Its a journey that began 50 years ago and over the years, along with teaching Chemistry at Kottayams CMS College, Professor S. Sivadas has authored over 200 books for children in the areas of popular science, contemporary ecology, short stories, novels and other fictional tales with an emphasis on a scientific outlook.
“Motivational books for grown-ups as well as motivation in general is very important for children. In this way, I got the opportunity to write on various aspects of life and learning. This was a natural process for me and after these 50 years, when I think about the journey that I embarked on, I am very happy that I was able to do so much, and grateful that the circumstances were very favourable for me to be able to do this,” Sivadas, the winner of the 2021 edition of the Big Little Book Awards (BLBA) instituted by the Tata Trusts, told IANS in an interview.
Noting that “many children don’t like studying”, Sivadas said he began to write about the art of learning, using stories, examples, and every possible type of literary format including riddles, jokes, cartoons.
“The result of this was a series of books on learning that enabled children to learn science, mathematics and other such subjects and books. These books have thus been very inspiring for school children and even for students at college,” he added.
“In fact, I happened to get a letter from an MD student, who said that this was inspiring for her too. Even MD students found children’s literature books inspiring. She understood what the enjoyment of learning is by reading this book,” Sivadas elaborated.
Another area he concentrated on was the environment, falling back on his childhood experiences to explain and reveal the secrets of nature, “ultimately leading children to love nature – we call it environmental ethics”.
“Learning is a continuous process and so naturally, I have to learn more and concentrate on certain subjects that are of relevance to children – for example, the art and science of learning, because learning is a laborious mechanical process.
“S. Sivadas exemplifies a rare commitment to both the art and craft of writing for children. This is evident in the sheer range of genres and subjects he has covered in his body of work spanning over the last 50 years. He stands tall as a pioneer of scientific knowledge in children’s literature,” the jury, which included Dr. M.M. Basheer, Paul Zacharia, Sherylene Rafeeque and Suneetha Balakrishnan, said.
The BLBA awards recognize and honour the significant contribution of authors in a specific language each year – and illustrators – across the spectrum – to children’s literature in India. Past editions have honoured authors in Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, English, and this year, Malayalam.
The winner of the 2021 award for illustrators is Mumbai-based artist Deepa Balsavar, with the jury noting that her work represents “diversity, compassion and sensitivity without losing the playfulness and charm that appeal to children and adults effortlessly. Her eye for detail is remarkable, and the scope and scale astonishing. Her delicate balance between colour, image and expression is outstanding, and has been a hallmark of all her works.”
“I feel humbled, honoured and think I’ll wake up to find that someone has made a mistake,” Balsavar told IANS.
Tracing her journey through the world of illustrations, she said: “Although I loved drawing and painting all through my childhood, I never thought I would do it professionally. However, I did join art college, and then worked in an advertising agency before leaving to work in a school teaching crafts and an NGO where we developed lots of visual material as part of the educational kits we made. But I still didn’t think I was going to grow up to be an illustrator.
“So I started writing and illustrating books but remained constantly in awe of all the fabulous artists in the children’s books I saw. I still draw and write and discover new styles and experiment with material and wonder if I will grow up to become an illustrator,” Balsavar added modestly, indicating that learning was a never-ending process.”
“Children’s literature is an under-recognised sector, and we felt the need to celebrate and showcase the work of authors and illustrators who have made significant contribution to the Indian children’s literature space,” Amrita Patwardhan, Head of the Education Portfolio at Tata Trusts, told IANS
Through its Parag initiative, Tata Trusts has been working to promote reading among children by focusing on supporting development of quality children’s literature across Indian languages by setting up libraries and building professional capacity of librarians, illustrators and more.
“We therefore established this award for recognising and honouring one author and one illustrator each year for their work in this direction. Given the linguistic diversity in the country, for the award category for the author, we work with a specific language each year because we would like to encourage reading for children in their mother tongue. We believe this is especially important during a child’s formative years,” Patwardhan added.
Expanding on the role that books play in the cognitive development of children and shaping their worldview in today’s digital-first world, Patwardhan said that storytelling and listening/reading being at the heart of being human. “we thrive on stories oral, written and now digital”.
“Books principally play a special role in children’s development. For very young children, being read to by a caring adult helps form an intimate and positive bond with reading. Starting with picture books and then adding more genres, access and engagement with storybooks makes literacy learning meaningful for children. Systematic use of storybooks in schools and classrooms helps develop language skills as well as social, emotional, and thinking skills.
“Moreover, stories can serve as power tools, as ‘mirrors’ to understand our own lived experiences as well as ‘windows’ to a world that is different and far away from us. If we look at the journey of developed countries, digital has not replaced physical books. Digital can be one more gateway to reading but printed books that can be held and engaged with in multiple ways will continue to be important,” Patwardhan added.
Detailing the development in the children’s literature space over the past 20 years in India the changes, progress, challenges, and the way forward, she said Russian children’s literature as well as books developed by the National Book Trust and Children’s Book Trust are what drove children’s publishing in the last couple of decades post-independence.
“Since the late 90s there have been a few independent publishers who have done significant work on developing quality children’s literature in English, Hindi and a very small number that has also worked towards multi-lingual publishing. This has made children’s book collections more diverse, creative and contextual. However, a lot more work is needed in the regional language space.
“Given the limited demand, paying capacity and avenues for dissemination of books, we need to help create viable models in regional language publishing. Equally important is increasing penetration of school and community libraries so children are able to access books freely,” Patwardhan maintained.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani)