The journey from The Waterfront Hotel to Lodge International School became that much more exciting when a thunderstorm began, almost bringing traffic to a total halt.

Multi-award winning writer and illustrator, Vasanti Unka arrived at the school, quietly tucked away in the middle of a huddle of houses in Tabuan Desa. With her husband Raj helping hers, they quickly got to preparing for her session with some forty Year 4-6 students, to share Vasanti’s newest book, Stripes! No, Spots!

The session started off on an enchanting note as Vasanti, who is here thanks to the support of Creative New Zealand, launched into a Maori song that went like this: “Mahunga, Pakihiwi, Puku, Hope, Wae Wae…Taringa, Whatu, Ihu, Waha”, and an introduction of New Zealand before diving into her storybook. True to the story, the children took sides to pick stripes or spots, and before long, the hall resounded with roars similar to that of those heard only in the jungle.

As Vasanti finished her reading, the students quickly understood that the main value shared in the story is that everyone is different, yet beautiful in his or her own way, and that there is no need to fight over that. The children were thrilled to end the session by making their own tiger and leopard masks, and decorating them with more than just stripes and spots.

As they said their farewells, Vasanti told them how much she loved their responsiveness throughout the session, and that she hoped to come back for another adventure soon!

By Cheryl Melia


Spices is a topic that children usually do not get to see or discuss.

However, well into Namita Moolani Mehra’s session, it was apparent that it was an eye opening subject for the children of Lumba Kuda. Spices can be used in so many ways to whip up so many delicious dishes.

Spices are inherently lazy, said Namita. They have to be pounded to wake them up in order to enhance the flavour of food. Can you imagine this? Chilli powder can be added to chocolate mousse, a dessert to make it taste even more exotic. Going by the response of the children, Namita’s session has in all probability kindled an interest in cooking for many of the students gathered there today. All of them had that look about going home and thinking of something to cook up.

By Melinda Siew

There is a little apprehension when one visits a school that teaches in a language that one is not familiar with. SKJ Chung Hua is a Chinese school and Ummi Sham is Malay but she managed it beautifully.

Fifty students sat and patiently listened to the story of Jack and his journeys. They breathlessly followed Jack as he travelled across rivers, up and down hills, through forests in search of wealth and happiness. Who will he meet? What will he find? These were the unasked questions that were on the minds of the children as the story raced on.

While narrating the story, Ummi asked the children to try and imitate the sounds that different animals make. It made the session that much more interesting.

By Yitping Tay

Deep inside a Malay village, hidden away from the public is SK Stapok, a school that has 100 students. Today was their appointment with Ummi Sham, the story teller. Ummi doesn’t just tell stories. She sings, dances, uses puppets and brings in origami too to keep her audience in thrall.

The session started as Ummi began with Sup Bati or Stone Soup. Ummi, whose visit was made possible thanks to the support of MBBY (the Malaysian Board on Books for Young People), stirred the pot with an unusual story about animals.

Even before the cheers for the first story could die down, Ummi started another one but this time accompanied by origami. When the story ended, each child had made a box using A4 paper. Not only were the children excited, they were amazed with what they had done.

All good things come to an end. So did Ummi’s session. Reluctantly they bid her goodbye and each one respectfully kissed her hand on the way out. A visibly touched Ummi too came away with some reluctance.

By Yitping Tay

When you get a rousing welcome from 150 children, you know that it is going to be a great day. And so it was.

We spent one delightful hour with Grace Wong, the storyteller, and the children of SK Sungai Stutong. What made it more fun was that along with the children (ages 6-9), the teachers were extremely friendly and helpful. Every one of them enjoyed the stories.

Grace started the session with ‘A Ram Sam Sam’ rhyme and followed it up with a story about the lion who could not write. Grace used two stories about tea and milk to highlight the nutritional benefits or lack of it. The principal of the school, Ismail, took us on a visit around the school and while wishing us a warm goodbye, expressed the hope that we would return – very soon.



It was raining for the past couple of days and the weather was balmy. The traffic was chaotic. But when Shalini Arora, the speaker for the day reach RAK Study Centre, and was greeted with a huge Good Morning by a group of tiny angels, all the annoyance of existence vanished. We were at RAK Study Centre at Lady Irwin College for the second session of storytelling. There were 40 children between ages 2-4 for the session.

Frog out of water

Frog out of water


Shalini began her session with a story named “The Greedy Frog”. She narrated the story with the help of props such as hand puppets, colourful scarfs, stick puppets and mask which proved to be the most efficient way to get the kids involved. She made animal voices with the children and they loved it. The story was about a frog who drinks all the water of the jungle and how animals make him laugh to get the water back out of his tummy. She modulated her voice to engage the children and ended with the rhyme “sticky bubblegum”.

Delhi monsoons can be very depressing. Humid days, traffic jams due to rains. But spending an afternoon with children always lifts up your mood. And if  there’s a writer telling you stories from childhood, it is an icing on the cake.
That is exactly what happened at the RAK Study Centre, Lady Irwin College. Vasundhara Bahuguna from Delhi Storytelling Network, the speaker for today’s session had two stories to tell a group of chirpy and enthusiastic kids between 7-13 years of age. The kids were eager to listen to the stories and throughout the session all of them and listened intently. Vasundhara narrated two stories which the kids themselves gave titles to. She made the session more interesting as she made funny voices, rhymed and involved kids in the story as well.
A magical afternoon

A magical afternoon


The first story was about an old folk tale about Cat and Mouse which she had appropriated with rhymes and Indian names and expressions and the other was also an old tale about a Fisherman and the Gold Fish.The stories were funny and magical (the second story had a fish that was magical).

Christopher C. Doyle, best-selling author of Mahabharata Secret, Mahabharata Quest: Alexander’s Secret and the upcoming book, Secret of Druids, has an unique approach to story- telling. He believes in weaving together History, Science and incidents fro Mahabharata while shaping his thriller narratives. When he addressed about 100 children of  classes 9-12 at Khaitan Public School today, Christopher encouraged them to imagine alternative histories- and its possibilities.

Given the present political climate, Christopher also spoke of the apprehensions regarding writing alternative histories. Through various video images, researched materials and documents, he introduced the children to the world of fact and science. For instance, he gave a fascinating account of how one of the scientists’ discovery of the nature of erosion of the rocks in Egypt determined the period when Pyramids were created. Instead of 2500 BC, the scientist proved that the origin of pyramids and sphinx must have happened only after 6000 BC for it to have coincided with the heavy rainfall erosion.

In his own books, Christopher deals with important issues like Asoka as a historical figure with a secret to guard and not just a legend like he was believed to be before 1837. He questions the real reason for Alexander the Great to leave India without conquering it. According to Christopher’s research and fiction, Alexander came in search of Samudra Manthan which would lead him to Amrita, the nectar of immortality. He left as he was unable to find it and his desire of becoming a God remained unfulfilled.

What if we could re-write history?

What if we could re-write history?

Christopher spoke about some of the writers and books that inspired him to pursue this particular writing style. He mentioned Graham Hancock’s “The finger prints of the Gods” and Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas’ “Uriel’s Machine” and Akshay Majumdar’s The Hindu History.  He even brought a few of these books to let children have a glimpse of his idea of creativity and writing.

Children who attended the session were shy to discuss about writing or ask questions about the books in public but had a fun time with the author when they got a chance to talk to him individually. They even had an opportunity of buying the books signed by the author. He also spoke about the Quest club whereby avid readers could connect with the author online for discussions on books, ideas around thinking, reading and writing.

The special kids at the Sarahana NGO, belonging to the age bracket of 6 and 15, were in for a treat as the storyteller for the day, Simi Srivastava took the stage. They set sail on a journey with the kind witch and her animal friends, the cat, the dog, the parrot and the frog. It involved an adventure whereby the kind witch (enacted by Simi in this case) kept dropping her belongings – the witch hat, the ribbon, her magic wand and each time one of her animal friends helped her find it. In return, they just wanted a ride on her on her broom. It was all fun and exciting till they faced a bigger problem- the dragon! The animal friends helped out the kind witch collectively this time. The children listened with rapt attention, wide-eyed – that showed their involvement in the story. Some of the kids also volunteered to take roles of the different animal friends and the kind witch when they were ready to take the make believe ride on the broom- Whooosh-Whoosh-Whoosh!

A magical story session

A magical story session

This was followed by few rhymes and songs like – When you are happy and you know it, clap your hands; I love you-you love me; humne teen cheesein dekhi hain, ek mota haathi fasee ek makdee ke jaal mein, etc. Not only were the children delighted, their parents had a lovely time too. The oversized book really worked well. The illustrations were out there for the children to explore the look and the feel of the characters more closely.  The animated voice over and the gait of different characters were perfectly portrayed by Simi. Happily, we all found an access to Julia Donaldson’s Room on Broom.

There are just too many things I wanted to share about Pustaka Bookaroo Festival of Children’s Literature that ended its second edition in Kuching recently. The festival which aims to bring children and books together, culminated in a 2-day fiesta of storytelling, crafts, doodling and activities on 16-17 April.

Here are some highlights from my Pustaka Bookaroo experience.

I checked in at Permai Rainforest Resort and found out that I was to share a chalet with a stranger.  I had arranged to share a room with Heidi, the madam who wrote The Door Under the Stairs series of chapter books that I illustrated. But there were two rooms in the chalet and someone called Valentina Trivedi from India had already checked in earlier to the second room.  Valentina turned out to be great! Valentina is a funny, friendly and gracious storyteller from New Delhi with a passion for educating and bringing kids up right. Now Heidi and I will be plotting for ways to find funding for a visit to a new found friend from India.


Moments of Self Importance
Actually, there were several…walking into Pusaka Negeri Sarawak on the first day and seeing my name on a card at the author signing table, walking into the Author’s lounge area and getting pinned with a fancy ribbon with my name on it,  being asked to autograph books that people were actually buying, and having all those helpful and eager volunteers from the colleges (SEGI I think) escorting me to the designated venues and addressing me as “Miss” very respectfully. I honestly felt like a VIP!


My Sessions as a Speaker
This was actually my first big “gig” and I couldn’t help feeling a little anxious especially when I saw the lineup of amazing writers, illustrators, storytellers from India, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.  I worked the sessions around two of my books Atuk’s Amazing Sarong and Menagerie – Fun with Animal Groups. Luckily, I didn’t have to play to an empty room as kids actually turned up for the sessions. In the end, I think they had a good time.  I had a silly song, a silly hat and plenty of sarong action – what could have possibly gone wrong with that?

session speaker

Satisfied Customer


The photo says it all.

Delicious Meal
We were served really tasty BBQ lamb chops at the dinner hosted by Pustaka. The cendol was also very good – soft yet chewy and full of flavours.  The cake deserves an honourable mention.


Awesome Venue
Pustaka Negeri Sarawak was the perfect venue for the festival.  With a spacious green park right in front and a quiet small lake at the back, the high ceilings, glass doors and windows and a grand glass staircase all made for a very pleasant festival location indeed.  I was also impressed with the spacious layout of the library and the many comfy looking tables and chairs available.


Amazing Organizers
Kudos to the Pustaka and Bookaroo team for a brilliant organization of the whole festival. It seemed to me that everything ran like clockwork and the volunteers were fantastic.  The happy smiles on the kids and the flustered but appreciative parents said it all.  And I felt really well taken care of. They even helped us squeeze in a trip to Kuching town and back in time for our dinner date.


New Friends and Old
I had a blast meeting all the generous, friendly and like-minded people who shared their knowledge, experiences and their love for stories and reading and also the chance to interact and get to know better the friends from Malaysia and Pustaka Negeri Sarawak.


The above post is an edited version of the original post bt Lim Sisters.

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