An unusual project is proving children’s stories can build bridges between cultures as well as encouraging youngsters to improve their reading skills.
Traditional tales passed down for generations in Pakistan have now been retold and given brand new illustrations – all thanks to talented children breaking down international boundaries in Rotherham and Kashmir classrooms.
The aim of creating the unique book, called Kashmiri Folk Tales, is to get schools in Pakistan and the UK working together to share their knowledge, culture and aspirations.
Not only did it give young South Yorkshire schoolchildren the chance to have their works of art published, it was showcased on the other side of the globe! Every child involved in the project now has their own copy and organisers hope it will encourage schools across the country to get children reading a wide range of stories.
Four Rotherham schools were involved – Sitwell Infants and Juniors, Canklow Woods and Oakwood Technology College.
In Kotli, Pakistan, they worked with Pilot High School for Boys, Iqra Junior, Government Girls High School No 1 and Jamia Hudal Goal Mosque.
The youngsters’ talents have been put under the international spotlight with official events to promote the book in both countries.
The President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Raja Zulqarnain Khan, was at the launch in Pakistan and said he recognised some of the folk tales from his childhood.
“It is wonderful to have brought out such a book,” he said. “There is a large population of people from Kashmir in the UK, some even third or fourth generation and it is important. We need to know more about each other’s cultures.”
Beverley Booker, curriculum adviser for Rotherham Council, worked with children and teachers on both continents, encouraging them to use their imagination and artistic skills.
The book is illustrated with collages made by the children who worked with everything from feathers and wool to shiny material, colourful card and plain paper.
Each story is retold in both English and Urdu, with tales specially selected to appeal to different age groups.
They include The Stupid Peasants, An Intelligent Rabbit, Pride Abased and The Two Brothers.
Beverley was at both launches of the book – one in Rotherham and the other in Pakistan.
She said one of the aims of the project was to raise awareness of the rich literary heritage of Kashmir.
“I hope this new book will benefit children across the UK and Pakistan by making Kashmiri folk tales accessible to a young new audience.
“All the teachers and students worked incredibly hard on making this book. Given the success of it, I am sure we will be doing more.”
The book is part of a global programme called Connecting Classrooms to link schools across the globe.
Connecting Classrooms is run by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations working in more than 100 countries worldwide.
In the programme, internationally-linked schools devise and run joint curriculum projects to improve understanding across their different societies.
Chief executive Martin Davidson said: “This is a project which celebrates the strong shared history and relationships the UK has with communities in Azad Kashmir, and it will, I know, help strengthen those relations even further.”