Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
StoryWeaver (storyeweaver.org.in) was launched earlier this month with It’s All the Cat’s Fault by Anushka Ravishankar. At last count, the story has been read by more than 2300 users, and has more than 15 versions, including one in Dutch, Odia and even Sanskrit. I decided to test StoryWeaver with Sowmya Rajendran’s Ammu’s Puppy, a story about a young girl who does not have a dog but tells everyone stories about him. It was a delightful afternoon. I created another version of Ammu’s Puppy, translated the story into Hindi, Punjabi and Spanish, and also used the illustrations to weave a new story.
StoryWeaver is the new initiative of Pratham Books, a not-for-profit children’s book publisher in India that started in 2014 with a simple, yet great mission – A book in every child’s hand. It is a space where you can read, create, translate or download an endless stream of stories. There are more than 800 stories in 26 languages – that include English, Hindi, French, German, Spanish, Indian regional languages and African languages like Afrikaans,isiZulu and Kiswahili. One can download a story, save it to any device and begin reading it. Or the book can be printed. More than 2000 illustrations allow one to repurpose the content into more languages , versions and new stories.
And it is all for free.
In 2008, Pratham took their content to the Creative Commons platform – a space where their books and illustrations could be downloaded for free. Suzanne Singh, the chairperson of Pratham Books states, “It allowed our stories to travel to places that we couldn’t reach directly. It opened the doors to readers – of all ages, geographies, and nationalities. It’s how our stories found their way into newer languages, audio versions, YouTube videos, and digital apps. It’s how a whole new multiplier effect got created.”
Pratham Books has been inexhaustible in its commitment to make stories accessible to children, and this legacy content is the starting point of StoryWeaver. The books are inexpensively priced, starting from Rs 4 (less than 10 cents), with beautiful stories, catchy illustrations and superior production quality. There are books in English, Hindi, regional Indian languages as well as bi-lingual books. Well-known Indian children’s writers have written some stories, and some not-so-well known names have also contributed; each has touched a chord in their target audience.
A single publisher cannot hope to meet the expectations of so many different readers, but StoryWeaver can meet different language needs. Says Suzanne, “ StoryWeaver is a repository of multilingual stories for children – all available under Creative Commons licenses. The goal is to bring together content users and content creators and create a participatory culture that will catalyse the creation of more content. We hope that with this, we are able to address the scarcity of reading resources for children in multiple languages in India and other parts of the world.”
Given that StoryWeaver offers free content, and no intellectual copyright protection, how beneficial can it be for authors and illustrators, who don’t get their due in the publishing industry? Suzanne believes that StoryWeaver actually helps them. She explains, “ We have seen budding authors and illustrators get commissioned work because of the reach that a platform like ours can offer. For example a winner of our popular ‘Retell, Remix’ contest got her story published by another children’s book publisher and one of the participants of our #6FrameStoryChallenge was awarded an assignment with a prestigious institution from Chennai.”
StoryWeaver has a couple of strategies to reflect quality assurance. They put a recommended tag on books and users also rate them. Over time, they hope that a community of editors and translators will contribute to monitoring and addressing the quality of independently created content.
It remains to be seen how many children StoryWeaver will reach, how many new stories will be created and how many publishers will come forward to put their content on it. But this brave initiative is proof that stories know no boundaries, and good stories will find their way to their audiences!