Reading towards success

Inspired by Finland's education system and their love for reading, Kanchala Navanugraha, the founder of Nava Publishing, hopes to instil a love for books among Thai children

A life jacket to prevent children from getting lost in Tatu And Patu's Mad Machines. Photos: Nava Publishing

A morning machine that helps you get ready, a life jacket to prevent you from getting lost, and a puddle-making machine are all imaginative inventions that appear in Finnish children's book Tatu And Patu's Mad Machines, which forms part of the well-known Tatu And Patu book series by authors Aino Havukainen and Sami Toivonen. The two main characters in the book, Tatu and Patu, are creative and like to invent gadgets to solve problems in their everyday life.

"The Tatu and Patu book collection showcases creativity and how to move forward by problem-solving and having fun through both successful or unsuccessful experiments. All of these are good characteristics for people to have in the digital era, especially since everything changes so quickly. The young generation isn't going to work in one place until retirement like their parents and grandparents did but instead they will think out of the box and challenge themselves," said Kanchala Navanugraha, the founder of Nava Publishing, which recently released the Thai edition of the Tatu and Patu book series.

The founder of Nava Publishing, Kanchala Navanugraha. Photo: Kanchala Navanugraha

"In addition to these characteristics, the book includes some touching aspects of human nature. For instance, in one chapter Tatu and Patu create new puddles with their invention and they are delighted to see birds bathing in them. Their kindness is touching and even though today we have advanced technology, having compassion is still essential for humans," she added.

Kanchala has been interested in Finnish books ever since she studied at the University of Jyväskylä for her Master's in Digital Culture. TK Park allowed Kanchala to share her viewpoints about Finnish books at a forum titled "Open World Through Children's Picture Books: Children's Books Outside The Box" on facebook.com/tkparkclub, so we could also have the opportunity to learn from a country that has one of the best education systems in the world.

A puddle-making machine. Nava Publishing

Finland has been lauded for its successful education system especially after 2001 when it ranked first on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which evaluates education systems across the world based on student performance in mathematics, science and reading.

"Finland is a country of researchers. When they study, they focus on learning that isn't the result of exams. Instead, they focus on the human brain and in doing so, they quickly realised that giving the brain of a child some rest is important to maximise learning. They also found from their research that to achieve optimal results, students should study for 45 minutes and then have a 15-minute break. The Finnish have their own style when it comes to education which includes education both inside and outside the classroom. Their children's books also reflect their thoughts and series like Tatu and Patu and Hello Ruby are specifically designed for this digital era to stimulate creativity and a love for reading and learning. These skills are necessary for people in order to have better lives, explained Kanchala.

Life spoke with Kanchala after the forum about Finnish children's books and what we can learn from them.

 

The Thai edition of Hello Ruby published by Nanmeebooks. Photo: NANMEEBOOKS

Why are you interested in dialogue media even though you studied digital culture?

I like visuals and language, so naturally, I also like print media. I have seen big disruptions taking place in print media ever since I finished my degree, so I want to bring my knowledge and experience about digital media to print form. I choose content that is effective to depict in book form and not in digital media. For instance, in the book Tatu And Patu's Mad Machines, there is a page about a life jacket gadget created by Tatu and Patu to prevent children from getting lost. If lost children pull the life jacket, a big balloon with their face on it will appear and parents will know where they are. The whole page about the life jacket depicts a scene in a supermarket with great detail. Readers can see different details every time they look at the page and this kind of illustration allows children to think and look at the details. There is no reflection or other links to distract readers as is the case with mobile phones and computers.

What makes Finnish children's books unique?

Firstly, Finnish children's books present contemporary society. Since their own society is diverse, a book titled The Dog Called Cat, written by Tomi Kontio, is all about a dog named Cat which represents complex identities such as people of mixed race and LGBTI. Also, Finland has a lot of books for preteen readers which serve as a link between children and adult readers and to make sure the youth don't stop reading. We need more books like this in Thailand. Moreover, many Finnish children's books are adventure stories which reflect their habit to explore nature.

What impact do children's books have on young readers?

A book is a medium that has only visuals and words. Everything else is up to the reader's imagination, including the characters' tone and movements. If children read often, they will learn how to connect things together. In the digital age, knowledge is everywhere and the young generation no longer needs to enrol in a course to learn. Therefore, a love for reading and learning are important life skills.

Why is having an imagination important?

Computers and machines can accomplish many tasks but humans are responsible for creating new things since computers and machines cannot do this. Having an imagination is a human survival skill. In the past, humans lived in caves but our present homes are the product of our collective imagination. This skill is a unique quality of humans and it can provide the path for young readers to gain knowledge and learn skills that he or she needs to accomplish their goals.

 

The Thai edition of The Moomins book series by Praew Juvenile Publishing. Photo: Praew Juvenile Publishing

Can you tell us more about some interesting Finnish children's books?

The Moomins by Tove Jansson covers stories about troll characters. In the book, the characters are drawn simply and minimally but the natural surroundings and environment are elaborate and reflect on the great admiration and appreciation of nature by the author. Another creative book, Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas lets children learn about computers, technology and programming through Ruby's activities. Last but not least, another classic is Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi, which tells the story of seven brothers who run away from learning and reading which causes them hardships. They finally return to study and became a pillar of the community, a reflection of Finland's high literacy rate.

Why is observation of nature important?

If we understand nature, we can understand how things operate. In an episode of The Moomins, the main character Moomintroll wakes up from winter hibernation and can't go back to sleep. He experiences winter for the first time and experiences the death of an animal. This book includes contents about the circle of life and the harsh realities of nature, another element that features often in Finnish books.

 

Crazy Retro Invention Of Tatu And Patu will be released in October. Nava Publishing

How do Finnish people encourage young readers?

According to finland.fi, in 2019, the population in Finland was 5.5 million. Every Finn on average borrows 19 books from the library per year and buys approximately four books per year. This means that books are easily accessible through a network of libraries and if a reader wants to borrow or purchase a book that is not available in their district, he or she can contact the library and the librarian will arrange the book for them. Moreover, a state organisation arranges activities to support authors to meet their readers. There are events for children's books too. For example, The Moomins and Tatu and Patu become stage plays, so the stories can reach a wide range of audiences in different ways.

How did young readers respond to the Thai edition of Tatu And Patu's Mad Machines?

I am thankful for positive feedback from parents. They said their children laughed and many of them sent me drawings of inventions their children made such as an endless ice cream maker and a machine to kill disease-causing bacteria in contaminated salmon. These inventions were inspired by reading the book which made them want to create their own inventions.

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