Crafting education through storytelling for children | Sunday Observer

Crafting education through storytelling for children

2 May, 2021
Manesha Udawatta with her book Kal the Adventurer
Manesha Udawatta with her book Kal the Adventurer

Children’s books can serve the purpose of entertaining children while also contributing to their education. This is a visible fact that is at the centre of Manesha Udawatta’s book Kal the Adventurer. A highly experienced and versatile English language instructor whose expertise include instructing in IELTS preparation, corporate communication and English language training for the Hospitality industry, Manesha is also a TESOL teacher trainer and has trained aspiring teachers in the art of ESL teaching. Her scope of professional exposure includes working at internationally accredited schools such as the Overseas School in Colombo, where she worked with students from diverse nationalities. She is a believer of inquiry/activity/play based education, and in this Q&A feature Manesha gives insights about how she crafted her approach to writing Kal the Adventurer, and provides a glimpse about her upcoming work.

Q: As a writer what would you say was your main inspiration to write your first book?

A: I was inspired by my son Kal-El and his love for animals and nature. He was the inspiration for the main character but the inspiration for the book came from a series of holiday programs I conducted at the British Council Library linking literacy with nature and science. The ocean zone activity was a huge hit! Not a lot of kids knew about the ocean zones and they loved learning about the fascinating creatures of each zone so that’s how I was inspired to write the book.

Q: Your book Kal the Adventurer is a children’s book with a basis as an educational story book. How did you approach the subject matter in this book?

A: I did a lot of research on the subject and thought of how I could impart that knowledge in a fun, playful manner. I wanted the heavy subject matter to be grasped by children easily. Instead of teaching it to them I wanted them to discover it through another child’s perspective.

Q: How did you gather material for the story, and build up the plot and characters?

A: I based my story on a magic portal and the imagination of a child… I gathered my facts from books and the internet fact checking a few times. I was sure I wanted to humanise the animal characters that the little boy meets on his adventures and let them tell him what’s special about the ocean zone and its inhabitants!

Q: How much planning went into this story before you began writing it?

Toys that are based on the book

A: The gathering of facts took some time and planning but I wrote the book quite quickly. It took some time to actually sit down and write, so I kept putting it off and one day I just felt like it. I wrote furiously for a day or two and it was done! Editing took some time after that though with many revisions. I was able to do a professionally produced audio book with Dilan Irugalbandara which can be downloaded with a QR code to your smart device. This enables children who are auditory learners or visually impaired to enjoy the book as well.

Q: How has the response been to the book so far after publication?

A: It has been very good as I was able to cross 100 book sales within one month! I was asked to read books at many schools and preschools such as The British School and the Footsteps Pre school. Children wrote to me or sent video recordings of their comments. I even got a good number of overseas orders from Sri Lankan’s living in other countries to post or courier the book. The happiness in the children’s faces when they tell me the creature they loved best or asking me what will Kal do next really inspired me to keep writing!

I made a lot of merchandise for the book by collaborating with local toy makers/soap maker and we have a lovely range of ocean zone soaps with a surprise toy inside, an ocean zone wooden puzzle, wooden feature creatures play set from the book, felt puppet glove for younger children and a wooden ocean zone stacker and peg doll. These were quite popular with the children who bought my book as well!

Q: Have you begun work on your next book?

What can readers expect from you next?

A: I have completed my next book which is on whales and it’s edited and now in the illustration stage. I am also writing my second book in the Kal the Adventurer series which will take place in the Sinharaja rain forest. This time I want to explore the layers of the forest and our endemic animals as well as some curious phenomena that occur in the rainforest. It also speaks about conservation and the importance of protecting our heritage. My Instagram handle @teachingismy_superpower has regular updates on my teaching journey and my writing progress.