(This article was written on the 19th of May 2023. Since then, a beautiful, new version of Khwāb Ghar has reopened for the community.)
When I first started working with children, I never considered incorporating books into our sessions. We had some stored in a trunk, and whenever I cleaned the room, I wondered when these books would be removed so that our space could be clutter-free. Besides, we already had our school books, which were quite challenging to comprehend, such as political science, history, and science. I eagerly awaited the end of the school year to finally be free from those difficult textbooks, so why would I be interested in reading other books? At that time, I had no inclination to open them at all.
Then we began visiting the TCLP library (The Community Library Project) located in Malviya Nagar. At first, I gradually started making connections by going there every week and attempting to read books. I distinctly recall always gravitating towards the Romantic Book’s section. There was a book titled ‘Tum Hi Ho,’ a chapter book that caught my attention. I picked it up and read just one line, but it captivated me. The text appeared simple and easy to read due to its large and clear font. I read one chapter, then another, and eventually decided to take it home. I borrowed the book and read it daily, sometimes one chapter, sometimes two or four. I fell in love with that book and desired to read it in its entirety. It was the first time in my life that I had finished an entire book. However, my interest dwindled again despite the wide selection of books available.
One day, we visited the FLN office (Free Library Network) to collect books for our own library. I say ‘our library’ because we had made the decision to establish one and work with children, connecting theatre activities to the books. At FLN, we gathered books and came across different types, some of which were the largest books I had ever seen, like ‘Lightning’ and ‘Agla kon.’ I requested that they be included in our library, and they agreed. We took them back with us, and just as I was filled with excitement upon seeing them, our children had the same reaction — they were thrilled by these books.
During that time when we were building our connections with books, Alia joined us at Aagaaz. Alia had a wealth of amazing library experiences, and she began working on the library. She introduced us to many new concepts, such as creating attractive displays, conducting Read Aloud sessions, exploring various activities with books, emphasising the importance of list-making, and guiding us on how to expand our library. I started working full-time at Aagaaz, with library work becoming my top priority. Alia supervised my work in the library, although we all collaborated as a team, each with our own assigned tasks.
Subsequently, we initiated “Library Mentoring Sessions” with the Bookworm Team. Bookworm is a library located in Panjim, Goa, with a vision to “inspire and develop a love for reading as a way of life, nurturing humane engagement in every girl and boy.” We engaged in weekly online sessions with them, where they imparted a plethora of knowledge and skills related to libraries. Alia had already been associated with Bookworm and had prior experience working with them.
At the beginning of these sessions, I felt disinterested due to encountering new faces and the predominance of English over Hindi in the discussions. The online format made me feel disconnected.
One significant workshop within the program was called “Introduction to Libraries.” It aimed to educate library educators on enhancing the effectiveness of their libraries. I travelled to Goa specifically for this workshop, and it marked my first solo plane journey. I felt extremely nervous throughout the trip, especially since I arrived at night and had to wait for my roommate to join me the next day. To ease my nerves, I exercised in the morning, took a walk, and explored the area before attending the first session of the workshop.
On the first day of the workshop, I was filled with nerves as it was a new place for me. However, something incredible happened. We were warmly welcomed, and they even sang a beautiful and soothing song for us. The library itself was the largest I had ever seen, adorned with flowers and flower pots, lush greenery, pleasant aromas, impeccable cleanliness, and an atmosphere of peace. The people there wore big smiles on their faces, radiating love, respect, and acceptance for everyone. It was a place where you had the freedom to explore, the freedom to choose any book to read, the freedom to sit wherever you pleased, the freedom to engage in board games, the freedom to solve puzzles. There were numerous types of books, natural elements, and handmade objects, adorned with beautiful artwork and brimming with amazing ideas. It was a space that naturally invited people to open up and be themselves. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the place and embrace it wholeheartedly, living freely, happily, and cherishing every single moment I spent there.
I couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening, but I found myself naturally drawn to the books. I felt an instant connection with them. As I observed myself, I noticed that I was primarily drawn to children’s books and picture books. Ideas started forming in my mind about how I could present these books to the children at our Khwāb Ghar.
I have noticed that when I read, I often read aloud. By hearing my own voice, I can better understand what I am reading. Sometimes I do enjoy reading silently, but more often than not, I prefer to read aloud.
Now, let me tell you about an extraordinary experience we had with the Bookworm team during a game called Treasure Hunting. Oh my goodness, I can’t even begin to express how amazing and fantastic it was! This game created a strong connection among all of us and allowed us to learn so many new things while having fun. At the Bookworm library, they designed the game in a way that kept us engaged and intrigued. They provided us with hints, and we had to search for specific books. Each book contained another clue, leading us to the next book. After collecting all the books, we returned and tallied up who had found how many correct books, earning points in the process. Prior to the game, they had already introduced us to themes, genres, and other concepts, but through the game, we gained an even deeper understanding.
It was an exposure visit, and to my great excitement, we headed to the beach! I absolutely adore beaches, and being there with the team made it even more special. As you can see in the picture, we were playing theatre games on the beach. This idea was truly fantastic, and it occurred during the Library Educator’s workshop. Theatre is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used to explore various environments. When books and theatre are combined, it creates a dynamic and explosive experience. It’s a true BOOM!
After we returned from the visit, we decided to create a book ourselves that captured our experiences. We used drawings, written poetry, and more to bring our visit to life. This art activity in the library allowed us to use any colour we wanted. Normally, we are cautious when using watercolours, but in this activity, there were no restrictions. We played with colours freely, choosing any brush and utilising the stationery available in the library. These may seem like small details, but they hold great importance in my mind. I am noting down every aspect because I want my library to evoke the same feelings I had at Bookworm, where my children can experience what I felt.
During my visit, I not only learned theoretical concepts but also had the opportunity to experience numerous awe-inspiring and beautiful things that I can now explore in my own library.
I learned so many valuable lessons and made detailed notes. Upon my return, I shared my entire experience with everyone and introduced new ideas to them. And of course, Alia is always here to lend a helping hand.
Now that I’m back, we are in the process of shifting to a slightly larger space, actually, a significantly larger one. It’s the perfect time to consider all the possibilities we can explore in our library. We have made several decisions, such as how to organise our books, how to open the library to everyone, how to create attractive displays, and how to continually improve our library. We constantly ask ourselves questions and strive to learn and grow.
In the current scenario, we were closed for two to three weeks to allow for construction work and to beautify the space through painting. Now that we have reopened, our library displays a wide range of books beautifully, and the walls are adorned with vibrant colours. We have even added blackboard paint on the walls where children can draw and express themselves. We have created a separate silent reading room for children to read quietly. Additionally, we have toys, board games, and other interactive activities available. On open library days, we screen movies and conduct Read Aloud sessions with theatrical elements, among many other exciting activities.
As for my personal connection with books, I still have a strong affinity for picture books. The illustrations continue to captivate me and beckon me to read them. I still visit the TCLP library and enjoy reading there as well. I enthusiastically recommend my favourite books to the children and wish the best for their reading journeys.