#WorldKidLit month: Books can be a child’s life coach

My nine-year-old has just started her journey with chapter books, but she still cherishes her picture books. Looking at the variety of Indian options in the market, I can see why. Some of the best children’s books in the last few years have been picture books and they’ve revitalised the space in many ways.

My daughter’s favourite is I Need to Pee by Neha Singh, a funny, unflinching book about a girl who loves fruit juices but is forced to use the dubious toilets on Indian trains. We also love reading Sadiq Wants to Stitch by Mamta Nainy, about a Kashmiri shepherd boy who loves to stitch colourful patterns on rugs. Suddenly, the themes are exciting, the production value wonderful, and children like my daughter want to pick them up because they are cultivating interesting new narratives.

The books mentioned above are shortlisted for the Neev Book Awards 2019, part of the Neev Literature Festival (NLF), which culminates today. Kavita Gupta Sabharwal, co-founder of the festival organised at the Neev Academy in Bengaluru, observes that there are many exciting developments in the children’s literary space in India. “This year, we’ve seen a huge change in the picture book category. The themes are richer and many new, independent publishers like Pickle Yolk Books are entering the scene.”

Tough subjects, new formats

The most heartening change at the third edition of NLF is the surge in attendance from parents and schools. Apart from workshops for children, teachers and librarians, it also features events for parents. Richa Jha, founder of Pickle Yolk Books, is one of those workshopping with both children and parents. She regards a picture book as “a complete life coach for a child” and marvels at its power to help parents make important connections with their kids. “This is a glorious time to be doing picture books in India,” she says. “Publishers are not intimidated by tougher subjects, and the market is receptive to different formats, too.”

Both picture books and children’s literature festivals like Neev have stepped up the level of conversation. Some of the themes NLF explores this year are identity, empathy, building bridges with literature, the state of the world and futurism. Apart from writers like Paro Anand, Devdutt Pattnaik, Ranjit Lal, Nandana Dev Sen and Susan Perrow, the festival also includes speakers from fields as diverse as anthropology, psychology, and linguistics.

Question everything

Roopa Pai, author of award-winning The Gita for Children, observes that the sheer volume of books being published for children is encouraging. “From the look and feel of the cover, it is impossible to distinguish between foreign and Indian books,” she says.

Pai also hopes to use platforms like NLF to get children to think for themselves and to question the world around them. At the festival, she will talk about her new book, From Leeches to Slug Glue: 25 Explosive Ideas That Made (And Are Making) Modern Medicine, and in doing so, wants to raise other interesting questions. “I will talk to them about the Hippocratic oath that doctors take. Do they think that graduating students of other professions should take their own oaths, too? The purpose is to make children question the world around them and cultivate a sense of balance.”

It will be interesting to observe if the picture book market will revitalise other categories in children’s literature, too.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 6:17:37 AM |

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