The fifth edition of the popular children’s literature festival Bookaroo, held annually in Delhi, will have as many as 106 sessions over two days. It covers everything from storytelling, quizzes and poetry, to workshops on picture-book illustrations and discovering India, all for children between the ages of 4 and 14.
“In the first year we had about 36 speakers, whereas now we have close to 75 authors, illustrators, performers and storytellers. In five years we have not diluted the core principle: bringing books and children together. We have not given in to market forces. This is not an event to entertain but a children’s literature festival, and that’s the way we intend to keep it,” says Swati Roy, one of the founders of Bookaroo and a co-owner of the Eureka! book store in south Delhi.
On the one hand, as parents and organizers of festivals like Bookaroo aim to encourage children to read, what constitutes age-appropriate reading is an increasingly difficult question to answer these days.
Shabnam Minwalla, parent and author of The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street, will conduct a reading session at Bookaroo. “I have three daughters, and I have realized that it is impossible to dictate what they read,” she says. “My older daughter is 9 and never enjoyed the stuff I tried to push at her—Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew—books I read growing up. I was uneasy about allowing her to read Cornelia Funke and the later Harry Potters—but she chose those and determinedly reads what she enjoys.”
Minwalla believes that while parents can guide children to some extent, they definitely cannot dictate their reading lists. “Anyway, I feel children are exposed to so many frightening, unsavoury images these days—on TV, in the other media—that by and large what they get from tween books is mild.”
We scanned the two-day programme, starting 24 November, and picked our favourites. We also brainstormed with authors and illustrators who will be at the festival on how they write stories and what appeals to children.
It is difficult to make young ones sit in one place for a long time, so any activity targeting them has to be about a specific emotion or subject. It is best not to introduce too many ideas at the same time while telling stories to tots.
Singapore-based storyteller Rosemarie Somaiah says a half-hour session with this age group works best if there are three or four short stories “that may include simple participative elements such as repetitive chants, songs or actions which encourage the children to ‘enter’ the story without disrupting the flow. Or it may have a certain rhythmic quality that calms the children and allows them to enter the story world.”
Somaiah says, “Many children instinctively understand the metaphor within the stories because we have a natural sense of justice, even if they may not be articulate enough, or too shy to explain it clearly. They like funny stories and enjoy the feeling of power that comes from pretending to be a strong animal, or the feeling of relief and joy when a vulnerable little hero gets the better of a bully.”
Petr Horacek, an illustrator and author who will talk about how to make picture storybooks, says, “I always start my writing with a picture. I paint a picture and then spend time looking at it, making up the story and words in my head.” He believes inspiration to craft a story could come from anything, even from something you see when you’re just walking around. “A spider’s web, a cow in the field, it could be a drawing done by a child, somebody’s artwork, an abstract painting in a gallery, an interesting photo in a magazine or newspaper, but it is almost always something visual that inspires me.” He believes it’s the same with children.
Don’t miss: Mighty Mouse Deer with Rosemarie Somaiah, at 11am on 24 November; and Words and Pictures by Petr Horacek, at 2.45pm on 24 November.
Also look out for: Frog, Fish And the Turtle by Geeta Ramanujam, at 12.45pm on 24 November; Elephant Tales by Neeraj Jain, at 11am on 25 November; Abcedaria! by Ajanta Guhathakurta, at 2.45pm on 25 November; The Rakshasa Party by Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran, at 1.30pm on 25 November; and One, Two, Three, Me by Nadia Budde, at 12.15pm on 25 November.
A workshop by journalist-turned-writer Payal Kapadia will be about ideas and words, and will include an activity kit on writing; novelist Ovidia Yu’s workshop will unveil some secrets of writing plots and how to make ordinary lives sound extraordinary.
Author and artist Marcia Williams, who will be holding multiple workshops, including one on drawing, says it is all about transferring a sense of passion for reading at this time. She considers herself lucky that she was read aloud to by her teachers and her mother when she was young. “This has left me with a lasting passion for books and the exciting worlds they bring. When I create books for children, or share my books with groups of children at festivals or in schools, all I seek to do is share my passion for books with the children. My book of ancient Indian tales was inspired by a visit to India. You have such a wonderful heritage of both art and storytelling, and I wanted to share this with the children here. If you are a writer or illustrator, you are always looking for inspiration, and India is bursting with rich feasts for the eye and the mind.”
Frané Lessac, an author and illustrator who will be holding a Make Your Own Picture Book workshop, adds: “When working with children, I tell them I was never the best artist in the class, but I always loved to paint and draw. I want children to believe in their own style and unique way of seeing the world.”
She adds that children love a good story, whether it is about animals, a person, a place, a time in history or the future, as long as a story intrigues them, helps them to learn, to think and to dream. “When putting together a book, I choose topics that I’m passionate about. That passion hopefully shows in the words and the art and is contagious. I like to add in lots of detail in my illustrations for children to discover as they read a book over and over again.”
Don’t miss: The Elephant’s Friend And Other Tales from Ancient India by Marcia Williams, at 4pm on 24 November; and Spellmaker’s Academy by Shabnam Minwalla, at 2.45pm on 24 November.
Also look out for: High Five! by Tadpole Repertory, at 11am on 24 November; Kabaad se Jugaad (Improvising With Junk) by The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), at 11am on 24 November; Can you Whistle, Johanna? by Ulf Stark, at 12.15pm on 24 November; The Urban Zoo by Nadia Budde, at 11 am on 24 November; Poachers in Paradise by Shamim Padamsee, at 2.45pm on 25 November; and Become the Next Steve Jobs by Campfire, at 12.15pm on 25 November.
Bookaroo is on from 24-25 November at Sanskriti Kendra, Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, New Delhi. For the full schedule, visit bookaroo.in/