Ancy K Sunny from Kochi discovered her passion for storytelling during the pandemic. Being on the desk of a weekly magazine and mother to a seven year old is a tough balancing act in itself. The Covid lockdown upped the difficulty level with work from home, managing the home and daughter Abigail bored at home as schools were shut. This is when ‘The Storyteller Mom’ came into existence, in August 2020.
In conversation with Medianews4u.com, Ancy recalls that she had always liked reading aloud. Her strong points in school were public speaking, recitation and storytelling competitions. She has fond memories of a first prize for storytelling, made more special as it was her mother who taught her the nuances.
Cut to the pandemic. There were two Whatsapp groups Ancy was part of that provided the first audiences for ‘The Storyteller Mom’.
“One group was for women and children in my apartment complex and the other for my college classmates. One day I just shot a video of me reading aloud a book ‘The Midnight Ride of Thomas the Tank Engine’. I shared the video in both the groups and got a few replies saying children actually sat and listened to the whole thing. It was my first exploration and got some good feedback. So I did a couple of similar videos on phone and shared them on Whatsapp but faced the problem of sending long duration videos,” explains the storyteller, who works as Senior Sub-editor at Malayala Manorama group’s English weekly The Week.
She shot a few videos and created a bank of stories. “‘The Storyteller Mom’ just cropped up in my head with a few other names and it was relatable,” notes Ancy.
Stories on the channel are presented in a bilingual manner – a sentence is read in English and explained in Malayalam.
Beyond the Story
She adds, “I started on YouTube and being from journalism I know that branding is important, so immediately I made an account on Instagram and Facebook with the same name. Initially I was only posting videos or just a photograph of the book that I was reading. I thought of taking it forward and exploring other things.”
In December 2020, when people were still stuck in their homes due to total lockdown, Ancy decided to conduct an online storytelling session, which was Christmas themed.
“I was really scared since I was doing it for the first time; it was not like reading on YouTube. It was taking a session for children live, so I put out some creatives and an ad. Six or seven children participated in the online session. There I read out a Christmas-themed book, did some craft activities and taught a carol. I had planned three sessions back to back in December, one on each Sunday, where you pay for the said three sessions as a package,” she explains.
Now she puts out more content on Instagram, offers book recommendations and the like. The Storyteller Mom focuses on English picture books for children in the age group three to nine years across genres and authors.
“Mostly I buy these books for myself and my daughter and put out reviews also on my Instagram handles as book recommendations. Recently I have started an Instagram series named ‘Bookplore India’, basically explore India with books. I post short videos; I have put out five videos as of now,” notes Ancy.
She uses Indian literature and picture books to help explore different states. It’s admittedly not easy to find these books.
“In the last episode I put up a book named ‘Jhupli’s Honey Box,’ which introduces children to the Sundarbans in West Bengal. Then I have spoken about another book that introduces them to North Eastern regions, Ladakh,” she explains.
View it here on Instagram.
Meantime, there have been theme-based sessions like a ‘Summer Book Reading Club’ for three to four weeks. Participants read a book and do activities based on the story, like crossword puzzles, question and answers and drawing.
“It helps not just listening to the story but also thinking about it, exploring some geography, some region that was talked about in the book or learning some new words and things like that. It’s a mix of all these things,” she explains.
During a fairytale focused session with 10 children, Ancy made them write their own fairy tales. In the online event, they presented their story in front of all their friends, a special memory for them and The Storyteller Mom.
An activity on the book ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ was to make a ‘Myself’ drawing, where they doodle themself and things they like about themselves. They write their name and put it up on the wall at home.
“So that is the process. It is not just cutting and pasting, it is something that triggers their thought process, makes them to think about themselves.” she reflects.
On ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’, the group made a giraffe and asked everybody to write down what they thought they can’t or were scared to do, but will try to do.
“These kinds of activities enable them to think about themselves and look around,” adds Ancy.
Earning Viewers, Healing Hearts
Another YouTube channel, only in English, followed. The intent is to reach a wider audience. While ‘The Storyteller Mom – Malayalam’ remains bilingual, ‘The Storyteller Mom – English’ features the same books but being only in English, it gets visits from overseas geographies like the US.
The traction has been healthy. After two years of uploading a video on ‘The Gruffalo’, it has 55,000 views. It is not a time-bound process, underlines Ancy. The number of subscribers is increasing on a daily basis, she notes.
A touching experience, recalls Ancy, was when she stopped uploading videos when the family was diagnosed with Covid.
“A subscriber, a lady and her daughter who used to listen regularly to my videos, messaged me in the comments section. They were waiting for the videos and since I had not put one out for a long time she checked if I was unwell or something bad had happened. So people are actually noticing and this was one of the heartwarming experiences,” recalls Ancy.
Her husband Rojin, an IT professional, has been a big support for the project, adds Ancy. From encouraging her to start the YouTube channel, helping set it up for her to even editing her videos from day one.
Ancy herself is an electronics and communication engineer by qualification, who moved to journalism after pursuing a PG Diploma from Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, Bengaluru.
“With a six-day job it is difficult to manage, that’s the reason I am not able to start a daily ‘Book Club’ because I can’t allot that kind of time currently. So right now it’s a slow process,” points out the Sr. Sub-editor.
She adds, “My dream is to take language and books to more and more children at an early age, especially those who do not have easy access to them.”
She even has a message for grown-ups, from her own tryst with storytelling to kids over the last two years.
“I have learnt a lot of new things, life lessons through these books. I think all adults should read children’s books. They teach a lot of simple lessons that should have been learnt much earlier. And I believe it can help heal them too,” she surmises.