Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Dark Skating Rink is no Fun


Last week there was a news story about a town in Norway using mirrors to get the sun's rays to light up a valley. The same method has been in practice in Italy for some years. 

I brought the experiment to our stars, Sapna and Sagar's lives in the present day. Even though the sister appears to be clueless about the 'whys' of the experiment, she wants to follow Sagar's experiment.


A Dark Skating Rink is No Fun

angle = a place where two lines meet
brilliant = very bright
paused = stopped 
reflect = throw back
echo =  repeat
bhaiya (Hindi) = brother

Six-year-old, Sapna sat in the 
kitchen, drawing a picture on a sheet of paper. She drew a huge sun, some trees of different shapes and a poodle sitting in the shade of a tree. She completed the picture by coloring the sun-bright yellow, trees-different shades of green and the poodle-black and brown. She admired the picture by holding it at a distance. She looked at it from different angles.

Magically, her picture seemed to come alive. The yellow sun threw brilliant, shining light back at her. It looked like a lighted spot, and it moved! From the sun the light paused at the tree and settled on the poodle. She did not believe in magic, she knew magic was either science or tricks.

Sapna turned around to find her ten-year-old brother, Sagar holding a square mirror near a sunny window. Every time he moved the mirror, the spot of light moved on her drawing.

"Bhaiya, stop it. You are bothering me." Sapna said.

"Look, Sapna, I am doing an experiment." Sagar said.

"What experi-ment?" Sapna said.

"Well, this morning in my science camp, the teacher told us about how a set of mirrors will make a town get light in the winter, near Oslo in Europe..."

Sapna interrupted Sagar, "I know Oslo, it's the capital of Norway. I know all the capitals in Europe and Asia."

"I know, we learned them together. Listen now, don't interrupt." Sagar said.


"At  this place near Oslo, they put up huge mirrors on a mountain top. Then they made the mirrors face the sun to reflect the sun's ray into the valley below. Now for the five dark winter months they will have light in the town square. The reflected light is like an echo of light. It starts at the sun, goes to the mirrors and ends up in the valley. Isn't that cool?"

"Yeah, that's cool. Will they move the mirrors from one spot to the other, the way you did?"

"Sure, they'll use solar and windmill power. They move the mirrors to copy the sun's movement." Sagar said.

"My teacher said the sun does not move, the earth moves." Sapna said.

"She's right. we move around the sun. But these mirrors will move to make the light move like the rising and the setting sun." Sagar said.

"Oh, I guess I get it." Sapna said.

"Also, you know, a dark skating rink is no fun, but now their skating rink in the town square will get light for children to skate all day, through all the cold months of winter."

"Oh, okay. Can I hold your mirror and make light-spots?"

"Yeah, yeah, and guess what, the people in Oslo are not the first ones to use mirrors to get reflections make light, people in Italy have been making light like this since the year 2006."

"Bhaiya, I said, can I hold your mirror and make light-spots?"

"Sure, here you go." Sagar gave the square mirror to his sister, "Keep tilting the mirror while it faces the sun, until you get the moving spot light into the room."

"Okay. Hey how did they get light before the mirrors?" Sapna asked as she tired to get a light-spot into the room.

"Well, the lived with electric lights and took cable cars over the mountains to take them out of the dark valley."

"I like cable cars. You get to see things from way up in the sky." Sapna said.

"Are you crazy? Skating is so much better, more fun. You go in the cable car and you have to get off, you can keep skating as long as you want."

"Bhaiya, that's what you say. I think cable cars are way better." Sapna stood by the window and tried to grab Sagar with the light-spot.

Sagar ran around the room as the spot followed him.

The End

© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Saturday, July 20, 2013



How do children learn languages? How do they become bilingual? Does a language make the brain absorb more at any age? 

A child learns a language by hearing words. It starts in the womb and by the time the child reaches twelve months, the ability to hear a language, and learn it starts to shut down. An interesting article, The Power of the Bilingual Brain, came in TIME, July 29, 2013. It says, "PEAKING AT 9 MONTHS-Up to age ONE we retain a sharp ear for languages, but the door has already begun to swing closed---partly as a result of synaptic pruning." 

We, the parents/teachers need to expose children to more words by reading to them as well as by talking with them. I was told by one of my four-year-old, students that she liked me because I used "hard" words like mauve and gave hard math problems such as 2+5=7.  

I consider all children to be bright, capable of learning more. I, forever stand in a child's corner, empowering him/her with words and numbers. On that basis, I sneak in a few "hard" words in my stories. 

The idea for this story came from a story I heard as a child. I am not sure if it is an Akbar-Birbal story, or it maybe from the Aesop's fables. Yes, in fact, it was about a thirsty crow. Then again, it may be a Birbal-Akbar story when Birbal gets a donkey out of a dry well with some people's help. 

Our story is about Sapna and Sagar. The brother uses a trick that he thinks counselor Birbal used.


PS I feel I published this in the blog before, but can't find the entry. Pl do let me know if you have read it before. Thanks. Meera


(For 5-7 year-old children)
squealed = screamed
antique = really old
lei = a necklace of flowers
went into action = started working (bouncing)
stood over her = stood by her
lean, leaned = bend, bent

“Wheeeeeee,” two-year-old, Sapna squealed.
Her six-year-old brother,Sagar looked up from a pile of long-stemmed yellow dandelions on his lap.
He followed his sister’s eyes. 
A little red ball hit the high ceiling, bounced back to the floor, and zip—dropped straight into a tall and colorful antique vase that stood in a corner of the den.
Earlier, Sagar had made the first dandelion lei for Sapna. She wore it around her neck. He was working on a second lei, when the bouncing ball went into action.
Mom was in the shower; across the hallway, dad was busy in his office. 
Sagar sprang up from the sofa, and the flowers from his lap spilled onto the floor. 
He rushed to the vase. “On, no, mom’s vase—oh, good, it didn't break.” 
He peered into the dark depths of the three-foot tall vase.
Sapna held onto his shirt-tails and tried to peer in too.
“Sapna, how did you do that? It was so cool; the way the ball bounced and zipped through the air!” Sagar put his hand into the vase.
Sapna looked at her brother and smiled, "Sunny wan' ball.” 
Sagar said, “Well, I can’t reach it. Sorry, no ball.” He took her little hand. “Come; help me clean up the flowers from the floor.”
Sapna let go of his hand, and plunked down on the floor with a loud wail.
Sagar stood over his sister. “Okay, okay. Stop being a baby. Let’s see how we can get the ball out the vase before mom gets here. 
Dad saw them from across the hall, he smiled and watched.
“Let’s get it out with a stick.” Sagar said. He looked around. “Hmm---no stick here. Maybe a rolling pin will work.”
Sagar brought a rolling pin from the kitchen. He put it in the vase. The mouth of the vase was too narrow for the thick rolling pin. “Nope, doesn't work.” Sagar looked around. He smiled. “Kiddo, I’m going to use a trick that Birbal used.
Sapna got up, and peered into the vase.
Sagar took the dandelion lei from around her neck and placed it on her head. “There! You are the great Emperor Akbar of India, wearing this precious floral crown. I am your counselor Birbal. Don’t walk away, dear Emperor, wait right here.”
Sapna nodded.
Sagar went to the kitchen.
Sapna followed.
“Your Majesty, you were supposed to wait.”
Sapna smiled, "Ball."
Sagar smiled back. He filled a measuring cup with water; and poured it into the vase.
Sapna followed.
“Okay, dear Emperor, please help me bring more water.”
Sapna smiled and followed.
He gave Sapna a plastic cup filled with water and filled his measuring cup again. They walked back to the den.
Half the water from Sapna’s cup went on her dress, some went on the floor and the remainder went into the vase. They made more trips and filled the vase with water. The ball floated out onto the floor.
Sapna dropped her plastic cup and dashed for the ball. She slipped on the spilled water, the floral crown sprawled on the floor.
Dad hurried from across the hall and picked her up even before she had a chance to realize what had happened. He picked up the wet bouncy ball and gave it to her. Dad held Sapna by her waist and helped Sagar mop up the wet floor with paper towels.
Mom came to the den with a towel wrapped around her damp hair.
Dad winked at Sagar, “A bath towel would have done a better job, huh, son?”
Sagar smiled and he skipped back to his flowers.
Sapna held on to the ball in a tight grip and looked at mom with a twinkle in her eyes.
“Why is Sapna all wet?" Mom asked, she added, "Oops, Sagar, Sapna dropped her lei on the floor.” Mom said as she picked up the lei and put it around Sapna's neck.
Sagar continued to work with the second lei as he murmured, "Thanks, mom."
Sapna smiled, "Ball."
Dad said, “Uh, why is Sapna wet, uh---"

The End

© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Who Ate the Last Piece?


So far so good, today is my third blog-post
While growing up in India, I loved reading Akbar-Birbal stories. The Mughal Emperor, Akbar ruled India in the 16th Century. His adviser Birbal, accepted all the intellectual challenges that Akbar tossed him. Akbar's reign was just and Birbal helped Akbar to keep it so.

Once Akbar's Empress lost a diamond necklace. It fell upon Birbal to find the thief and the missing necklace. Birbal asked the palace workers certain questions, the guilty person exposed himself by his answers.
In my story, Sagar and Sapna look for the thief who made the last piece of a cake disappear.

Who Ate The Last Piece?
(for 5-7 year-old-children)
bhaiya = brother (Hindi)
retorted = gave a smart answer
remnants = remaining, left behind

Hands on her waist, five-year-old, Sapna looked at the empty plate on the kitchen counter.
“Bhaiya, you ate the last piece. We were supposed to share it.”
Her nine-year-old brother, Sagar dribbled a soccer-ball into the kitchen. “I didn't eat it, maybe you did.”
He picked up a brown crumb from the plate and popped it in his mouth. He dribbled the soccer-ball into the den.
“I’m telling. Mu..mmy...” She followed Sagar into the den.
“Sapna, what happened?” Mom came to the den.
“Bhaiya says that I ate the last piece of the chocolate cake. I didn't.”
“She did too, 'cause, it certainly wasn't me,” Sagar retorted.
Mom raised her eyebrows as she walked towards the kitchen. 
The two children followed her.
Mom put the empty plate in the sink just as her cell phone rang. She wiped her mouth with a paper towel before answering.
Sagar tossed the soccer-ball from one hand to the other and stared at Mom.
He put the soccer-ball in a corner, took a couple of kitchen towels, and twisted them many times to make a loop. He whispered to Sapna as he put the towel-loop on the top of her head.
Sapna balanced the towel-loop like a crown, and sat still on a bar-stool.
As soon as Mom put the cell phone down on the counter, Sapna said, "Mummy, I am Akbar and Bhaiya is Birbal."
"Oh, fun, we're going to have a skit!" Mom smiled as she sat on the other bar-stool.
Sagar-Birbal said, “Mummy, this is serious. Do not sit unless the emperor tells you."
"Pardon me, Your Majesty." Mom bowed as she got up from the bar-stool. 
Sapna-Akbar said, "You may sit, lady."
"Thank you, Your Majesty." Mom sat on the bar-stool.
"Please open your mouth.” Sagar-Birbal said.
“Why?” Mom asked.
Sapna-Akbar said, “Lady, listen to what Sagar-Birbal, my adviser says. If you don't, we'll lock you up in your room."
Mom shrugged, and opened her mouth.
Sagar-Birbal peered into Mom’s mouth, sniffed a little, and looked at Sapna-Akbar.
Sapna-Akbar asked, “Well, Birbal, what did you find in the lady's mouth?”
“Your Majesty, besides her tongue and her teeth, I see the evidence in her mouth.” Sagar-Birbal said.
"Birbal, what do you mean? Please explain."
"Your Majesty, I smelled chocolate as soon as she opened her mouth and then I saw the remnants of the cake stuck in her teeth." Sagar-Birbal said.
“Aha, I knew it, Birbal, you found the thief. Lady, did you eat the last piece of our chocolate cake?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Mom bowed.
“Lady, you can't hide from Birbal. As a punishment, you’ll make another chocolate cake just for Birbal and me. Do you understand? That means, a cake for Bhaiya and me.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Mom bowed.
Sagar gave a thumbs-up sign to Sapna, and dribbled the soccer-ball back to the den.
Sapna hugged Mom, “You are the best cake-maker in the whole wide world.”

The End

© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"Mama, I Want that Ball"


I keep forgetting, no matter how enthusiastic I may feel about writing something, I must wait till the following morning to accomplish it to avoid simple mistakes.

Today's short story is based on a story from the Indian mythology. Once prince Rama's disciple Hanuman, when he was a baby, wanted to play with a ball. He pointed to the moon and said, "Bah".

One year old Sapna also wanted to play with a ball.

Sapna Wants the Moon

Five-year-old Sagar said, “Ma, Sapna is so funny. She’s calling the moon bah, and wants to play with it.”

“Sweetheart, she’s just one year old.”

“I am going to get her the moon. Do you remember the Hanuman's story about the moon?”

Mom smiled, “I think she’d like that.”

Sagar said, “Okay, sis, let’s move your highchair right here.”

He pushed the highchair closer a window.

Sapna clapped as she looked up at the full moon in the sky.

“Ma, will you please keep an eye on Sapna while I get a bowl?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks.” Sagar climbed on top of a step-stool; he took out a steel bowl from a kitchen cabinet. He filled it with water.

A thumb in her mouth, Sapna watched as her brother carefully carried the bowl and placed it on a windowsill. He adjusted the bowl to get a reflection the moon in the water.

Sapna took the thumb out of her mouth and said, “Bah.” She put her hand in the water to grab the ball. The reflection broke. Sapna started to cry.

As soon as the water was still, the reflection returned to the bowl.

Sagar said, “Look, Sapna, the ball is in the bowl.”

Sapna tried to grab the ball again; the reflection broke. She waited for it to reappear.

She played with the bowl of water and the reflection of the moon until she fell asleep.

The End

© 2013, Meera Desai Shah

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Starting my blog


I created this blog post a couple of years back with the help of my son and daughter. The post sat and sat until yesterday.

My grandfather, parents, uncle, brother, cousins, and son were and are teachers of various subjects. Most wrote books on their subjects. I also enjoy teaching. After my children were born, I learned the Montessori method to work with them. It reminded me of the Indian way of teaching- practical, phonics-based with lots of math and science.
When little children figured out how to read or add and reached that "Aha" moment, I floated on clouds. I was still teaching when Katrina made a landfall; it was too close to home. Children were confused; their parents asked me how to discuss the calamity with their kids.

I wrote, illustrated and published, And, Then came Katrina within two weeks of Katrina's landfall in Louisiana, in 2005. It helped parents help their children learn about hurricanes.

In addition, my two stories, COLORS and Andres, Do You Want to Play with Me? appeared in an e-zine, Stories for Children  in 2007. COLORS won the Best Story award that year. 

I write something everyday. Some stories get to the computer, some stay in my mind. They come from personal experiences and observations, from Indian mythology, Akbar-Birbal stories (clues and solutions from these stories help to solve little children's arguments). A few years ago I read in the newspapers about a winning race horse that broke its leg and the owners killed it. So I wrote a story about a race horse, again based on an Indian story, Rupa Haathi.

Please keep reading, I am going to put my stories on my blog at the start of each week.