‘Tell Me a Story’ initiative is making stories fun for 21st century kids

Veena Gandhi was irked by how children including hers were more attracted to their iPads than story books, and decided to read a story to her son and a group of his friends at a play date because her son won’t share his precious gadgets with others.

“As soon as I stopped the children wanted one more, and another one after that. I was so pleased by their reaction, I wanted to reach out to as many children as I possibly could. That is how I started ‘Tell Me a Story’ five years ago right here in the UAE,” said Gandhi as she set up to welcome kids into her workshop on the opening day of Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2017.

Students attended the workshop, which Veena started off with what she calls “a literary warm-up” before introducing the story – a technique she uses to activate the children’s imaginations for a more immersive experience.

“I don’t just read out stories; I make children perform as the story’s characters as I perform with them. The round-robin telling technique helps me stretch their short attention spans. It gives wings to children’s imaginations, helping them express themselves better, and also grasp the message in story through role playing and the use of different props,” Gandhi added.

Veena picked Nippy the Pixie for the workshop, and using the round-robin telling technique had a wide-eyed audience rapt in attention. The children went on a beach party with Nippy and his friend Scaly, and dived into the ocean to watch the protagonists interact with sea life and nibble on healthy sea snacks!

“This is my first time at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival and I look forward to engaging more and more young minds in fun, creative interactions. Children everywhere love listening to stories, and it is forums like these that further our efforts in instilling a culture of reading among the youth and deepen their love for the written word. It also enhances my skills as a storyteller and a performer as I see how others are approaching the art,” she remarked.

Gandhi said parents should encourage children to start with a paragraph a day and let them select their reading material.

Being held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, and Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Muhammad Al Qasimi, and Chairperson of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival is in its ninth edition this year. Organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), it runs until Saturday, 29 April. Entry to the event is free.

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