As parents, most of us want the world for our children; the right school, good manners, quality toys and the best of books. But few of us would probably do what Richa and Tarun Jain did for their daughter Suhani. Inspired by her willingness to learn, read and explore more, they set up Mindgym, a library for children!
As is with children, Suhani too would soon get bored of her new toys and books before moving on to other things. It led Richa and Tarun to talk to friends and come up with the idea of a rental library. Started more than two years ago at Sarjapur, Mindgym has now grown to start two more centres in Marthahalli and Sun City. Mindgym offers not just books but a great selection of toys too. You can also avoid the hassles of commuting, for Mindgym offers home delivery service. Books and CDs are delivered to you by the library, which can be kept for up to a month.
Mindgym’s service has got great response in Sarjapur and surrounding areas. “The area is full of young children and people, especially in the IT industry, were probably looking for a service like this,” says Richa.
A library for children was an area few ventured into even a couple of years ago. But for a couple of them like Hippocampus and Easy Library, not many were around. Today, a host of children’s libraries are coming up all over, many of them inspired by the public libraries for children in western countries. Most libraries for children in Bangalore are more than a place with a good stock of books. They also double up as activity areas where children can read, play and learn something new. While some are relatively cheap at Rs. 150 a month, most offer different plans that start around Rs. 300 onwards.
At Meghana Rao Simha and Pramodini Prashant’s I-Cue library in JP Nagar, children can choose from over 5,000 books spanning various genres and age groups. Meghana wanted a reading space that wasn’t too overwhelming for a child to enjoy books. The bright scribble walls and jungle theme rooms at I-Cue certainly offer that space.
The Hippocampus Experience Center in Koramangala, started six years ago is today a recognised name with a collection of 14,000 books. “When we started, people laughed at us saying a library for children and a profitable business model do not go together,” says founder Umesh Malhotra. He believed that children wanted to read but to entice them away from cartoon channels and malls; he needed to make his place equally vibrant. A hit from the beginning, Hippocampus is a place where children can browse books in the library, play games, join clubs and basically hang out and have fun. Its experience center model has now been emulated by several upcoming kiddies’ libraries and activity centers.
Easy Library in Koramangala dedicates one entire floor to children. With over 6,000 books for children alone, there is a lot for children (or the moms) to choose from, including picture and board books for toddlers and all the popular series for older children. Vani Mahesh, who runs Easy Library, ensures that there is a good dose of literature thrown in as well. What gives this library an extra edge are the several literary activities they conduct for children. For three to seven year olds, they have storytelling sessions by Kathalaya, while children aged eight and above, are introduced to literary classics once a month.
If you have no time to pop into the library, whether public or private, there’s also the option of browsing and selecting your books online. Hippocampus, Easy Library and Mindgym offer this facility. You can browse their well categorized collection online and order what your child would like.
A fun way to learn
For moms like Madhura Chaganty, whose four year old son Pranav has a membership at Mindgym, the best part is that her child gets to read one new book every week. “He waits for his book to come and the minute he gets, he starts reading,” says Madhura.
Like Madhura, Geetha S, whose 12 year old daughter subscribes to Easy Library, says, “Even if you can afford to buy the best of books, you can’t match the variety of a library.”
Janhavi Lakshminarayan, owner of MyMitra Children’s Library in Jayanagar, thinks a library membership can teach younger children some good values apart from instilling the love for reading. “They know it’s not their own book and they need to handle it with care, so they learn responsibility and discipline.” At MyMitra, children can borrow books for a very nominal Rs. 150 a month, while toys are charged at Rs. 5 or 10 per day. Janhavi and her sister Jayashree, an acclaimed puppeteer, also conduct art, crafts and dramatics workshops for children.
For all children?
It’s not just children from middle and upper middle class backgrounds who are taking advantage of the burgeoning libraries. Vasanthi Rao, a retired Math teacher has regularly borrowed books from MyMitra for students who couldn’t afford a membership. “They loved going to the library to pick up books and the whole atmosphere there.”
Some libraries, like the very well established Hippocampus, have outreach programs like a Reading Foundation that aims to introduce the joy of reading to underprivileged children. They also organize a very successful book collection drive called Read It? Spread It! The program encourages children to read a book and then donate it to children from less privileged backgrounds.
One good source of affordable reference and reading are the public libraries. At the Indira Priyadarshini Public Library, Cubbon Park, children can browse through educational material, encyclopedias, fiction and non fiction books for free. “Children from all sections of society use this library. They usually come in groups from schools or for reference work. Poor children who cannot afford books find this place a great help,” says Parvathamma, chief librarian here. Another great public library for children is at the Indian Institute of World Culture in Basavanagudi.
Books and more
Sheela Anagolum, mother of two boys and founder of Out of the Box, a library and activity center for children in JP Nagar 7th phase, started it in December 2008. She says,”A library can supplement learning in a fun way. It’s more than books. It’s the whole environment. Also the activities that the children can participate in tend to promote lateral thinking,”. A former IT professional, Sheela’s library stocks about 6000 books for children between 3-15 years of age. What’s interesting is the collection of magazines, from Heek to Young Scientist, Sanctuary and the ever favourite Tinkle. The membership is a bit steep at Rs. 3,000 for six months but comes with free weekend activities, including art and craft workshops, calligraphy, creative writing, science workshops et cetera.
Most libraries cater to children between three and 16 years of age. While libraries like Mindgym and MyMitra also stock toys, others like Out of the box and I-Cue stock books. The toys vary from building blocks, puzzles, word games and brain teasers, as well as fun things for younger children like trucks, cars, et cetera. “We do not believe in battery operated toys,” says Richa of Mindgym, who prefers to stock good quality toys and games that can be educational. In fact, it’s the toys and not books that are much in demand among members aged less than six in her library.
Traditional favourites to new
Near Smart, Bellandur, Off Sarjapur Road
887, 22nd Main, 11th Cross, II Phase
525, 16th Main, 3rd Block, Koramangala
Easy Library (www.easylib.com)
972, 1st Main, ST Bed Layout
MyMitra Children’s Library,
32nd Cross, 7th Block, Jayanagar
Out of the box
No. 44, 1ST Main, WGHC Layout, JP Nagar 7th Phase
Behind Everfine Supermarket
When it comes to books, children’s traditional favorites like Enid Blytons, Roald Dahls, Noddy, Barney and Dr Seuss top the list as do Indian favorites like Amar Chitra Katha, Akbar Birbal Stories, Panchatantra, et cetra. Books in English are the mainstay of most libraries, though several are starting to have a collection of Hindi and Kannada books. I-Cue stocks the books from the Pratham Series in Kannada, English and Hindi. Out of the box also plans regional language labs for children to teach them the local language as well as Hindi. Most admit that since children tend to go for English books, regional language literature does take a backseat.
It’s almost the same picture at the small circulating and garage libraries in buildings and around the neighborhood. Several keep a stock of children’s books along with the ubiquitous stock of Mills & Boons and John Grishams but the collection is limited to Enid Blytons, Amar Chitra Kathas and the occasional Philip Pullman donated by a generous member. But the fact remains that whether they are open, well stocked spaces like I-Cue or a small library in the building, a membership to one is a great way to get your child to read.
It’s probably one of the reasons behind Hoo’s Corner, a Hippocampus initiative that allows people to set up home libraries for children by signing up with them. Members can choose from what the home library has in stock and also from the Hippocampus collection online. “It’s a great way to access books and spread the reading habit,” says Umesh, who hopes the concept, inspired by the garage libraries from his childhood in Chennai, will pick up.