The Land Where The Sticker Tree Grows, targeted at children displays a lighter approach to tackling weighty subjects such as conservation, urbanisation and bio-diversity

It all begins when Long Fingers, the monkey, discovers an apple with a sticker on it. Intrigued, he sets out for the big city, determined to find the ‘land where the sticker tree grows’.

Along the way, we’re introduced to a colourful cast of supporting characters. The pigeons, aka ‘Non Residential Avians,’ forced to become ‘filthy outlaws of the high rise apartments.” A beat-up old jute bag, who feels sorry for the plastic bag, his ‘defeated distant cousin who’ll end up in trash no sooner than he touches the kitchen counter.’ And a farmer’s hoe that chatters about the lush fields it works in, and their gradual demise.

Malvika Tewari’s charming, and admittedly chilling, illustrated book might be primarily targeted at children, but its lessons are equally relevant to adults. Released by the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), this is more than just another children’s book. It’s the product of a collaboration between the NBA and the Law+Environment+Design Laboratory at the Bangalore-based Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, where Malvika studies.

Along with a set of three short animated videos, created by another student — Harshvardhan Gantha — both products mark a change in NBA’s typical educational literature. With these products, which are targeted at the nation’s children, the organisation displays a lighter, more contemporary approach to tackling weighty subjects such as conservation, urbanisation and bio-diversity.

At the organisation’s Chennai headquarters, where they are celebrating the NBA’s 10th year anniversary, chairman Balakrishna Pisupati, talks about the work they do. “We deal with issues of biological diversity, facilitate conservation of biological resources…” he says, adding, “Our role is regulatory, but we are also an advisory body. We employ lawyers, anthropologists, economists…” And now artists.

“Well, art has the capacity to look at all perspectives,” says Deepta Sateesh, director of the Law+Environment+Design Laboratory at Srishti. The lab, which she runs along with lawyer Arpitha Kodiveri, who works with ‘Natural Justice’ aims at using design thinking to break down complex issues, and look for solutions. “It’s a misconception that design is just aesthetic,” says Deepta. “There are scientific facts and economic facts. Then there’s artistic practise, using design tools to understand context and ask the right critical questions.”

In this context, the students looked for creative ways to help children understand biodiversity. To target urban youth, a story book and animation seemed ideal. While the book, titled The Land Where The Sticker Tree Grows tells the journey of Long Fingers the monkey, the three short animations star a bee, an ant and an earthworm. “The idea is to convey that biodiversity is not just about watching programmes on wildlife,” says Deepta, “It’s to help people understand how it’s connected to us. The growth of our habitat, and our food.”

“We might now be flashy as Disney,” smiles Pisupati. “But how many people know that no matter how sophisticated our agricultural practises are, we can’t do anything without earthworms.” He adds, “We need to create a new generation of experts. Not trained by science but by their own interest. We need to reach out…” They’re beginning by printing 2,000 copies of the book, to distribute for free in schools. “Then we will put the book online. Use YouTube to spread the animation.”

While the work behind the scenes may be complex, the messages they’re sending out are deliberately simple. Let’s start with the book’s central message, encapsulated by a wise grandfather monkey: “We can’t always grow our food, we’re at the mercy of those who send it our way. But we can tell food from junk.”