Women’s Day 2020: How a mother and daughter’s shared love for reading made them start an online book store

Prerna Mittra
international womens day, childrens books, parenting tips

Deepthi Rohith says her mother Jayashree Murli (left) derives great joy in helping people. Owlets Reading Room gives her immense satisfaction and purpose in life.

There is no greater love than the love for books. Even better, when it is shared in the family. Thirty-two-year-old Deepthi Rohith was on her maternity leave when the idea to start an online book store came to her. She shared it with her family, pronto, and breathed life into the now-thriving Owlets Reading Room which, in her own words, is "India’s first WhatsApp-based books and toy store for kids aged 0 to 9". This International Women's Day, the Bengaluru-based freelance soft skills trainer, psychology graduate (who also has an MBA in HR), and a mother of two, tells indianexpress.com over the mail why she decided to start this venture with her parents, what teaming up with her own mother was like, and why it is important for young parents to inculcate the habit of reading in their children. Excerpts:

Tell us about the initiative, when did it start?

Owlets Reading Room, or simply Owlets, is India’s first Whatsapp based books and toy store for kids aged 0 to 9. We started with books alone, but also ventured into educational toys, mostly manufactured in India. We launched Owlets Reading Room on Jan 15, 2019, on the auspicious day of Makar Sankranti.

Why did you choose to collaborate with your mother?

My mother (Jayashree Murli), my father (Murli Sethumadhavan) and I run it as a team. All three of us are equal contributors in terms of investment, work and passion, and it has become as special to us as a family member. Why I decided to collaborate with my mother is a story in itself. I was at home on a six-month break for my second delivery, when my brother got a job opportunity in Europe, which he decided to take up. I realised it would mean that my parents would soon be left alone, with both their kids busy in their own lives. This was around November 2018. I started to look for something that would keep them engaged. I stumbled upon a lead for imported children’s books, and the person told me that he could get me books in bulk at good rates; something about it felt right.

My parents weren’t exactly computer savvy, and I didn’t want them struggling with running a physical library or a book store. It was not easy for them to upload pictures on Facebook and keep a track of sales, either. I was almost about to drop the plan when it struck me -- WhatsApp! I knew I had enough friends on WhatsApp to start a group; I knew that word-of-mouth marketing and top notch customer service and transparency would do the rest. And thus, Owlets Reading Room was born!

How does Owlets Reading Room function?

We post (information about) books at 4 pm on weekdays, and it has given both my parents a schedule to look forward to. They procure books and toys, post on WhatsApp, calculate billing as soon as a customer has blocked five books, receive payments and pack and dispatch books together. They are thrilled with the idea that they are encouraging young readers and their families to get back to stories and imagination. By nature, both my parents are very entrepreneurial and love books and kids.

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Every day, the Owlets Reading Room posts update on books on its WhatsApp group, including the age, title and price, and those who ping first, get to block it. A minimum of five books have to blocked before they are dispatched to the customer.

Could you have imagined this endeavour with any other team?

I think even if I would have had hired a team, my core integral team would have been with mom and dad. Though we are a generation apart, Owlets is our baby and we realise that we have utmost passion and love in seeing it touch lives, especially the young ones. Owlets family, as group members call themselves, is a tight-knit group of parents who are passionate about instilling in their kids, the love for books.

How important is it for you to encourage the idea of reading?

Thanks to my dad, I have been a voracious reader from my childhood. I can vouch for the positive influence it has had on my vocabulary, knowledge, confidence and overall personality. I wish young parents understand that reading is not something you can force a child to do; you need to help them fall in love with books. These books need to be colourful and attractive, and appeal to the child’s individual personality. It means the parent needs to be observant of their child’s nature and offer variety in terms of content to explore.

Science has proven that constant exposure to books from a young age, leads to children actually retaining content, either as visual cues or pictures, or sounds and words, eventually leading them to develop a liking for stories, firing their imagination and improving vocabulary. I have seen that happen with both my sons who love their books, and we wish for that to happen to every child out there.

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Deepthi wants young parents to understand that reading is not something you can force a child to do; you need to help them fall in love with books.

Can you suggest some books for young readers, then?

I usually refrain from suggesting books for kids under five, since I personally feel every book has something to offer and there are innumerable unknown authors who churn out excellent content, to whom it is not fair, if the more famous ones are always recommended.

Depending on the age, for beginners -- four months to around a year -- I would suggest board books with textures and pictures. These books have pages made of cardboard and thus, don’t tear easily. These can always be supplemented by story books with single stories since children always get drawn to the world of stories and imagination. My sons, aged three and one, love specific books that have single stories and demand to be read the same books over and over again!

Books from leading authors like Enid Blyton are perfect for six-year-olds and above, where reading skills are to be honed, while others like Julia Donaldson and Dr Seuss are international bestsellers and we get their books often on the group.

Since it is International Women's Day today, tell us about the relationship that you share with your mother...

They say you realise the value of your mother only when you become one yourself. I was always closer to my dad and it was around the time of my first delivery that I realised how strong a woman my mother is.

I really admire her for her sheer courage and extremely humble nature. She is ever adjusting and though I have never told her, the fact that she blindly trusts my judgement when it comes to Owlets is both flattering and scary at the same time. She is my wall and I know she is always a call away, and that kind of assurance is invaluable. At Owlets, she has taken the daily posting of books as her inherent duty and will not waiver come what may.