Stories are a powerful part of the human race simply because they have the power to make us connect with many emotions- funny, sad, happy, inquisitive, angry, pained.
In other words, stories simplify the world for us.
It is hardly surprising that stories have been the chosen medium of communication beginning with very young children in every era known because they are a great way to introduce the world and its workings to them.
When the story is told by a ubiquitous thing that children see every day, it makes deeper connections and helps them identify with the narrator.
That is how we are discussing a lovely series of children’s books today called “The Adventures of TOTO the Auto” -series of 4 wonderful books on the journey of an impulsive auto called Toto( much like the real autos on our streets that seem to have a mind of their own!)
Written by Dr Ruta Vyas, and published by the children’s book publishing house FunOKPlease, this brilliant series called TOTO The Auto, expresses human follies, flaws, dilemmas and beauty through the words of an adorable character which is an AUTO!
I loved the series because there is an important message coming from it- “It is OKAY to be imperfect. It is OKAY to swerve off the track, but important to keep trying to come back.”
I did a little catch-up with Dr. Vyas on her journey through the book, her message and her plans for the future.
I am an MBA from IIM Bangalore and a PhD in organizational behaviour, and currently am a full-fledged Learning and Development Professional, running my own consultancy for organizations in the space of Leadership Development. I have always connected well with kids, being a very childlike and optimistic person myself. Have been associated with kids in some way or the other at all times. I have spent time with kids from underprivileged kids in different ways, run a self-esteem workshop for kids etc.
My sister, Preeti Vyas, started FunOkPlease in 2011 a children’s publishing house to create contemporary Indian content for children. Inspired by an Australian nephew who was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, she wanted to create a cute Indian vehicle character that Indian kids could easily identify and whose stories they could relate with. An autorickshaw seemed the ubiquitous choice as it’s seen in even the smallest towns of India and is so distinctly Indian. A Facebook post, resulted in her friend Anandi Shankar, christening him Toto the Auto. Preeti asked family and friends for story ideas for Toto and I had fun creating 10-12 ideas in my head overnight! She loved them and asked me to write. That’s how it all started.
FunoKPlease is a publishing house that believes in “ contemporary Indian content for Indian children”.. Noddy, Thomas, Winnie the Pooh, etc are really cute characters and have great stories and messages, but Indian kids can’t really relate to that context language and visuals. We wanted something quintessentially Indian, and what better than our local Autorikshaw that every Indian kid has seen and ridden in. They connect immediately and see many Totos on the roads and that adds to their imagination.As parents, we forget that we are flawed as well- Ruta Vyas, Author-Toto the Auto. Click To Tweet
Yes, absolutely, it’s more than just children’s stories, they are stories to build self-esteem in individuals. Having confidence in one’s abilities, always living the spirit of being a child, naughty and nice, being human with all of one’s strengths and weaknesses and being humble and more human by being compassionate and using one’s strengths to help others.
As parents, we often forget that we also are flawed. Yet our expectations from our kids are always very high, wanting them to always excel, act maturely, observe self-discipline. Toto reminds parents that kids are kids and that is what makes them so lovable. Being able to take the bad with the good, recognizing our responsibility as parents and being able to take their emotions with a sense of humour is what can make us great parents.
I would say make it dramatic. I have added many sound effects, pictorial clues, moods and emotions that can be included to bring life into the characters. Also, the visuals are not very childish, but quite involved and stylized. Invite the child to look at the visual and point out what they see and guess a dialogue on it. As you read, make it interactive, cue the child with questions like, “Do you know what can happen next? How do you feel about this? What would you do in this situation? Do you think Toto is doing the right thing?”
Yes, 2 more books, 4 more stories are ready. Very sweet and funny ones. The publisher is waiting for the right time to put them in print. Hopefully soon!
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Devishobha is the founder of Kidskintha- an online parenting resource repository dedicated to jumpstarting conversations around millennial parenting, encouraging parents to bring their attention to words, thoughts and actions that will enable them to raise a well-rounded, empathic and motivated generation. You can also find her on the Huffington Post, Parent.co, Entrepreneur, Lifehack, TinyBuddha and many other publications.