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Kutubooku, on a mission to make India read more and read better, is set to change the rules of how children read

The startup recently partnered with actor and author Sonali Bendre to spread the word and launched their special edition book boxes co-curated by Ria Zita George, chief books curator of Kutubooku and actress Sonali Bendre who is also the founder of Sonali's Book Club

BRAND CONNECT | PAID POST
Published: Dec 29, 2023 04:32:43 PM IST
Updated: Dec 29, 2023 05:43:20 PM IST

Kutubooku, on a mission to make India read more and read better, is set to change the rules of how children readResearch has been consistently proving that children who are exposed to appropriate books from an early age fare well not only academically but also in life. They grow up as confident, emotionally mature, well-rounded individuals on an eternal quest to learn. But even though we all are aware of the benefits of reading and there is a lot of intent around Raising Readers, why is it that kids are not reading as much as their parents would like them to? We caught up with team Kutubooku to explore this further.

Q. Why do you think the buzz regarding Raising Readers & tackling screen addiction is getting louder in the last couple of years?

We are living in a fast-paced technology driven world where children and adults are creating their own metaverses. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace at which the younger generation took to screens to learn, discover, and know the world around them. The screens that were used for educational purposes was supposed to be a temporary solution and mostly for the purpose of education. However even after the schools re-opened, the time spent on screens stayed. This increasing trend of screen addiction has been bothering most parents and definitely me as an educator. I have been actively trying to understand what can be done about it. The issue with unmoderated screen time is not just about children’s eyesight, it also has a negative impact on a child’s social and emotional development. Longitudinal studies across the world have been increasingly proving a direct correlation between excessive screen time and decreased attention span. We have been reading for thousands of years and there are documented benefits of reading- an increased language competence, empathy, concentration, perspective taking skills, creativity, imagination and pure dopamine release. We need to understand that there are few basic things that can never be replaced such as healthy food, outdoors and reading books. While screens can offer educational content and interactive experiences, balancing screen time with active reading can contribute to a well-rounded and holistic approach to learning and cognitive development.

Q. How do you think this translates in an Indian context? 

Now looking into an Indian context, with the pace at which India is growing, it has become all the more important to focus on the holistic development of the future generation. The Indian leadership has identified this as a critical point too and that is what is reflected in the National Educational Policy reforms over the years. With a very strong emphasis on early literacy, promoting library culture, nurturing creative & critical thinking, the policy highlights the significance of cultivating a nation of avid readers and lifelong learners. One of the important goals of the policy is the attainment of Universal Foundational Literacy and Numeracy which includes making children competent in “meaningful” reading and writing by the time they enter Grade 3 and develop skills to incorporate their experiences outside school to their classroom learning. Easy access to high quality books which cater to each child’s unique interests is one of the sure shot ways in which these goals can be achieved. Now the question remains as to how a child can get easy access to books that are catered to their interests and reading levels while keeping their holistic growth in mind. It is something schools and parents are trying to find a solution to. 

Q. How are you trying to address this problem?

At Kutubooku, we believe children can fall in love with reading if you give them the right books at the right time. Each child is unique and so are their interests. If we can match their interests through the books they are given, it’s the first step towards them looking away from the screen and reading that first line of a book. And that’s precisely what we do. Being an educator, I’ve been with children of all ages - a lot of them being reluctant readers and book haters and the one thing I’ve noticed is how they take a U-turn when the right books make their way to them. 

One of the things that has aided towards this goal of making children fall in love with books is reading with them. A child is never too old to be read to or read with. The bonding and cerebral exercise that comes with reading together and discussing the book is what children hold close to their heart and in turn lead them to associate reading with pleasure. During our numerous discussions with parents and caregivers, we realised that a lot of times the parents are not well equipped to engage the child during reading. Hence, we came up with the idea of guides. These are A5 sized cards which provide parents with a little guidance on reading with the child - it highlights the themes that the book is trying to capture so that the parent knows what are the potential conversations that they can have while reading the books. In my experience, a child is more inclined to continue reading when we provide them with an immersive experience. To complete the experience, the guides also recommend activities related to each book that can be done after reading. 

Q. Sonali, we all know you love reading and we are followers of your journey on Sonali’s Book Club. Why did you decide to partner with Kutubooku?

Sonali’s Book Club has been my passion project for almost 7 years now. At SBC, I connect with fellow book lovers, and together we delve into the world of literature—discussing books, engaging with authors, reading with children, and discovering literary gems from around the globe. It’s a bibliophilic adventure that has been incredibly fulfilling.

When I first learned about Kutubooku, I immediately resonated with the concept. I vividly recall prioritizing reading with my son, recognizing all the benefits it brings. I was eager for him to develop into an avid reader, and our shared reading sessions not only fostered his love for books but also became invaluable quality bonding time. As a working mother, I cherished these moments immensely, using books as a tool to initiate meaningful conversations with my son, ultimately strengthening our connection.

Exploring the world of books with my son opened my eyes to the enchanting realm of words and illustrations in children's literature. When Kutubooku shared their vision of handpicking books tailored to each child, with the intention of curating a collection that nurtures young readers, I knew I had to be part of this initiative. Having personally experienced the challenge of meticulously researching books for my son's bookshelf, I understand the profound impact that the choice of books can have on cultivating a love for reading. And hence, here we are, and I am very excited to be part of the journey to Raise Readers.

Q. Could you double click on matching right kids with the right books. How do you do that?

Finding a book that matches a child’s interests, reading level, developmental stage and themes/ ideas their parents/caregivers would want to explore is not an easy task. It requires an understanding of how kids learn and absorb cues. Although the idea of Kutubooku came to us around 3 years back, being an educator, I knew that this is something that cannot be rushed into. Over the past 3 years, we’ve been devouring books at a rate of 3-4 books per day. With that, we have created a proprietary algorithm to match kids with the right books. The algorithm is supported by a database of more than 1000 books which have been handpicked by us from the vast ocean out there. 

Over the past 3 years, I have also had the chance to understand children’s reactions to these books and the activities to fine tune the recommendation algorithm. We choose good quality books which are inclusive by nature and keep social-emotional learning at the heart of it all. Over the years we have been identifying the themes each book explores and reading levels they cater to. As an educator, the voices of children are important to us and that’s why the books we choose would reflect children’s real data-based choices. 

Along with the books, each Kutubooku box contains something called a reading guide, which will help parents who struggle to meaningfully engage with a book, read actively and engage consciously with their children. These guides provide practical tips such as conversation cues you could have with the reader while you are reading with them and follow-up hands on activities that will encourage them to engage with the book with more than just reading such as measuring inclusivity quotients, nature hunts, scrap book activities etc.

When a child and caregiver sign up for a Kutubooku box, they are asked to fill in a detailed questionnaire where we try to learn about the child in detail so as to curate the books for them. This questionnaire that captures the very essence of the child along with more details that parents would like to share about their children so that we can understand how the books would connect with the child is the basis of our curation. Based on the input we receive regarding ideas like specific life events in a child’s life & themes the parents/caregivers would like to explore with the child, we put together the Kutubooku box for each child.

Q. There are a few subscription options right now. Could you help us understand how you are different from others?

There are a couple of things that we claim to be are uniquely us. If you have noticed, you’ll find a lot of book subscription boxes that are put together for each age category. My experience with children coupled with what research claims about reading levels has proven that a child’s age group is not indicative of their reading levels which is why it is quintessential to pick out the books for a child based on their reading levels and not age. At Kutubooku, we believe in “partnering” with parents in the process of Raising Readers. We do this by keeping our communication channels open with parents where parents are encouraged to share their feedback on certain books and we sort of co-curate the books for the child with parents having very simple tasks to do such as filling in a questionnaire. Our collection of books covers a lot of themes such as environmental consciousness, inclusiveness, empathy, community and friendship etc. Each child gets a unique book box with a unique collection of books. We curate based on children’s interests, developmental stages, life events which are to be coped with or celebrated etc.

We also stand out from the rest of the boxes because of our reading guides that come with each book which helps children extend their reading to play and learning. 

We have seen startups making strides in providing nutrition for kids, bringing great toys to the market and building childcare brands. It’s a fresh breath of air where Kutubooku has chosen the path less chosen and decided to focus on the very basics of child development and their learning journey. Parents and caregivers can know more about Kutubooku via their website www.kutubooku.com or drop a note at hello@kutubooku.com to book a complementary session with Ria to begin their journey of “Raising Readers”

Ria Zita George is an educator and a published researcher who has co-authored papers with education researchers from Finland & Singapore. Excerpts from her research papers can be found on their website www.kutubooku.com. She holds a Master's degree in Curriculum and Teaching from the prestigious Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, renowned for its cutting-edge educational practices. Ria has an MBA from IMT Ghaziabad, one of India's top business schools. Her solid foundation in technical education is established by her B.Tech degree from NIT Calicut, a premier institution in engineering education. Her diverse and high-caliber educational background positions her uniquely in the realm of educational leadership and innovation.

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