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How books teach kids life skills, and why rewriting Roald Dahl won’t change mindsets: Dalbir Kaur Madan

Dalbir Kaur Madan, founder of One Up Library, uses children's books to teach kids critical thinking and problem-solving skills. She tells eShe TV why rewriting Roald Dahl's children's books is a self-defeating exercise.

Dalbir Kaur Madan is on a mission – to help kids develop reading habits that enable them to exercise their ‘voice and choice’. The founder of One Up Library, Learning Lab and Book Studio, which was founded in 2011 in Amritsar and expanded to Delhi in 2018, Madan says her aim is to “motivate and inspire children to build a reading life beyond school”.

While raising her own kids, she noticed that the Indian education system did not give enough importance to reading and libraries. At the same time, parents too were mostly unaware about how they could help their kids to attain this very essential skill that teaches them empathy, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking.

“Reading is for life. Reading is not for learning vocabulary or English – it’s for how to live my life, how to find my voice. How do I raise myself to be the human that I am meant to be,” she says on the latest episode of eShe TV.

With an undergraduate degree in political science and a Master’s in education, Madan attended several professional development courses in reading, language and literacy, and teaching methodologies from Harvard University, Columbia University, and Lesley University, before setting up One Up Library.

Using current research in education, neuroscience and developmental psychology, she developed curated reading programmes for children. Her library also conducts read-alouds, reading championships and author interactions all through the year.

Essentially, it’s a space designed to “promote curiosity, collaboration, conversations, and community-building”.

“Parents and educators are today competing with the world of Netflix,” she says wryly, insisting that it’s all the more important to use books to support the development of literacy, original thought, voice and a sense of wonder in kids of all ages.

Madan also curates and develops school libraries across the country. She mentors librarians and teachers on world-class reading practices and practical strategies to foster reading habits in kids.

In 2019, Madan instituted the Bandana Sen Library Award to recognise and celebrate the best school library. The award was named after Madan’s role model Bandana Sen, a pioneer in the field of children’s libraries and reading programmes in India.

Responding to the Roald Dahl controversy and the February 2023 decision by Puffin Books to alter the language used in many of Dahl’s books to remove derogatory words, Madan believes censoring children’s books – or banning them as many governments do – is self-defeating.

“Taking these words out of books will not change mindsets. What will change the mindset is having conversations about racism or body-shaming. Books are always meant to ignite conversations about issues that exist in the world. Course-correction does not mean rewriting these books. For me, course correction means bringing these topics out into the open in your libraries, in your schools,” she says.

Watch the complete conversation on eShe TV.

This episode is also available as a podcast on Spotify.

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