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Encoding and Decoding Children’s Books with TFFP


Children from Wahkhen getting the first glance on the storybook 'Ban's Journey in Music' documenting the rich music heritage of the village

If you hold a book by the Forgotten Folklore Project and go through its pages for the first time, you probably embark on one of the most visually pleasing stories. Even the office room of the TFFP team itself often buzzes with words like, "I would have been so happy reading this as a kid!" or "I wish I had this as a kid".  

The journey of creating these simple stories is often more complex. While writing for already moulded minds is in no sense a piece of the cake itself, writing for moulding minds is a task that comes with a heavy responsibility.

Often it is easier as adults to write a 3000-word essay about a theme or a topic; but how do we break that down into 200 words while also not losing out on the essence of what we want to say.

Lanuangla Tsudir, Project Lead, TFFP

In this blog post, we look at how the TFFP team strives to create books contextual not just to the region itself but also to the needs and wants of the children of Meghalaya. 

The process of Brewing the Books

Children's books must be fun, entertaining, informative and easy to digest. These are a few goals the team have while creating a storybook. This is a journey of taking a complex theme or folklore to create a visual story that a child picking up a storybook for the first time can read, associate, and enjoy.

When you write for children, you write with the child at the centre, not you. ‘What would a 4-year-old say in a situation like this?’ or ‘How will a 6-year-old feel and react to this emotion?'

 The process, when looked at from the outside, may look like a very straightforward creative endeavour (You can learn the steps in this blog post, ‘The Literary Voyage of a TFFP Book’). But what is essential is to focus on the thoughts that go through in this, the more minor decisions hidden behind, the more significant steps, and the perspectives to be considered to bring in minute adjustments that make the books more contextual and relatable. 

1. Choosing a Story & Field Immersion

TFFP team members with community members from Mawlam in Pynursla, East Khasi Hills, Meghalaya

It never comes in a vision. Choosing one topic from a thousand has always been nerve-wracking. To write a book, the team starts with secondary research on fascinating folktales, cultural nuances or practices, and then once a theme is zeroed in, they identify local storytellers or experts in the identified theme and proceed with primary research in the field. The team maps out resource people to ground the story and mirror the culture. The accuracy of the information is critical here. This is followed by the book's concept, writing, editing, and illustration, backed by real-life visual references. 

2. Shaping the story through editing & illustration

These steps are where a raw story starts moulding into a children's book. Editing and Illustration are the two processes that give this shape to the stories. Often, the two go hand in hand as soon as the story’s structure is finalised.

Many of the folk stories the team has come across are complex and even, sometimes, gory for a child. Most of the cultural elements and practices that translated into the TFFP storybooks did not have a story around them. This is where the fictionalised stories are created and contextualised for a child. 

While writing a children's book, we must think carefully about the chosen words and characters. The most challenging was simplifying the texts and concepts for children to access and easily read by them.

Mayanka Chyrmang, Researcher, Team TFFP.

‘Engagement with the children’ is one constant thought and effort here. All the TFFP books revolve around fun learning while also using the books to mould a child's mind. Therefore, the team translates the idea of igniting pride and a connection to their culture through these books in languages every child understands. The books are designed to ignite a sense of belonging to their region through the characters. 

3. Editing

My experience was that I had to go through many drafts to reach my final storyline. The humility to accept and be gracious with feedback is number one on the essential list. It is not about who knows better but a collaborative effort of giving space for feedback, being equally receptive to it, and working towards an end goal.

Nazarene F Jyrwa, Researcher, TFFP Team, also a first-time writer.

The first draft mainly contains complex themes and an even more complicated presentation. The filtration begins with simplifying words and phrases, further simplifying the concepts. This editing process happens within the team. While weaving a TFFP book, ensuring the phrases used are easy to understand for readers is an inescapable criterion. The team must also abide by the integrity and accuracy of the local language used in the books.  The editors on the team look at the presentation and language, the words and phrases used. 

The difference in the structuring of the words and phrases in the first and final draft of Bei Rymaw, written by Mayanka Chyrmang and illustrated by Kenei Solo can be seen here:

4. Illustration

Navigating which story to marry an illustrator with has also been a huge challenge. Artists bring their art and styles with them. Testing out which art style suits a story has challenged the team.

Lanuangla Tsudir

What makes these characters different from any other character?  

These characters are reflections of people belonging to this region. It implies that the characters are knitted with the features of the target audience. Now, the target audience can become the protagonist without considering whether they fit the story.  These books are an attempt to spark curiosity about their identity, their origin and their ancestors. 

Authoring is one key element where we can’t afford to go wrong because an author is like a film director, while an illustrator is an actor, executing the director’s ideas. Bad direction = Bad movie.

Lanuangla Tsudir

Above are three stages in the illustration of the book Ap Jon Illustrated by Phaoniu Shio. From sketching to addition of colours and patterns to addition of motion lines.

5. Translation

Words can never be printed as they were suggested. They get edited, re-edited and edited again. The same happens to the chosen characters. The filtering and refiltering majorly get into play as a consequence of the efforts to simplify texts and concepts for children to access - in turn, it also plays a significant role in painless readability.

Some words and phrases in English do not have a direct translation in the local languages of Meghalaya. It's a constant effort from the team, along with the authors and translators, to identify words and phrases that can either be translated or evoke the same thoughts and feelings without losing the creative essence.

Jody Sangma, Researcher, TFFP Team

Seamless readability is a crucial criterion in the translated versions, too. It further adds to the fact that abiding by the integrity of the local language also comes across as a challenge. Juggling languages is a tough job. However, juggling dialects of these languages is even more challenging. Therefore, scanning out the most appropriate words and phrases becomes toilsome.

Further, the translations go through a series of corrections and cross-checking by multiple language experts. 

Examples from our books

A page from the storybook Myntdu

“Long ago, in a land far away,

Where laughter echoed throughout the day.

Water sparkled, twinkled, and flowed,

In a village blessed, a magical abode”

When the book was translated to the Khasi language, there needed minute detailing and attention such as:

The word-to-word translation for ‘Long ago, in a land far away, will be- ‘Mynhyndai eh ha ka jaka ba jngai bha.’ 

However, to keep the essence and feeling of the story, the sentence was framed as

'Mynnor jngai bah la don ka Ri'.

In the Garo lanugage, the word-to-word translation is:

‘Ru·ata somoirang skang, chel·gipa biap damsao, 

Jeon ka·dingani gam·chaka salgimiko,

Chi ching·chetachim..... aro jokangengachim, 

Pattia man·gipa songo, aio inmanbegipa dongchakram.’

Following the similar route of adding the essence and emotions, the same translation made for the Garo version of the book is:

‘Changsao, chel·begipa song damsao,

Kusi ong·a, ka·ding warek ku·rang gam·chakengo;

Ching·chet ching·ret, tapsritapsri chiringrang joksolengo,

Nitobegipa, patia man·gipa songadam bijatchio.’

From the team's experiences, translating the books in Pnar  (the dialect of the Jaiñtia community of Meghalaya) was nothing close to being an easy job. Jaiñtia alphabets have many special characters pronounced and written differently. Navigating the way through it and incorporating the special characters came in handy with the help of the Jaiñtia Alphabet book. 

Approaching the ‘just right’ people

The journey is long and enduring. A TFFP book can take 1- 6 months to take shape from its inception. From the experiences from the project's first phase to the process of creating the 45 storybooks, we believe a big part of the success so far can be credited to the strong network of authors and illustrators.

Samuel Kharsohnoh, Operations Lead, TFFP Team

The "Just Right" are not always the people who are in sync with all the ideologies of TFFP and ECD. At the apex of the "choosing people to create a children's book" criterion list sits the quality of 

  • Readiness to co-create

  • Take and receive feedback

  • Experience in Creativity


We need to understand that Meghalaya does not have enough contextual documents, let alone well-illustrated storybooks, which could feed the curiosity of young minds about their culture. Therefore, the TFFP team re-engineered their wishes of becoming a child again.

Map of some of heritage element of Meghalaya covered in the TFFP stories

The TFFP team lived the lives of many characters throughout its journey of curating 45 books. They learned new words and phrases, which they got accustomed to using. To many team members, it was a first experience curating a children's book, let alone creating contextualised storybooks. To a great extent, they have laid a blueprint for budding children's writers who aim to write contextual and culturally relevant books for children. 

Six of the seven TFFP members are native to the state. To them, the experience of reconnecting to their roots, discovering aspects of the culture that they sparsely knew, and better understanding the diversity of the cultures gets them to choose this every time.

If you plan on doing something similar, you do not have to look too far for references. All the TFFP storybooks are available in digital versions on the Storyweaver platform and the Sauramandala Foundation’s website.

By Bipasha Das with support from the Forgotten Folklore Team


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