Children and stories seem to be inseparable. Very often, the most mischievous and naughty kids can be magically turned into the most obedient angels, as well as good listeners, waiting enthusiastically to hear their favourite stories.
But many parents often find it a tall order selecting good stories for their kids.
Besides, good story books for very young kids are relatively expensive. More often than not, 500 baht can buy you only two or three books, while exorbitant translated ones can completely drain the money in your pocket.
Despite this, specialists in child development are emphasising to parents the importance of story-telling, especially at a very young age, because it can help enhance their development and establish strong bonds between parents and children.
So parents have had to scratch their heads to choose good stories which can also be used as a reading tool, and which are not expensive to buy.
For cash-strapped families the dilemma has been even more acute.
In 2004, the Siam Cement Group Foundation (SCG Foundation) realised this problem and initiated a project called the "Bring the Good Books to Thai Children". The project involved inviting many leading translators to translate many award-winning pictorial story books that were favourites among children all over the world.
Translated into Thai, these stories are now sold at reasonable prices, which the majority of parents and families can afford.
The SCG Foundation hopes this project can inspire parents and family members to experience, experiment and use these story books to help develop toddlers.
In the first year, five soft-cover pictorial story books consisting of five tales were sold at 50-60 baht each and the response from those working with children was immense. As a result, they were reprinted five times with more than 58,000 copies being published.
A year later, the foundation was able to establish its "Bring the Good Books to Thai Children" fund which seeks cash donations from parents who have children aged up to six years old, and from other benefactors.
Donors receive complimentary copies of the five pictorial books.
The total sum of money donated to the fund now stands at more than 70,000 baht. The foundation channels some of the proceeds to support other projects that help children in remote areas gain access to good story books.
The foundation has a committee that compiles tales from all over the world that have content suitable for young kids, said Suranuch Thongsila (known as Aunty Koh), director and manager of the SCG Foundation.
It then contacts the publishing houses to buy the rights to each volume, she said.
Suranuch Thongsila and a young fan of popular overseas tales.
Criteria for selection include pictorial books that have artistic beauty, appropriate and enjoyable content, classic-style writing, and long-term popularity among kids all around the world.
"One of the most popular tales is The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. All kids love it but many adults feel differently. They see few words in the book . Kids simply look at the carrot seed and see it growing.
"But all the pictures in the book are so beautiful. They can tell the story and teach kids to learn about determination and patience in doing things, despite many saying that this is impossible."
Its story-telling technique is very impressive. It is a kind of story that adults can tell the kids since they can add their personal experiences into the story while telling it, she added.
Good pictorial books can form artistic tastes
Suranuch went on to explain that apart from selecting tales with good content, the foundation tries to teach parents and teachers that the process of telling and reading tales to kids regularly is the most effective tool to inculcate a reading habit among children and develop their language skills.
The foundation also provides a training course for teachers who work at pre-school child development centres in rural areas, whereby it provides them with story-telling techniques so they can tell stories to kids in a more powerful and enjoyable way. ''Good story books with magnificent pictures can help form artistic taste in kids because they can see good art via the pictures. However, pictorial books and story books are somewhat expensive because the publishing techniques are rather complicated and elaborate.
''Making a profit is not our prime concern. We do care for the establishment of a child-raising culture that involves story-telling activities, which are more meaningful than profit. So we produce soft-covered, yet good books with world standard publishing quality,'' Suranuch said.
Many publishing houses in Thailand have followed suit in order to offer more choice for readers, she added.
''Soft-cover books are much cheaper than hard-cover copies,'' she said.
Examples of successful books include: Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag translated by Cheewan Visasa which is regarded as the oldest pictorial children's book from America (over 80 years old).
It is considered the ''Best in the World'' by academics in the field of children's literature. Though it is in black-and-white, the artistry is superb. The contents are presented through repeated phrases like thousand cats, million cats, and several thousand million cats. Its essence is also interwoven with a series of philosophies.
Madeline by American author Ludwig Bemelmans, was translated by Jiranan Pitpreecha. It is about a little girl named Madeline. Though the smallest, she is the bravest among 12 girls in a Catholic school. It is completely different from other stories penned during the same period.
Madeline was first published in 1941 and is still popular today. It was even made into a feature film.
A dedicated translator
The process of translating foreign tales into Thai is taken very seriously by the foundation. It uses only veteran translators from different publishing houses who have a strong passion for children's literature including Ariya Paitoon, Cheewan Visasaa, Atchara Pradith, Ngampan Vejjajiva, Dr Chaiwat Viboonsawat, Khunying Chamnongsri Hanchanlash, Preeda Panyachan, and Jiranan Pitpreecha.
''We are somewhat lucky. Many translators are very interested in our project. Some of them work for free. But many want to trade their wages for the books, so they can give them to many kids.
''Others choose to translate favourite tales they heard when they were kids since they feel some sort of an attachment to them. This helps make the final product perfect and impressive,'' she said.
The long-awaited Tales in the Garden Festival
Apart from producing inexpensive pictorial story books, the SCG Foundation also runs the ''Tales in the Garden Festival'', held annually in Lumpini Park. Its aim is telling stories in the books through narration and acting them out, and is an extremely popular festival among kids.
This event has been staged for seven years now and attracts children in droves. Many participants return each year and regularly read many stories.
''We have seen a positive progression over the years. Parents keep telling me that their childrens' reading skills have improved as a result of reading many of the stories we've made available. When they go to school, they are often praised by their teachers because they can read more fluently than other kids. Their pronunciation is also clearer.
''Many families actively promote the project because they want to encourage other families to continually read stories to their kids.
They want to drive home the message that reading to kids is much more beneficial than taking them to a department store,'' Suranuch said.