Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Book Review: Karadi Tales' Will You Read With Me? Series

Hathaman is an accomplished yogi. Before the sun reaches the mid-way point in its journey across the sky each day, he's finished up a hundred and fifty Surya Namaskaras, the Dhanurasana, the Bhujangasana, the Mayurasana and the Sarvangasana. Hathaman, however, is not one to rest on his laurels. He wants to do more and be more. He wants to walk on water and fly like a bird. In other words, he wants superhuman powers.

His quest for these super powers and whether he succeeds in getting them is the story told in Karadi Tales' Super Hathaman. Written with tongue planted firmly in cheek by Kaushik Viswanath, the narrative is superbly illustrated by Chetan Sharma. Delight, greed, irritation, frustration, desperation, suspicion - the emotions flit across Hathaman's visage as vividly as they do in Viswanath's descriptions.

The most intriguing part of the package, however, is the fact that Super Hathaman is part of Karadi Tales' Will You Read With Me? series and therefore also comes with a compact disc - this one narrated by actor and comedian Jaaved Jaaferi, with background music by 3 Brothers & A Violin.

Another title from the series, A Hundred Cartloads, written by Devika Rangachari and illustrated by Bindia Thapar, is a lovely, heartwarming tale of the loving relationship between Ananda, the ox, and Billa, his master. When circumstances conspire to unravel their friendship, will they learn to trust each other again and get back to the way they were before? Thapar's eye-popping illustrations ably support Rangachari's lucid and simple writing style. Soha Ali Khan's competent narration of the story is accompanied by another winning musical score by 3 Brothers & A Violin.

One evening, recently, on one of our innumerable daily car rides to and from my children's after-school activities, we popped the Super Hathaman CD in the car's stereo and settled back for the half-hour ride. The series title song composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy was followed by brief instructions on how to read along and a short intro by Jaaferi. And then, the story began.

As the awesome music of 3 Brothers & A Violin filled the car and the first words of the story spilled out of Jaaferi's striking vocal chords, it is safe to say that listening to Super Hathaman was well on its way to becoming a favorite activity during car rides. We have since listened to the CD more than a few times already.

The music sets the scenes - particularly the ones in the Tibetan monastery - with admirable precision. Jaaferi conjures up mesmerizing images with his now naughty, now bewildered, now impatient vocal calisthenics. My three-year-old daughter broke into giggles at Hathaman's antics. And at one point, when the music managed to elicit goose bumps, there was a distinct "wow" from my nine-year-old son.

Each of the Will You Read With Me? series titles comes with a note to parents about audio books. In it, Karadi Tales lays out its case for why children should be reading books along with their CDs. Expressing a preference for teaching children 'sight' reading over 'phonetic' reading, it asserts that reading along with the CD "increases the sight vocabulary of the child." It goes on to say that listening to storytellers able to emote effectively (Jaaferi's counterparts on other series titles include Vidya Balan, Sanjay Dutt, Soha Ali Khan and Rahul Dravid), children learn to speak better and are able to hone their listening skills, thereby improving their attention spans.

While all this may be true, if it is one thing I've realized from being in the thick of bringing up two children, it is that no two children are alike. My son subscribed to the phonetic method right from the time he started learning to read (he still uses it to decode polysyllabic words in the chapter books he reads), and if early indications hold true, my daughter is a strong candidate for the sight-reading camp. She recognizes words by sight – even those that are easy to string together phonetically – faster than she sounds them out.

However, no matter what reading strategy a child leans toward, it is axiomatic that parents must create an environment in which young children get excited about reading and want to read. As long as the books are child-appropriate, it doesn't really matter whether the books are considered classics or are written by newbie authors. To that end, if a book is able to entice a child to open it, look at it, flip through its pages and finally read it (or have it read to them), then it's a surefire winner as far as I'm concerned. In that department, the Will You Read With Me? series executes its mandate wonderfully.

The audio component is definitely icing on the cake. While I'm not generally a fan of software embedded in books that prompts a child with the correct pronunciation when he or she struggles with a word, having the software (the audio) separate from the book ensures that, with parental guidance, the child does not end up using the CD as a crutch every time he or she sits down to read. Children can listen to the CD a couple of times and then try to read the book on their own.

Quite apart from the aspect of reading along with the CD, there is the listening aspect to the audio books. Watching a child listening to a story is pure magic. They get this faraway look in their eyes, their imagination fully engaged, their attention riveted to listening and understanding. When you have polished storytellers such as Jaaferi assisting you, the task just gets that much easier.

The series does not alert parents as to what age-group of children the books are appropriate for. While any child that is able to focus even for a few minutes could benefit from just listening to stories on the CDs, the books seem to be targeted at children who have already started reading and are able to handle many of the most commonly occurring words on their own, and who have some facility with the English language.

The idea that children should grow up listening to stories is nothing new. It is as old as civilization and as widespread. But by pairing the art of story-telling with the academic imperative that children learn to read (and well), and by adhering to excellent production values every step of the way, Karadi Tales has hit upon a combination that is sure to keep both children and parents happy.

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Jinksy said...

Way back when I was young, the BBC Children's Hour helped get me hooked on stories - noteably, the Just So Stories, The King of The Golden River, Ballet Shoes and a host of other old favourites that have remained friends of mine ever since!

Sylvia K said...

Marvelous post! We always read to our children when they were young and we started when they were very young. They grew up surrounded by books and music and they still are. Books and music are so much a part of their lives. I learned a lot about that as a teacher and always incorporated reading time in my classrooms.

Have a great day!


Sniffles and Smiles said...

What a delightful series!!! I wish they had been available when my son was learning to read...I'm with you on the learning styles...I actually thing both phonetic and sight reading must be taught...a blending of the two methods seems to work best...Another excellent post, Sujatha!!! I love the look of the illustrations...must look for these just for fun!!! Love~Janine XO

mallikamt said...

I'll have to pick some of these up on my next trip to India. Nothing like cuddling with your little ones and reading to them:)

Praba Ram said...

Hi Suj,

Long time since I commented. You know this one is right up my alley. We do have a few books from this series I wanted to post. And in fact, I can so relate to the "cd being played during the car ride" - we are all humming...welcome to the world of reading, welcome to dreaming...:-))
Needless to say, your review is amazing as always! Suj, can I crosspost this on ST, if you don't mind, may be sometime in January? A very "special" review it will be from a beloved blogger, and of course, the team will be thrilled on ST - as you can imagine. will be a great start for 2010! ;-) Please take your time to respond. Thanks!

Sands said...

Both mine loved the karadi tales. Their uncle had gifted them the book with the audio tape and they listened to it and read it many million times :)

babylovesbooks (Rupa) said...

Thanks for this great review. I've listened to Karadi Tales before my imp was born(does that constitute a confession!)but haven't yet got one for her.(Go figure!) We do read a lot though, but I've been itching to introduce her to more Indian themes and stories lately. Although she never tires of the epics or Krishna/Ganesh tales...I can see that our book shelf lacks variety in that department. I was wondering - once your kids get used to the idea of listening to the audio along with the book, do they tend to ask for it every time? Or do they go back to just reading the book without the audio on some occasions? I guess it's a question of encouraging them to do both and learning to mix it up. Anyways, happy to have stumbled upon your site.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I have not heard of this series. I read extensively to my kids - and used tapes (before CD's) to have them many a story from King Arther to how the Elephant Got It's Nose. Funny how they now make a statement every now and then referring to all those stories. As to phonetic or sight reading? They were teaching Whole Language when my older two learned. Sort of a build it and they will come theory. Didn't work for the second son of mine and I did phonetics which didn't seem to work either. Finally, one day in third grade, he started reading on his own. Just finally ready. Went from a no grade level reading to 5th grade level in a matter of weeks. Who knows?

Sujatha said...

We had bought the earliest Karadi Tales, back in the age when they were selling audiocassettes, not audio CDs. It was a treat listening to Naseeruddin Shah's narration of The Crows and the Serpent and The Monkey and the Crocodile, along with the catchy music.
The only catch was that the language was rather advanced for my then-4 year old son to follow and read along with. But we did enjoy listening to the readings very much.
Unless they have recast the books to incorporate fewer and less complex sentences per page, I don't know if these will substantially help kids to learn the art of 'sight reading'.It might at best be a fun supplement to parental efforts.