Published by Tulika, the Thumb Thumb Books series uses everyday contexts and everyday vocabulary to lend confidence to a child beginning to read. These beginner readers are a set of ten colorful books meant to capture the imagination of four year olds (and up), and satisfy their urge to be able to read. The series is created with thumbprint characters.
Developmentally speaking, a child first listens to narrations and then moves on to see pictures of the narrations. Then comes the stage where simple correlation of picture to word is transcended and the child wants to read to get the nuances of the narration. Learning to read hence has to first make the child feel that he or she has fluency of language and understands the situation as well. It is here that the thumbprint characters Thambi and Thangi, exploring their world, enter the arena.
The informal style of narration in these books wherein everyday experiences are talked about invite a child to read. Most reading books have repetitive words that make a child read without even looking at the word. But in this series, Tulika seems to have largely kept the repetitive sentence structure out and kept it closer to the spoken, so that the reading is more spontaneous. Each time a child picks up a book, he/she discovers the joy of reading ‘9 to 1’ by Niveditha Subramanian, the first book in the series, goes backwards in numbers and finally brings in Thambi to welcome the rain. All the characters in the book built around the thumbprint are captivating.
Making faces is an explorative fascination that all children go through. In ‘Mirror’, Sandhya Rao brings this through charmingly. The interest in reading is sure to held as the illustrations are dynamic. In ‘Flower’ the exploration is around making words of sounds—indeed a thoroughly enjoyable experience for four-year-olds. It’s the surprises that come from exploration that forms the storyline. Ashok Rajagopalan’s illustrations are like enacting it to an audience.
‘Hello’ is a story about the wonderful world of trees and bees, butterflies and birds and Thambi of course greeting the flower with a ‘Hello’. In ‘Where is Thangi?’, Thangi keeps the suspense, even if Thambi’s anxiety to find Thangi increases page after page. When, she declares in the end ‘Here I am’, Thambi is overjoyed. The illustration on the last page is a delight.
‘Shhhhh!’ goes the wakeful world as Thangi sleeps. When a plate clatters, Thangi merely turns around to go back to sleep!!! It’s Thangi searching for Thambi in ‘Dark’.
Radhika Menon and Biswajit Balasubramanian take you on a moonlight walk. ‘Tail’ is a book that will take a child beyond the text. What can’t you do if a tail were a part of you!! Deepa Balsavar and her excellent illustrations have you flipping the pages again and again.
‘Up Up’ is a simple narration of a simple activity, fascinating nonetheless. There is excellent body language in the illustrations. Ashok Rajagopalan supports Jeeva Raghunath’s narration. In ‘Song’ by Sandhya Rao, an orchestra builds which arrests Thangi’s attention and song turns naturally and spontaneously to dance.
In all the books a unique feature is that when the story is done, the child is invited to make his or her own illustrations!!! Allowing a child to read inspired by her/his own illustrations is an imaginative way to encourage reading. The dynamic illustrations dance and sing and children will love this.
What’s even better is that it is available in other Indian languages as well (Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Bangla, Telugu, Malayalam). Head for the store to get rich fare.
And while on you’re way there, let me tell you how my class of tiny international students (for many of whom English is a second language) reacted when I shared a couple of Thumb Thumb books with them. First I read in English, slowly, showing them the pictures, pausing. They listened attentively, following every detail. Then I read in Tamil, and in Hindi, slowly, showing them the pictures. They were riveted, because although they did not know either language, they knew the story and were familiar with the context. They were listening to the music the words in these unfamiliar languages were making. What an experience that was, and what a wonderful way to take books in different languages to children in multilingual India.
Padma Srinath teaches little ones at the American International School, Chennai.