Khanversations

Rukhsana’s thoughts on her journey of life, writing and sometimes—when she dares—a bit of politics.
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It’s a really good idea to keep yourself open to all opportunities to promote  your work.

When I met Dennis Abrams at the Sharjah Reading Festival and he asked me to write a guest post in his online magazine and I agreed, I had no idea he had thousands of followers.

It just seemed like a good idea at the time.

So I wrote an article about international marketing and it seems to have done very well!

You can read it here: http://publishingperspectives.com/2015/05/a-canadian-authors-adventures-in-intl-book-marketing/

So basically, you can add the opportunity of writing that article to the myriad opportunities I’ve received when I’ve traveled!

It really does surprise me to find that authors are willing to shell out thousands to attend conferences on the other side of the world!!! I even advised a couple of authors I know not to do that, but they didn’t listen.

It’s a pretty expensive vacation if you ask me!

My goodness!

It’s a matter of slowly building up your brand and your reputation.

I like what Philip Seymour Hoffman said, keep working and make sure when you go before an audience, that they never forget you!

Or words to that effect.

Basically that’s what I try to do and so far it’s been working!

 

Quebec was lovely!

Montreal is a beautiful city!

I had never seen it in this light before!

Stayed at the Marriott in Westmount and it’s such a quaint little place! Loved the architecture.

Normally I don’t care for a lot of statues and stuff sticking out of the brickwork, but they do make it work!

And oh, the Quebecois can really make desserts!

Oh I had the most luscious treats! (And gained about five pounds yikes!!! And my rosacea!!! Ew!!! but oh they were yummy!)

Most everyone I met was warm and gracious!

Went to a school in Pointe Claire yesterday which is a very old English settlement that dates back to the 1700′s. It’s on the shores of Lake St. Louis, and very picturesque, particularly because it was a warm spring day!

We ate lunch on the shores of the lake and I talked to the teacher librarian Sandra Fisher.

The kids were wonderful! As usual.

One little girl came up to me after The Roses in My Carpets presentation and she had this very serious look on her face. She said, “I just loved your presentation. It was just so true.”

And as she stood there in front of me, tears came into her eyes and I told her, “Oh no. You’re going to make me cry!”

And she said again, “But it was so very true!”

And then later these two little boys came up to me and said how much they’d loved the presentation and then the one said, “I just feel like hugging you! You just look so very CUDDLY!” And the boy next to him nodded in agreement.

I just laughed! And I said, “Fine! I’ll hug you!” And so we did! Them doing most of the hugging (because in this day and age you have to be super careful!) and me just patting them on their backs! They were about nine years old.

It was just so funny! They felt like my grandkids for goodness sakes!

But it’s funny because it isn’t always positive.

In one of the schools I went to during the tour, there was a teacher who got quite upset when I talked about wanting to be white and how the kids I grew up with told me and my sisters that they were white because they were clean and we were brown because we were dirty.

The point of sharing this in the Roses in My Carpets presentation was to show the irony that my Afghan refugee foster child had blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles–the one thing that I could have used while I was growing up!

And in talking about all this stuff, the main point that comes through is how silly the whole skin color thing really is!

Believe me, the kids get that the fact that I can laugh at it now, means I have gotten over it!

But apparently this teacher was upset because I didn’t go into how I had overcome my feelings of being ‘dirty’. I just told the kids that I had overcome them and I had come to terms with being a brown Canadian.

And when I heard that, I just looked at the administrators blankly and said, “But that’s another presentation.”

In my A New Life/Coming to Canada presentation, I go into exactly how I overcame those feelings of being brown and dirty, but for the sake of the Roses in My Carpets presentation there isn’t time, I only needed to reference it.

Well, well, you can’t please them all.

When I stayed behind in the hopes of talking with her and gaining insight into her objections, she didn’t come to speak to me. And I thought well, you can’t please everyone, even though, yeah, deep in my heart, I DO want to please them all!

It’s something I’m working on.

LOL.

Oh, so pathetic I know! But I can’t help it.

If she’d brought some legitimate points, I would have found a way to incorporate them into the presentation in order to deal with them, but I never got the chance, so I’ll just chalk it down to an isolated incident.

All in all the most common comment I got from the audiences I spoke to was: “I could have listened to you all day!”

These came from teachers and other students all through out the week!

And a seventeen year old big guy from Shawinigan school, after I’d done a combination of my Get the Bully Off Your Back presentation mixed in with aspects of Wanting Mor. He said, “It’s lunch time and I’m really hungry, but I could have listened to you for another hour!”

I’d say it was a very successful tour!!!

#TDBookWeek

 

Subhanallah! I survived.

I feel like a wrung out dish cloth, but I survived.

Having two major trips so close together was NOT a good idea!

It might seem really cool and fun, and it is, if they’re spaced way apart!

But having basically two days in between to recuperate…uh uh, not good.

Sharjah was amazing! I learned so very much!

Especially from this lady I met at a coffee shop.

Maybe I should explain how I approach opportunities.

When someone gets in touch with me, and I can accommodate them with an interview or meeting, then I tend to do so. I have found that you never know what can come out of such chance meetings!

It’s one of the ways that I’ve kept the momentum of my career going forward.

It’s often the case that you might be chasing after this or that group, but it’s some totally different group that acknowledges you and wants to work with you!

So this lady had contacted me, she’d come to the Expo centre in Sharjah looking for me because she lives in Dubai, had brought her kids and everything but I only had two small presentations at the Expo centre. One was a panel that was actually covered in the Gulf Today newspaper here: http://gulftoday.ae/portal/9e9bd70f-229b-40aa-ac53-461eaac89f6b.aspx#.VT8Zs_sSeUA.facebook

It was a very nice panel but a small audience of mostly intellectuals. The other was a presentation I did for some twelve year old girls at the booth of my publisher Kalimat.

So not surprisingly she couldn’t find me. So through Facebook she told me she wanted to meet me, I did have some time available so they picked me up at the hotel and we went for coffee.

We had a lovely conversation! Up till now I’d been rather disappointed by the limited vision of some of the people I’d met in Sharjah. It seemed that they were trying to blow their horn from a perspective of Arab nationalism and personally I could care less about any sort of nationalism. I’m not patriotic in that sense, not particularly proud of being any sort of ethnicity because I think that ethnicity is not where we get our goodness. I mean I’m not ashamed of being Pakistani, but I don’t see being Pakistani, or even Canadian for that matter as being any better or any worse than anyone else.

And I find all cultures interesting.

So sounding off about how great it is to be Arab…nope. Doesn’t really appeal to me.

But this lady was talking about encouraging Muslims to be better people, and yup, that does appeal to me. Because heaven knows, we have a long way to go as a community to be better people!!!

She comes from an artistic background and she said that she wanted to try her hand at writing, that she wanted to write for teens to show them that they should be better Muslims, and I blurted out, right then and there, a truth that I hadn’t realized that I had realized, (if that makes any sense at all). I told her, “No. You can’t write a story to encourage kids to be good. That’s propaganda. It has to be about the story!”

And then I explained to her that you need to just write, let the characters figure things out, do not impose upon them, or else the story will come out terribly contrived, which is the case for most Islamic and even multicultural fiction that’s out there!

And in telling her that, I also reminded myself of that. Because heaven knows we all need reminding from time to time.

When I was writing Wanting Mor, I had no agenda whatsoever. I just wanted to find out how this girl would survive this abandonment by her father. And that was precisely the right approach to take.

The people in Sharjah were so hospitable and nice! Oh my goodness!

And I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara McClintock and Tanya Landman! Two wonderful authors the first from the U.S. and the second from the U.K.

Would love to go back to the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival!

 

 

Groggy old jet lag…

That fuzzy muzzy feeling when you’ve had enough sleep but you’re still woozy because of the time of day.

Hope it gets over soon.

Got back in from Sharjah yesterday afternoon and I’m still digesting the trip.

The best attitude to have in such a situation is a ‘just to go with the flow’ a ‘see what happens’ approach.

It really comes down to ‘insha Allah’. A phrase which both explains the Arab approach to life and frustrates the heck out of outsiders at the same time.

Insha Allah literally means ‘if God wills’.

Honestly, as a Muslim, for me to say I’m going to do anything in a definite way makes me shudder unless I say ‘insha Allah’. And I’ve taken to actually writing it as ‘if God wills’ in email correspondence.

Just chock it down to one of the little idiosyncrasies of dealing with Muslims, like how people learned how to say Gesundheit when they sneezed, even though I think Gesundheit is a LOT harder to say than insha Allah.

Knowing Arab culture the way I do I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew things would be a LOT more laid back than I’m used to, and that was definitely the case.

I was there for basically eight days, and according to the conference I was only required to do about four school visits and one panel discussion. That was it.

But that said, our panel did get some media coverage here: http://gulftoday.ae/portal/9e9bd70f-229b-40aa-ac53-461eaac89f6b.aspx#.VT8Zs_sSeUA.facebook

It could have been done in two days.

But alhamdu lillah, I spent a lot of time learning things anyway.

And this is what it comes down to. You might think the reason for a trip is to promote your book that has just come out in Arabic, and yet if you keep your eyes open and more importantly your mind open, you can come away with completely different lessons.

I sure did.

I think it came down to coming across a person who found it objectionable to write their name in Arabic.

It boggled my mind, but it also revealed a huge depth of hatred of a culture, that they wouldn’t even allow their name to appear in the Arabic language.

Wow.

Just wow.

It was depressing to think that such a level of hatred could really exist. And I thought there is SO much work to do.

And some people will never change.

Not unless they’re forced to change and the only way to force someone to change in that regard I think, has to do with money.

If their livelihood is at stake, people can suddenly become very accommodating!

If not downright tolerant!

And the other huge lesson I learned was that many Arab publishers were not particularly interested in my work even though I come from a Muslim background and we have a lot in common.

One person even told me that they’re more interested in getting international exposure for their local authors.

And I thought based on what?

I understand that all regional publishers are looking to get international exposure but don’t they get it that it goes both ways?

It basically told me that some publishers aren’t so much interested in good literature as they are interested in promoting a cultural identity.

But the problem is that only good literature will do that. Nobody cares if you’re Pakistani.

Or Indian.

Or Arab.

If you’re trying to beat a drum and say, “Look at me! Look at my culture!” Nobody is going to care!

Why should they?

It would be like trying to write a story about how great being Muslim is!

Baloney!

Of course I think it’s great, but I’m not going to write a story about that! It would be nothing but propaganda!

You’ve got to tell a good story!

Which comes down to another very interesting meeting I had with some very earnest women. They took me out for coffee and one of the ladies, a simply charming Muslim woman told me how it was her dream to write. She wanted to write stories about how Islam is the right choice…

And I just looked at her horrified and said, “But that’s propaganda!”

And right there, in that little coffee shop, I told them, “It’s got to be about the story!”

Chuck the propaganda, and just tell a good story.

Be honest.

Be true to the characters, and then, and only then, will people care.

Don’t get me wrong.

There’s a LOT of propaganda that gets published in the name of children’s literature. Western publishers do it all the time.

But is that literature?

Will it stand the test of time?

I highly doubt it.

I actually think it’s this very propaganda that has turned kids off reading so much.

I guess the whole situation can be seen as being very depressing, but I prefer to be optimistic.

Here I’d thought “I made it! Now the whole middle east will open up to my work, insha Allah.” Only to find, nope. They’re looking inward.

And I just had to nod to myself. Tell myself, “Right, then.” Roll up my sleeves and work all the harder.

I always felt that the people in the middle east would never take me seriously until I’d made it here in the west, and I guess I still have to make it more.

I’m starting to be recognized here in the west as a good author, not just a good Muslim author, or a good Pakistani Canadian author or a good children’s author. Just a good author. But it’ll still take some doing before they can see that, I guess.

 

 

An interesting problem to have…

Crazy time has begun early this year.

Usually it’s just May that’s crazy but this year, because I’m going to Sharjah for about nine days, and so the commitments in April are kind of compressed, the busy time/crazy time of my schedule has started early.

I knew it had been a while since I’d blogged, but I hadn’t realized it’d been this long!

Just know, that over the next few weeks, I’ll be pretty scarce.

But I thought this would be a good blog post because it’s really about what turns kids into readers.

The interesting problem…my grandkids don’t seem to get tired of me reading to them!

Three weeks out of every month I have the joy alhamdu lillah, of seeing my grandkids.

We stagger the visits because there are so many of them (ten!), and each week it’s a different set.

I always try to have a special moment with each child, including the babies, even though the babies are still in the stage where they tend to cling to their moms.

But there usually comes a point in each evening where my grandkids pull me by the hand, upstairs, and we read stories.

Last week it was my oldest granddaughter  who’s eight, and her brother who’s five and the little brother who’s three. We all went upstairs and I held the three year old in my lap and we read picture books. (Don’t stop reading picture books just because they can read novels!!!! And don’t stop reading to them even though they can read themselves!!!)

Now the eight year old has turned into a ravenous reader! (That’s a step up from a voracious reader!) She told me very proudly, that she’d finished a novel in a day!

Her favourite novel so far is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Ooh, I don’t blame her! It’s a wonderful book!

And because they’re pretty strict in terms of religion, I’m limited in the books I can recommend.

No magic!

So she loves animal books.

She read Charlotte’s Web. And loved it of course, but her favourite is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMHBy the way, if you ever saw the horrid movie they did on the book, don’t let that prejudice you! The book is FANTASTIC!!!

What surprised me is that the three year old sat and listened to about five or six stories before he decided he’d had enough and toddled on downstairs to bond with Grandpa.

But the eight year old and the five year old, they leaned up to me, on either side, while we read, and read, and read.

I kept waiting for them to say enough, but they never did.

That’s the interesting problem.

We read for so long, by the time I said we’d better head downstairs, their dad was coming to pick them all up and there wasn’t time for ice cream cones, and they didn’t even seem to care.

I had recently bought Make Way for Ducklings and I read them that, and they loved it. They’re such connoisseurs!!!

And at one point I realized why.

They’ve had no choice.

This might sound archaic but most of my grandkids have no televisions in their homes. Maybe that’s true for all of them, but I’m not sure.

They all have computers and sometimes they do play on them, but for the most part, books are the main source of entertainment these kids have! And so they LOVE them!

Even the five year old boy who’s about as active and lively as any five year old boy out there!

And I remembered how I got to love books so much. It was because my father was very strict with the TV and books were the only thing I could tap into any time I wanted. They didn’t require electricity. They were stealth entertainment.

I’m sure not all kids need to be ‘forced’ into loving books. But I bet you anything, in this day and age of videogames and television distractions, it sure does help!

I’ve been working in some of the schools with the kids and I hope what I say next doesn’t sound like a braggy grandma, but my grandkids are leaps and bounds ahead, in terms of language skills, than many of the kids I see in the schools who are twice their age!

I wish parents would realize that the best thing they can do is turn OFF the TV, and open a book. And they should start when they’re babies, like I did.

Books are the one thing I do spoil my grandkids with.

When I asked the eight year old what she’d like for Eid (it’s coming up in a few months) her eyes lit up and she said, “Novels!”

All of my grandkids are on the road, insha Allah, to be ravenous readers and life long learners!

And alhamdu lillah, they have good examples, because their parents have never stopped learning and neither have I.

 

Professional Development…

Went to an interesting workshop today.

Met a bunch of people and did some networking in the arts.

It’s so weird.

I didn’t notice I was the only brown person in the room till much later when I was relating some interesting anecdotes to my husband. And I thought, “Oh yeah. I think I was the only brown person in the room.”

It was funny because the Arts community seems to live in a world all its own.

They understand, the way other people cannot seem to, the importance of arts education.

Basically arts comes down to expression.

Can you express yourself artistically?

And if people don’t think that’s vital, they’re sadly mistaken.

It goes from sensing the undercurrents in the words we use to express ourselves, to body language. Dance is just a refined form of body language if you think about it, and if you don’t think body language is important…well.

And yet the problem is the Arts organizations don’t seem to know how to convey that to regular people.

Isn’t that ironic???

They were talking about fund raising, and I probably should have kept my mouth shut but I couldn’t help saying something.

Any artist who actually makes a living at it, basically knows about fund-raising.

Fund – raising is being able to convince people that what you do is so valuable you should be paid for your art!

That’s the crux of fund-raising. So how do you do that?

You show it!

It’s been very interesting lately.

I was contacted by a church group who wanted permission to use my book Many Windows to form a sort of play for their Easter congregation.

And I thought, Wow!

Many Windows is probably my least publicized books. I was sad when it didn’t receive any promotional recognition at all. And yet it made it out to the American Midwest somewhere and they liked it enough to share it with their congregation at an Easter service when the church is probably going to be well attended.

Fascinating!

It’s amazing where your work can end up!

And today, sitting beside me was a teacher who was from Ottawa. In doing one of those icebreaker activities we had to ask each other questions.

She said, “I know who you are! I love your books! I read Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile”

And again I thought Wow! But it turned out she’d read it when she was 12 years old! And now she was a teacher. And that was more than fifteen years ago, so yeah, I felt old.

But alhamdu lillah.

It was an interesting day.

And once again, I thought alhamdu lillah, I get paid quite well for what I love to do.

It’s all good!

Insurance and growth in creativity…

It’s a testament to how strange this world has become that not only do I need to get police checks and clearances in order to step into a school and talk to kids, I have to get insurance in case I inadvertently do something to them.

Like what?

Fall on them or something?

I’ve heard of authors who balk at police checks and clearances, and I completely understand. I mean as authors and storytellers we’re never left alone with the kids. The teachers are always present! But still, in this day and age, I can see why educational institutions would want to ensure that the people who come in contact with their vulnerable student body, haven’t committed any perverse sort of crimes.

And it helps that I have nothing to hide!

But insurance?

In a position where I talk for a living???

Oh well.

People sometimes get wound up about the prestige of being an author without realizing all the humdrum banalities that come along with it. And sometimes I just feel like kvetching.

On another note, it’s been such an interesting period of growth in terms of creativity.

I guess I can be more forthcoming of this project I’ve been working on. It’s through Pearson educational and is an educational series they developed to tackle issues of mental wellness in the classroom.

I wrote a short story, kind of a novella really, about an Iraqi refugee who comes to Canada and has to deal with the aftermath of the Boston bombing incident. I called it Not Guilty and it’s actually one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve done.

I’m really proud of it, and it wouldn’t have come together without the encouragement of two very good friends of mine.

In the past I’ve always relied on ‘inspiration’ to drive my projects.

I get the idea, I get all excited, then I write, write, write, till the project’s done.

Well with Not Guilty the inspiration came and I wrote the title poem and it nearly got published as a picture book and then fell through. Then I got busy with other things and when I was approached by Pearson to work on this series because apparently Deborah Ellis recommended me for it, I took out the Not Guilty poem, brushed it off, still really liked it, and sent it to them.

They loved it, but they asked me to develop it into a longer piece, so I did.

I thought who wrote this poem???

Why did he write it???

I got the distinct impression that it was a boy, and he was going through a lot, and so I ended up making him an Iraqi.

I have no idea why, I just did. And this was before ISIS reared its ugly head, when Iraq was out of the news.

So I was half done, dragging my heels on this project and my two friends invited me on a writing retreat. We went up north to a little cottage to get some time to really write, and at this retreat, I just buckled down and basically finished the project.

I wouldn’t call the writing of it ‘fun’, or particularly inspiring.

It was just work.

Perspiration vs inspiration.

I knew what I wanted to do with the story, and I just did it.

And when I was done I had Not Guilty and now I’m really proud of it. I think it more than holds its own in the package. It’s about racism and stereotyping.

In fact, and I know this will sound kind of snobbish, but I actually thought the story was ‘too good’ for educational! You know educational stories! They’re kind of, um, boring. But my friends rebuked me for that thinking and they were right. Why shouldn’t I give my all to every story I write, whether it’s educational or not?

And the interesting thing is that when they sent the booklets to a grade seven classroom for the kids to read it, the kids loved the story so much, that the boys (boys!!!) actually wrote a LOT about what the story meant to them, how much they felt like they were the boy telling the story, and if you know how reticent boys tend to be in terms of writing responses and expressing themselves…well!

The reaction is remarkable!

In fact they wanted to know what would happen to this boy after this story, which is also a very good sign. And I’m toying with the idea of turning it into a full fledged novel.

So it seems I’m going through a different phase of my creativity.

A more ‘dogged’ phase.

I’m doggedly determined to just finish the projects to the best of my ability, and send them out into the world.

To learn more about Pearson’s Well Aware series and to buy it please click here

I am told it is possible to purchase only one title in the series, you’d have to call customer service here: 1-800-361-6128

I really like the cover of Not Guilty. It’s a brick wall with a badminton birdie swirling in front of it. Very suitable to the story!

In the midst of a Creative Blitz…

Alhamdu lillah, trying to wrap up a number of projects that have been dragging and lagging, competing for my attention but I’ve been so busy with other commitments that I’ve been interrupted on their progress.

Got a bit of time now and hope to actually get them done.

And when that happens, it’s the blogging that suffers.

I’m finding that the writing is changing now.

Before I’d just burst it out.

Now I actually see certain scenes that I need to write, in my mind, and I take my time, knowing insha Allah, they’ll be there when I want to commit them to paper.

The critic in the back of my mind has been busy!

He’s been rocking back and forth, furiously, muttering discouragement. Oh the things he says! Not worth repeating!

And I’ve been trying not to inflate the projects too much, just saying I’m just writing something a little decent, to shut him up.

Hasn’t always worked.

It feels like a long time since I published a ‘book’ book.

My booklet with the Well Aware series at Pearson should be coming out soon insha Allah, and I’m really proud of it! But it’s not a ‘book’ book.

And I’m just in the process of wrapping up another project for an educational publisher. But again, not a ‘book’.

These projects were well worth doing though.

They kind of reconnected me to the joys of smaller projects.

And because they’ll get out into the schools a lot (I hope), then hopefully it’ll make the kids aware of my work and the teachers too, and they’ll start looking for it more.

I still feel it’s been a struggle just getting noticed here in Canada. They seem to ‘get’ me more in the States.

But it’s been really nice being able to make a good living, alhamdu lillah.

No complaints here!

 

Customizing a presentation…

I was invited to a lovely Muslim weekend school on Sunday.

But I went with a lot of trepidation.

The organizers asked me to do a presentation that’s designed for grades three to twelve, for very little kids, including kindergarteners. The presentation was The Roses in My Carpets.

That’s tough!

Because it includes the concepts of refugees, and bombs and war.

For kindergarteners???

It’s kind of too much. And when I said as much to the organizers they still asked me to do it anyway, so I thought of how to fulfill their request.

The way I’ve designed my presentations, they’re definitely geared for certain age groups. Sometimes it’s because they contain issues that are too provocative for younger ages, but mostly it’s because the little kids won’t necessary get the depth of what I’m really talking about.

So how do you change a presentation like The Roses in My Carpets so that it will appeal to the younger ones?

I find it comes down to third person.

Third person point of view is hard for me. I seem to naturally write in first person. “I did this… I did that”

But little kids find it easier to understand if you said the boy did this or the girl did that, because then they can see the separation between you, as the narrator, and the characters in the story.

So I took the same powerpoint that I had developed, with its visuals from the book, and I began by telling the story of The Roses in My Carpets in third person.

I began as usual, by talking about what a refugee is. I did a bit of introduction, then I started telling the story along with the powerpoint slides of book’s pictures.

“Every night this boy, see? He has this same dream that jets are chasing him and his mother and his little sister.

Then he wakes up, and he realizes that he’s safe. In the mud house. In the refugee camp. He can hear his mother and sister breathing nearby…”

It worked a little too well!

You see the problem is I’ve become immune to the emotional impact of the story when I tell it in the normal way.

That tends to happen when you’ve done a presentation enough times.

When I first started, I couldn’t even read the book without crying, and I definitely couldn’t tell the story out loud!

But after sixteen years of presenting it, probably about five thousand times, yeah, I don’t cry.

But now, changing it to third person, the poignancy was threatening to overwhelm me again.

It was kind of embarrassing.

A number of times, I found myself choking up, fighting back the tears, all because I was coming at the story from third person.

But, alhamdu lillah, I got through it.

I told the story, and once I got to the slides of the refugee camp I visited in Peshawar, I was on safe ground.

The kids loved to see the way these Afghans had lived in mud houses.

And even though there were many little kindergarteners, they remained engaged.

There was only one little girl who started rolling around on the floor dangerously close to the projector cables so I had to tell her to move back.

Other than that, they were a wonderful audience, masha Allah.

Ended up selling tons of books! I’d taken extra, but I still ran out!

Alhamdu lillah, it was a lot of fun.

 

Taking cues from your Audience…

I did a group of kindergarteners today and they surprised me.

There were some kids in the bunch that barely looked three and others that looked almost seven!

What a range!

I thought let me see how much of my Picture the Story presentation they can pick up on, and so I went ahead and started it.

Now the first group, I guess they were a bit more advanced, because they were actually getting the concept of inspiration and imagination.

And when it came time to tell Big Red Lollipop, they really got what I was saying.

The second group seemed to be a bit less mature.

I had to go slower with them.

I took my time, enunciating my words. Not overwhelming them.

I noticed two of the kids in the second group were even getting a bit agitated.

I always do Ruler of the Courtyard first. It’s a good introduction to the whole South Asian thing, but…it is a pretty intense story!

I mean the girl confronts, what she thinks is a snake, in the bath house!

The first group was fine with it. I didn’t see any of the kids getting anxious, but definitely in the second group, one kid had his hands pressed against the side of his face, and another kid was slowly withdrawing into his turtleneck jersey. He was pulling his head in, like a turtle, and peeking up at me, with just his eyes showing above the neck hole, and another kid, he was putting his hands over his ears.

I’m thinking he was responding to the noise level.

I’m pretty noisy.

But with kindergarteners,  you kind of have to be.

You need to drown out all their little nonsense talk, kind of scoop them up with the power of storytelling and take them on the ride with you!

Most of the kids were loving it, but at one point, he even went to hide behind his teacher. I thought, “Oh no. That’s not good.”

He wasn’t crying. He was still peeking at me. He was just scared. Even though Big Red Lollipop isn’t at all scary. He was getting nervous when I was talking about how Rubina was chasing me around the living room and dining room.

So even as I was telling the stories, I brought it down a notch and then another. I lowered the volume of my voice, and the effect on him came quickly.

He stopped putting his hands over his ears, and pretty soon, he’d rejoined the group in front of me.

I think this can only happen when you’re so familiar with the program that you can keep it going even as you’re actually watching the audience.

That’s what I do now.

For this audience I had to tone it down a bit.

Other audiences I have to amp it up.

It just depends.

But at the end of this second group, this blond kid at the back announced he wanted to give me a hug!

He weaved through all the other kids listening and wrapped his arms around me. Very carefully, I hugged him back.

And then the other kids started.

I felt mobbed at one point by these tiny little bodies.

Oh it was so cute!

Almost as much fun as it is dealing with teenagers!

Rukhsana Khan

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