#INDIAKIDLIT – Pratham Books & StoryWeaver

by Jeremy Willette

As a librarian, former language teacher, and someone who lived and worked in India for eight years, I love everything there is about Pratham Books. Pratham Books (pronounced like the English “TH” in “Thanks” and which means “first” in Hindi) is a nonprofit publisher whose top mission is to get books into the hands of every child and spread a love of reading, regardless of language.

The Grass Seeker – by Uddalak Gupta (2020)

I included one of their books, The Grass Seeker by Uddalak Gupta last year in a post on climate change for the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) blog as part of a bigger book discussion on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I could have equally highlighted any number of Pratham Books’ titles to address other SDGs, but this time around I want to go much further and talk about the coolest book initiative ever, started by Pratham Books, called StoryWeaver.

While The Grass Seeker is available in print, it is also available free digitally alongside Pratham Books’ other 7,000 books on the StoryWeaver platform. In actuality, all of Pratham’s books get published digitally on its StoryWeaver platform first, with some never making it to the printing press stage. Demand helps push which books get printed, but people are able to order the printing of essentially any book on the StoryWeaver platform in bulk for a nominal fee. It’s not only an impressive model, but one that is environmentally friendly and sustainable too. 

When you take a closer look at the StoryWeaver platform, however, you will notice that the number of available books is much higher than Pratham Books’ 7,000. In fact, it currently numbers around 47,000 books, with these additional books being from other publishers, fellow readers and writers, and even students! This is all because Pratham Books has made it possible for anyone to create a story and publish it on the StoryWeaver platform as it is open source and open license.

Adhering to the Creative Commons 4.0 License, users can take existing images and text on the platform to modify, remix, and reuse work in order to create something new as long as they follow attribution guidelines. You can even upload your own images for others to use for their own stories. As mentioned on the StoryWeaver site:

“you have the freedom to upload your own images, weave new stories and translate them to a language you are fluent in and share them with a global audience.”

One of the many things I like about StoryWeaver is that it is full of undiscovered gems just waiting to be read! As all books on the platform adhere to Creative Commons 4.0 licensing, this is not a place where traditional publishers come, but rather those who follow a low-cost, open model to expand the realm of education and literacy.

When StoryWeaver was created in 2016, Pratham Books reached out to several organizations to join them and in doing so created meaningful partnerships within this wonderful literacy space. One several such collaborative ventures is with the African Storybook Initiative, whose beautiful images and stories now grace the eyes of all those who visit the StoryWeaver website.

With StoryWeaver’s overall focus on Indian languages as a whole, this means that many of these African stories have now been translated into Bengali, Kannada, Telugu and other Indian tongues. Likewise, many of the Indian stories on the StoryWeaver platform have now been translated into African languages like Acholi, ChiShona, Kirundi, and SiLozi. As a result, with books from different cultures being translated into languages of other cultures, more intercultural understanding is born. Children can access ideas and images from other places in a language they can understand and other children in countries far away can learn about their stories in turn too.

For those of you who are reading this blog post and are educators in international schools or in cities with many different nationalities represented, this is particularly nice. Our students can access stories at the click of a button to read about places where they or their classmates have lived, are living, or will live. There are even books on India in Mandarin for all of my students in Shanghai!

“The Novel Coronavirus: We Can Stay Safe” – by Deepa Balsavar, Rajiv Eipe, Bijal Vachharajani, Maegan Dobson Sippy, Meera Ganapathi, Nimmy Chacko and Sanjana Kapur;
illustrated by Deepa Balsavar, Jayesh Sivan, Lavanya Naidu, Priya Kuriyan, Rajiv Eipe, Renuka Rajiv, Sheena Deviah and Sunaina Coelho (2020)

While not the main focus or bulk of their collection, there are some books that are bilingual and even wordless books too. Books come marked with reading levels for those interested and children can search for books according to different themes as well. Some books are also done as read-alouds with voiceovers. Currently, these only come in five languages, but there are plans in the works to do read-alouds in additional languages down the road. 

I particularly love that all books, even those that students create, can be downloaded from StoryWeaver onto a device. This means that you no longer need the Internet to read them once they have been downloaded, since all the books can be read offline. This is really useful and welcome because not everyone has ready access to the Internet, including those who might be part of more marginalized language communities. For those who want to print books and not rely on devices, that option is available too. In addition to books being available online as ePub and PDFs, all books on the platform are A4 print ready! 

I tried my hand at “weaving” a story from scratch. It was extremely user-friendly, intuitive, and straightforward. The only difficulty I experienced was choosing among the many great image options and letting my own creativity be unleashed. With thousands of images to choose from, the ability to place them in any order, and no cap on the number of images you can include in your story, the combinations and possibilities seem infinite. It was really fun. I will spare you the final result of my first obre d’art à la StoryWeaver because I am definitely a weaver in progress, but believe me…this is awesome. Actually, don’t believe me. Please try it for yourself and you will see what I mean. This is something that your students and teachers can really use and there are so many applications for art, story writing, world language classrooms, and more. 

Pratham Books wants to support literacy in every language imaginable. While that would be a huge endeavor just in India alone (with some estimates placing the country’s count at over 700 languages!), they have set out to include languages from around the world which makes it an even more daunting task. Pratham Books publishes its books in about 25 languages, but knows this only reaches so many children. Therefore, they have made translation available on Storyweaver for every book in any language!

While it is still far from the planet’s estimated 6,000+ languages, there are over 300 different languages already on StoryWeaver, a formidable and applause-worthy start, especially as some of the languages have very few speakers.

Languages range from French and Indonesian to Russian and Tamil, from Assamese and Chhattisharhi to Kora and Santali. Don’t forget others like Hindi, Italian, Korean, Odia, and Saurashtra too. Pratham Books works to verify as many of the translations as it can, although this does take time, especially as a small nonprofit team. Books with verified translations are marked as such and there are more verified than unverified translations on the platform.

I tried translating a story that already exists to see how it worked, translating a couple of pages from English to Portuguese using the template. It was super easy. Pratham Books has really done such a great job with the interface, enabling lots of translation work to occur for those who want to seize the opportunity.

One of my personal passions is supporting access for speakers of minority languages and I am excited about the possible impact that StoryWeaver could have in supporting early literacy for different language groups. I have reached out to one of the language groups I am connected with, Gangte – a language of approximately 15,000 speakers in the northeast Indian state of Manipur.

“Languages with official status in India.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Sep. 2022.

When I asked one Gangte child about books, he said “I wish I had books in my language!” My Gangte connections are interested in taking this on and Pratham Books is helping to get the ball rolling. If you speak another language or have connections to languages in your community, here is your call to help get more translations out there so that every child has the opportunity to read. You don’t have to do it alone. As part of StoryWeaver, Pratham Books has put together a useful tool kit of resources on its website to help language groups get started if they are interested. 

Pratham Books was born out of a nationwide movement to promote reading, initiated by Pratham Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has worked across India since 1995 to promote education and literacy. As the organization grew and a need to print and publish its own books became more paramount, Pratham Books was born.

I had the opportunity to interview Pratham Book’s Head of Marketing and Communications, Priya Desai, on a couple of occasions and I really enjoyed finding out more about their work. Thank you, Priya, for taking the time to talk with me and for all of the great work that you and Pratham Books are doing to spread a love of story around the world!

For more information on Pratham Books and StoryWeaver, please contact: storyweaver@prathambooks.org

Storyweaver books have already reached 20 million reads! With so many to choose from, which one will you read first? Here are 15 to get you started, beginning with one of my favorites since it is about libraries!

A Book for Puchku – by Deepanjana Pal, illustrated by Rajiv Eipe (2017), available in 52 languages

  • Puchku loves reading, but has read every single book in the library from cover to cover. What is she to do? Luckily her librarian is there to help her out!

Ammachi’s Amazing Machines – by Rajiv Eipe (2017), available in 79 languages

  • Sooraj is hungry for some of his grandmother’s coconut barfi so they both set out using physics and machines to collect ingredients and prepare the yummy dessert.

Beauty is Missing – by Priya Kuriyan (2021), available in 33 languages

  • Tessamma is sad when her buffalo, Beauty, goes missing. Beauty is a special buffalo who loves music. Constable Jincy is determined to find out what happened to her and interviews different people around town. Can Beauty’s love of music help Constable Jincy crack the case?

A Butterfly Smile – by Mathangi Subramanian, illustrated by Lavanya Naidu (2017), available in 38 languages

  • Kavya has just moved to her new school and is hoping to make friends. Students are learning about butterflies in science class and she notices there are parallels between her and the butterflies.

Dugga – by Rajiv Eipe(2021), available in 4 languages

  • Dugga is a stray dog who has many adventures in the city, one that is also filled with danger. After suffering an accident, Dugga has a long road to recovery ahead. Thankfully Dugga is helped by some loving humans. Wordless.

Ikru’s First Day of School – by Sunaina Coelho (2021), available in 11 languages

  • Join Ikru on his first day of school as he makes new friends and does fun activities. He is also reminded of home during the day and happy to see his family after school. Wordless.

The Laddoo Code – by Saksham Arora (2020), available in 10 languages

Two boys are sad to find out they are too late to get any delicious laddoos. They devise a clever way to get the message so that they don’t miss out on any next time. Uses GIF animation.

Mangalyaan: A Journey to Mars – by Nikhil Gulati (2020), available in 14 languages

Join the Indian Space Research Organization on its fascinating adventure to launch the Mangalyaan spaceship to Mars. Learn interesting facts about Mars and a little bit of space exploration history too.

Our Beautiful World by Bibek Bhattacharya, illustrated by Joanna Davala (2021), available in 9 languages

Our planet is a beautiful place, but humans have not always taken good care of it. If we are not careful, we will destroy this place we all call home. Learn more about the Earth and the important role that humans have in determining its final fate.

P.S What’s Up with the Climate? by Bijal Vachharajani, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan (2020), available in 8 languages

  • Animals around the world write about the plight they are facing as climate change wreaks havoc on their habitats. Filled with animal noises that make for a good read-aloud.

The Red Raincoat by Kiran Kasturia, illustrated by Zainab Tambawalla (2015), available in 128 languages

  • Manu is excited to wear his new raincoat, but has to wait until it rains. Will he get to wear his raincoat?

The Theatre of Ghosts by Pankaj Saikia (2021), available in 8 languages

  • Two girls and their puppy walk to the theater at night only to be scared by three boys wearing masks along the way. However, it is the boys who are truly scared as they become afraid of dark shapes in the night. Wordless.

Where is Number 5? by Pankaj Saikia (2021), available in 10 languages

  • Two children go on the search for their fifth hen. They come back with more than they had bargained for. 

Who Stole Bhaiya’s Smile? by Sanjana Kapur, illustrated by Susaina Coelho (2019), available in 26 languages

  • Bhaiya used to hang out a lot with Chiru, but lately he’s been hanging out with Dukduk – a monster who doesn’t make Bhaiya happy like he used to be. As Bhaiya and Chiru learn to live with Dukduk being around, Bhaiya learns ways to cope with depression.

Your Body is Yours by Yamini Vijayan (2020), available in 10 languages

  • This book teaches kids that everybody has a unique body and that each person has a right to feel safe in that body. It helps children understand what inappropriate touch or contact is and what to do if anybody or anything makes them feel uncomfortable.

Jeremy Willette

Originally from Maine in the United States, Jeremy Willette received his Master’s in Library and Information Science from Florida State University. He is a teacher librarian and has worked as an educator in the United States, Brazil, Hungary, India, and now China.

Currently the Head of Libraries at Shanghai American School where he is a secondary school librarian, he has also previously worked at the elementary school level. His professional passions include student voice, language access, and the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. He has served on several international committees, including the Neev Book Award jury, and loves contributing to, and being part of, the awesome international school library community! Twitter: @libraryjet

September is #WorldKidLit month and this year the GLLI blog is exploring different aspects of #IndiaKidLit in the run-up to the 2022 Neev Literature Festival, a celebration of Indian children’s literature being held Sept 24 and 25 in Bangalore. At the Festival, the winners of the 2022 Neev Book Award, which aims to promote and encourage high-quality children’s literature from India, will be announced in 4 categories: Early Years, Emerging Readers, Junior Readers, and Young Adult

2022 GLLI blog editors for #WorldKidLitMonth
  • Karthika Gopalakrishnan is the Head of Reading at Neev Academy, Bangalore, and the Director of the Neev Literature Festival. In the past, she has worked as a children’s book writer, editor, and content curator at Multistory Learning which ran a reading program for schools across south India. Prior to this, Karthika was a full-time print journalist with two national dailies. Her Twitter handle is g_karthika.

  • Katie Day is an international school teacher-librarian and one of the Jury Co-Chairs for the Neev Book Award. An American with a masters in children’s literature from the UK and a masters in library science from Australia, she has lived in Asia since 1997, including 15 years in Singapore, first at United World College of Southeast Asia and now at Tanglin Trust School.  She has also lived and worked in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the UK. Her Twitter handle is librarianedge.

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