A Book Community That Gives

A Book Community That Gives

There is something extraordinary about the children’s book community. We are crazy, all, we have an infinite capacity to indulge and surprise, and we are full of empathy.

But above all, we are family.

Yes, that’s right, we are family in a way that no other set of disparate individuals ever do manage to come together as, perhaps, once outside of their school and college years. There are peals of laughter when even five of us get together, there are songs where a croak wouldn’t dare to come out, and there are hugs warm enough to drive away every blue that could be weighing us down.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see the way India’s kidlitworld has come together during these tough times to be a virtual presence in the children’s Covid-19 home-locked days. From free books online (Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle’s entire catalogue until mid April on their App; the featured pic accompanying this blog post is from ACK’s same campaign) to author readings to storytellings to drama to children-led poetry and art, there’s a virtual nanny (an extremely engaging, creative, fun one at that) waiting right there to give children an immersive online experience unlike any before.

While Pickle Yolk Books is using these weeks to reassess many, many things, I have been observing, absorbing, following the love that’s just there. Tune in, and you’ll feel it.

I’m not sure if it can be pinned down to any one definitive start to this, but two events stand out – the Delhi Storyteller’s Tribe’s decision to move their Seven Voyages of Sindbad from a physical location to making it an online jambooree, and, Bijal Vaccharajani, the award-winning author, editor, friend and Indian Kidlit-flagbearer extraordinaire, floating the idea of a daily read-aloud by authors and showcasing by illustrators through the 21-day lockdown. The little brainstorming threw up the crackling hashtag #ThodaReadingCorona (Roopal Kewalaya, doffing my hat) and the series was off in no time. The videos are posted individually by the creators on their personal social media handles and collated by author Tanu Shree Singh on the fabulous Facebook Group she manages, The Reading Raccoons – Discovering Children’s Literature) apart from being posted on an authors/ illustrators only group Forever Young.

Every day throws up something fresh, something inspiring. A big delight – and my personal favourite – has been a peep into the soul-lifting creativity and funkiness that goes behind the illustration process. Kripa Bhatia and Shamika Chaves, we need more!  

The Indian Express did an informative piece on it (read it here). And as one parent pointed out, it is lovely to put a face to the authors they and their children have been reading all along.

Bijal’s (along with Aparna Kapur) other idea of Indian kidlit Pictionary for book titles that soon caught on with cool ones from author and book devourer Timira Gupta too is like the dollops of meethi chatni I dunk my street chaat with; nothing can quite match its sublimity. I hope it finds more traction.  

I have also been savouring the daily entries by children pouring in for author and film maker Samina Mishra’s The Magic Key Centre for Arts and Childhood as part of its Lockdown Art series for children between 8 and 15 years. Daily prompts and format (words, illustrations, photographs and more) are put out and the entries are later collated and shared on its Facebook Page.

There’s so much more that’s happening all around. Mompresso will be hosting a daily reading by authors in association with Penguin and Crossword Bookstores. Express Parenting’s #ExpressParentingReadAlouds series along the same lines has started this week. I’ll keep adding more as they fall on my radar. It’s a priceless minefield getting readied for posterity through this lockdown and we owe our deepest gratitude to every creative person stepping up and volunteering to be a part of it.

I am keeping this post more open-ended, and have therefore kept away from taking any bytes from the creators themselves. But I want to leave everyone with some questions that come to mind. Feel free to plug in your thoughts as part of the comments:

What prompts us kidlit people to be the way we are? Are we thinking about our own children or those in our families and friend circles, or about our readers or the readers of tomorrow when coming together for such community acts of love? Is it mutual support, or common challenges and goals, or something else that keeps us afloat together through tough times? What makes some of us take to these ideas more readily than the others? How does it feel to be a part of the Indian Kidlit world?  

Looking forward to hearing from everyone. Until the next blog post in a few days, hugs going out to all from this fly on the wall. I’ll soon try and post a link to all the #ThodaReadingCorona videos here below so that they are all together at one place. Do drop me a line if there are other initiatives that I’ve missed mentioning; I’ll add them.