers are between 10 and 15 years of age.  And the stories reflect that age.  They are filled with moral righteousness, a fierce commitment to save the environment and wildlife, and the urge to use recently learned words, facts and figures.  Some words are used in irrelevant places, some adjectives make no sense, and there are some weird noun forms of words like guiltiness instead of guilt!  Guiltiness is supposedly a valid word, but sounds weird all the same!  Enid Blyton influences, surprise endings, they are all there.  I can imagine myself in that age and I can now nod sagely, thinking of a Tween me writing in the same way.

Some stories are totally pointless, meandering, trying to do too much in two pages. Most of them are just fine, something a bunch of happy kids might have written in their spare time.  But there are a handful which are really good, and these are the ones that stand out immediately, and even make you think. 

These stories are suitable for kids of that Tween age, I think.  I tried to tell some stories to my 4.5 year old, but she didn't seem too impressed.  She looked at me with a "You call this a story?" look.  My conclusion is that these stories, though written in a childlike manner, by children, speak of very adult issues which don't really appeal to a small child.  But there are a couple of stories which are obviously drawn from personal experience, that appealed to my daughter a lot.  So, on the whole, if you are looking at the book for stories for very young children, I wouldn't recommend it.  8-15 would be the right age, I think.

Since the stories are meant for children, and since such an august group has brought this out, I had expected perfection, or something close to it.

But on the back page, it says, "stories with innumerable wit, humour and thoughtfulness..."   Innumerable is used only when you are talking about things you can count (even though you are saying here that there are too many to be counted, you have to be able to count them in the first place.).  Innumerable stars in the sky, for example.  Wit cannot be counted, nor can humour and thoughtfulness.  Innumerable instances of wit, yes.  That would be right.  "Oodles of wit, plenty of wit" yes.  But  not innumerable.  And to find this right on the back cover, was quite shocking, and I must say, unpardonable. (If I am wrong, I would be happy to be corrected.)

Result: Most of the stories are highly imaginative, funny, and sweet.
Price:  It is expensive, at Rs.375, but then, the quality of the book is like that!  Besides, "All proceeds from book sales will go towards helping Katha fund their education programs in underprivileged parts of the country."
Age:  Perhaps not suitable for children learning the language, but will be appropriate for kids between 8-15.   It is a great book for an adult if you are looking for a peek into the Tween subconscious.

This is a good initiative, and I hope more workshops are held, more children are initiated into creative writing, more books come out, and I do hope the selection gets better with each book.

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