04 August 2009

Going to School in India and the Girl Stars series from Random House

Beautiful and inspiring - but who will read them?
Going to School in India by Lisa Heydlauff is a brilliant collage of photographs and brief text which shows the cultural and economic diversity of school children in this country. In tiny vignettes it’s full of information about different parts of India. I thought it very well researched and admire the intelligent and creative effort that went into it. At Rs. 450, this excellent book may not go to those who would enjoy and benefit most from it. I raved about it to my friend Gladys so she's borrowed my copies to show around to Principals of some of the schools in Pune and let’s see what they say. Meanwhile … why not skip your next meal out and invest instead in a few copies, and hold sessions reading it to out to kids at your local municipal school and to the kids of your domestic staff and their friends?

When Anita the Beekeeper was “very small”, she would walk pass the village school on her way to the forest. One day, she stood on “her tiptoes” and peeped over the red stone wall.
This story for children tells how Anita began to attend school against her family’s wishes when she was only seven, how she earned her way, and even used her enterprise to start a business that saw her through college.
I found the storyline thin, the language vague and the grammar iffy, but the illustrations are so beautiful that they make the book extremely attractive and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with it. The question I couldn’t avoid asking is – who is this book meant for? For most children who will get to read it, it will be a story about how the other half live. I think it might also embed in them a sense of the relationship between education and economic wellbeing – not a bad thing at all. But those kids to whom Anita might have made an admirable and much-needed role model will have no access to it because it’s in English and there are at present no plans to translate it into an Indian language.

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