The book The Clever Rabbit was made years ago and I have gone down memory lane to gather the experiences and pen this article.
In India, in 1997-98, I was the first person to design and make touch books. At the time, there were not many people around the world who were attempting to make tactile and interactive books in story form.
I had been working with children with special needs for nearly a decade. My students were cut off from the mainstream and had practically no social interaction and entertainment venues. I was sad for them and sensed their loneliness.
Going back to my own and my children’s childhoods, I knew that books, stories and literature are any person’s constant companion, a way to open doors to increased understanding of the world.
Thus I started to think about making books which could be read by a child with special needs and a regular child.
Then came the thought about using stories from the Panchatantra.
Panchatantra is an ancient Indian collection of stories and fables, and comes from the oral tradition of passing wisdom from one generation to the other. The oral tradition came into written format, in Sanskrit, in 200 B.C. It was written, as the history says, for the purpose of teaching values and living skills, and the ways of the world to the unteachable young princes of a king by a sage. Every household in India has a Panchatantra book in regional language, Hindi or English.
The thought of providing this literature to my students — the thought my students would be able to engage in a conversation with their peers around stories they both had read — was very exciting and motivating.
After reading through the 450 stories of Panchatantra, I chose five stories on the basis of the simplicity of the underlying message and the interesting animal characters. The Clever Rabbit was one of the stories.
The Clever Rabbit has two main characters that fascinate children: the rabbit – a soft, furry and a cuddly pet; and the lion — a symbol of strength and bravery and the king of the jungle.
The first step for me was to work on the story and to simplify the text without loosing the flow and appeal of the story.
The two character animals provided an interesting tactile contrast. It was not difficult to find the materials that matched the feel of the two animals. I used felt for the rabbit and loosened strands of soft coil rope for the lion.
The scene showing how the small rabbit overpowers the lion by making him peek down the well to see his reflection was a big challenge.
After a number of attempts and a lot of exploration, I was able to design a well that could become three-dimensional when the page opened. It also had a reflecting base. The lion had to be a hand puppet for the reading child to wear and peek into the well! It had to be a glove with a built-in angle of 120 degrees. A single sock was the perfect answer!! My husband’s single socks, whose partners had mysteriously disappeared, came in handy.
The first copy of The Clever Rabbit took three long days to be completed. Single copies of all the five titles were ready just in time to be exhibited at the international conference on books for young children held in Delhi in 1999 hosted by the Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children.
I worked at breakneck speed to meet the orders received for these books during the five days of the conference. It was very rewarding to know that my amateur attempts had been appreciated by professionals from all over the world.
After two years, I had collected enough funds to launch these tactile, interactive books, in their affordable printed form, published under the banner of Khaas Kitaab Foundation.
Until two years ago, I had been working and bringing out books for all. Now, for the last two years I have not been able to bring out new titles.
I hope this article inspires many more people to work in this area. Since 1999, I know that many many books have been published. This makes me happy.
— Vinita Krishna, New Delhi
Author, The Clever Rabbit
Founder, Khaas Kitaab Foundation