Source : The Hindu
Imagination ran wild as Bookaroo Delhi opened a whole new chapter for children in all age groups
Harry Potter is perhaps one of the most loved characters of all time, but the real reason why JK Rowling succeeded is because she said the simplest things in the simplest of ways. One knows that there is no better way to understand children, or better still, make them understand you. Alpenliebe Bookaroo, the two-day children’s literature festival, was just the right mix of everything, and perhaps, straight out of Hogwarts on a bright December weekend. There were colours, stories, doodles, mischief, banter and hundreds of young minds at work. Held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the 11th edition of Bookaroo Delhi hosted 105 sessions with 70 speakers from 13 countries for children aged between 4-14.
The organisers, Swati Roy and Venkatesh M, who started off with a book store over a decade ago couldn’t contain their excitement. Says Swati, “The feeling is one of satisfaction. When we started, we thought it was almost impossible to sustain this and, of course, it was going to be tough. But because it was tough is why it is satisfying. It is a challenge to run a children’s literature festival with the the kind of funding that we have, at times none, but still improve the quality over the years. When we look back, there has been a long association from both sides – the publishers as well as the readers.”
Ten years is a long time, and Bookaroo has seen its fair range of changes as well. What started off with 3000 visitors has now become an award-winning festival at the London Book Fair International Excellence awards. But the most emotional moment came for the organisers when they had visitors who were participants ten years ago. “A lot of kids who attended some of our initial editions visited and came up to meet and congratulate us. They have all grown up to be young adults and were reminiscing their experiences with Bookaroo; it just made us realise how far we have come. It was an emotional moment,” says Venkatesh.
When Swati and Venkatesh began their bookshop – Eureka – in the early 2000s, they often invited authors and illustrators for sessions at the bookstore. “It was a small space so we used to take them to parks and community centres as our numbers started growing. And that is how we were suggested to come up with this idea of hosting a festival,” explains Venkatesh.
This year’s highlights included continuous storytelling, along with Qissebaazi, that brought in regional stories using a bridge language. The focus here was Sanskrit and Malayalam. There were authors from New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, South Korea, the Czech Republic to name only a few. That apart, there was telling of real-life stories, toy making, puppetry, and even real life fossils on display! “Books have really evolved these days, and we are able to get that array of public to see those books. We always say there is not enough book-reading being done but when we finally get the creator and the consumer to meet, it is an exhilarating experience. The evolution is being accepted and recognised by the audience. Many authors are becoming household names, and Bookaroo has contributed to that,” says Swati.
Leigh Hobbs and Meredith Costain are both award-winning authors for their tremendous work in children’s writing. Hobbs, who is Australia’s Children Laureate for 2016 and 2017 is known for his out of the box characters Old Tom, Horrible Harriet and Mr Chicken. For his session at Bookaroo, he asked the children to draw Old Tom their way. “I introduced the children to my characters. The kids drew Old Tom first. I tell them that all your drawings will look like Old Tom but they will be different because you children are different. It means that the children relax, and eventually I teach them to create their own funny character,” says Hobbs. The character of Old Tom is a cat. “I never used the word cat in the book, I treat him like a seven-year-old boy,” says Hobbs. He is a one-eyed, orange, fiery, monster-type cat. He has a big bandaged foot, he is made to look like an outcast that nobody wants or likes. Eventually, he comes to live with a woman called Angela, who is extremely neat and tidy.
“Really, the books are about love, the affection between the mother and a son. Kids seem to love the book because they are funny, but underneath that, there is affection and caring for each other,” says Hobbs.
“The aim of my presentation was to make the kids less self conscious, to not worry or compare their drawings with their friends. Even if kids likes drawing, they won’t because they might think it is not good. My sessions are about putting your imagination on the page. They are always funny, because kids love to have fun. Many of the children discovered something extra about themselves, that they are able to express themselves emotionally, free from judgements or criticism. It is about them, and not about anyone else,” adds Hobbs.
For Costain too, books are about a world that keeps you focused and wherein you imagination can run wild. As a children’s writer, she has always focused on rhyme and rhythm, because she feels that it keeps them engaged. “We tried a bit of writing about their own favourite animals, where they chose elephants, butterflies and monkeys. It was interesting that these choices were different from Australian children’s choices,” says Costain.
“A lot of people say you don’t need books and we have got computers for you. But what they don’t understand is that reading is the basis of so many different things. It develops empathy in children, helps them understand and make connections. You focus more when you are reading. Jumping in and out or just watching YouTube, your attention span goes down.
Reading gives you a base for all your other academic subjects but most importantly, it is fun!” she adds. Along with a burst of creativity, there was also immense learning happening on the grounds, from age old legends and myths to animals that one finds around one’s home. The Doodle Wall was full of monsters, five minutes into Hobbs asking them to create them. As they say, growing up is a trap!