January 27, 2023

KITAAB

Connecting Asian writers with global readers

“Children are a lot more intelligent than we think and have a sophisticated, nuanced understanding.” Himani Dalmia (Writer and Entrepreneur)

6 min read

Team Kitaab is in conversation with Himani Dalmia (Writer, Social Worker, and Entrepreneur) about her latest book for children., Thammi’s Gift. (Speaking Tiger, 2022)

Himani Dalmia is a writer, baby and toddler sleep specialist, social worker, and entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Gentle Baby Sleep India, India’s first and largest peer-to-peer support group on infant and toddler sleep. She is also the co-author of Sleeping Like A Baby: the Art & Science of Gentle Baby Sleep (Penguin Random House India, 2021), a bedside companion for parents of 0-5-year-olds.

Her first book, a novel was titled Life is Perfect (Rupa Books, 1999). The book made bestseller lists in India. She is a Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Specialist and a pioneer in spreading awareness about biologically normal infant sleep in India. She is the co-founder of the large parenting community, Gentle Baby Sleep India, and a leader of the La Leche League.

Himani Dalmia is mamma to two little read-o-sauruses, Devika and Yamini, in addition to three dogs and several fish. When she isn’t reading to all of them, she is cooking up stories on her laptop or helping little ones sleep better as a baby and toddler sleep specialist. She earned a Master’s in South Asian Literature from the University of Oxford after graduating with Honours in English from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.

Married to her high school sweetheart, Akash Premsen, Himani had a front-row seat to her super cool mother-in-law Bandana Sen’s work in the field of children’s libraries for two decades. As a parent counsellor, Himani is a staunch advocate of the power of children’s literature to inspire, inform, heal and nourish.

Team Kitaab was in conversation with her to talk about her latest book for children Thammi’s Book, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan. (Speaking Tiger, 2022)


Team Kitaab: While the book talks about a transition phase for children (death of a loved one, starting a new school, etc) Thammi’s Gift is a brilliant book to get a child into the reading habit. What are the other things you suggest a parent should do to get their children to read books from an early age?

Here are some of the things parents can do to get children interested in books from an early age:

  • Start reading to them as early as possible, even while they are in the womb and then from the first day after their birth. Even at these stages, we are helping babies form language networks in the brain.
  • Read to them every day, and create a dedicated slot for reading in your routine. One of the best slots is bedtime reading just before soothing them to sleep for the night. Let them associate reading with a time of close connection with the parent.
  • Include a few books in their rotation of toys when they are young babies playing on the floor.
  • Give them a stack of books to go through before naps or at bedtime. Let them explore at their own pace.
  • Don’t worry about finishing a book. Dip in and out of books as the baby’s interest moves from one to another. Point out interesting things in the books.
  • Let them mouth books. You can have a few board books for this stage of infancy. Don’t worry if a few books get torn and you have some cello-taped books in the house! This is all a part of developing a relationship with books.
  • Read to your kids with a lot of voices, dramatic effects, and animation.
  • Choose high-quality children’s literature, like modern picture books, with good writing and beautiful artwork.
  • Check blogs and online communities dedicated to children’s books, or visit bookstores with knowledgeable owners or staff, who can curate and recommend books.
  • Avoid reading books with a didactic purpose like teaching children to read or stories with moral lessons. Focus on the pleasure that comes from literature and art. Children who love books will eventually read and comprehend a variety of books with pleasure.
  • Be careful with traditional stories like fairy tales, moral stories, and mythology. They can be scary, violent, racist, sexist, etc.
  • Follow your child’s lead. If they like a particular author or illustrator, source more books by the same person. If they are going through a phase of being fascinated by lions or trucks, source books on those themes.

Team Kitaab: From writing for adults (Life is perfect) to writing for children, how has the transition been for you, easy or difficult?

Himani Dalmia: The transition was quite easy as this is the phase of life I am currently in. I have been immersed in picture books for the last 8 years with my own children and am absolutely smitten by them myself! It is certainly different to be communicating stories and concepts in such few words and in conjunction with pictures. That was new and involved a learning curve. But I think having an experienced illustrator like Priya Kuriyan made the journey a lot easier!

Team Kitaab: Top 3 tips a writer who wants to write for children should keep in mind.

Himani Dalmia: Children are a lot more intelligent than we think and have a sophisticated, nuanced understanding.

  • Stories and illustrations should be layered and we should not talk down to them.
  • Visual language is as important as the written text.
  • Think about how much is being communicated through the illustrations versus through text.

Team Kitaab: With a lot of independent bookstores shutting down and others struggling to stay afloat, what are your thoughts on the reading culture of the country, and what, according to you, should be done to make reading fashionable (again)?

Himani Dalmia: Well, I don’t know about “fashionable” because reading is, at the end of the day, a very personal pleasure. Reading is also a skill – one needs to be able to decode at a certain pace, comprehend complex storytelling, and have good stamina for consuming text. The skill is best developed in childhood, so, for people who don’t have those foundational skills in place, the ship may have already sailed. We are not a country of readers.

Book sales are dismally low, libraries practically non-existent, and leisure time, self-growth, and hobbies are undervalued. So, I don’t think much can be done to turn things around in the short term. But the focus on reading needs to be created in childhood and with the children of today. This means impressing upon both parents and educators the value of this precious habit.

Reading is a “keystone habit”, one that has a domino effect on various aspects of our lives. Its benefits are far-reaching, ranging from better cognition to greater attention spans to better visual literacy to exposure to newer and more complex ideas, in addition to the natural pleasure of reading. Parents need to be exposed to the benefits of reading, to top-notch children’s literature, and to ways in which to build a reading culture at home. These are some of the things I have tried to showcase in Thammi’s Gift.


About the Book

Five-year-old Devika does not want to start at a new school. As the anxiety looms over her, she is paid a surprise visit. Her grandmother, Thammi, who “became a star” two years ago, sweeps her off on a magical journey. Their adventures lead Devika to overcome her fears, as she discovers the healing power of books, libraries, and doing what one loves.

This book takes inspiration from the true story of pioneering Indian librarian, Bandana Sen. After creating monumental reading spaces in schools all her life, the last library she built was for her granddaughters at their home.

A reassuring book for children coping with transitions like starting school or losing a grandparent.