BLBA 2020 winners stress on need for public libraries for children

BLBA winners

New Delhi: Subhadra Sen Gupta and Rajiv Eipe, winners of this year’s Big Little Book Award (BLBA) that recognizes and honours significant contribution of authors and illustrators to children’s literature in Indian languages, say that there is a desperate need to provide free libraries for children in communities where all they see are textbooks, as these spaces nurture an environment that encourages the joy of reading and exchange of ideas among children.

Instituted by the Parag initiative of Tata Trusts, this was the fifth edition of the Big Little Book Award. The chosen language this year was English. In the previous years, the award considered children’s literature in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, and Kannada.

Sen Gupta, who has written over sixty books, a majority of them for children, was awarded the Bal Sahitya Puraskar of the Sahitya Akademi in 2014. She has a special interest in history, and has authored popular books like ‘The Constitution of India for Children’, ‘The Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Cook’, ‘History Mystery Dal Biryani’, among many.

Asked what excites her about writing for children, Sen Gupta, winning author, BLBA 2020, told IANSlife, “Children make the best readers and I love opening the world of history to them. They read carefully and keep the books to go back to them again and again. I find it very important to be talking to children about important things that they have questions about and we can also answer. What I do is, I mention my email in my books. I get emails from children every week.

They share questions about history and questions about anything that’s bothering them. It’s like I have this circle of friends who come back to me after they have read a book, and even come back to me when they don’t like something. Children are involved in a way that adults never are in a book.”

On how access to reading and learning spaces has taken a massive hit due to Covid-19, she said: “COVID-19 is a problem that would hopefully go away. Our problems are deeper. We desperately need to provide free libraries for children in communities where all they see are textbooks. Children of plumbers, electricians and labourers would attend it. All they had seen were textbooks. So, having interesting, bright books, games, and computers was like a magic place for them.”

The winners mention one such project as the Home Libraries initiative by Parag in Yadgir, Karnataka and Bali district, Rajasthan which is an extension of the Parag Libraries initiative, set up to improve access to children’s literature. Children there have been trained to operate small home libraries where they can exchange and share books and foster an environment of collaborative learning at a time when people are mostly isolated.

Bengaluru-based Rajiv Eipe’s illustrations have mesmerised children in titles, like ‘Dive’, ‘Pishi and Me’, and ‘Ammachi’s Amazing Machines’, and more.

The winning illustrator, BLBA 2020, when asked what space does illustration occupy in children’s literature, told IANSlife, “Illustrations in picture books can be a path into reading for many early readers, as it was for me. As an illustrator, you have the privilege and responsibility to imagine and represent the world of the story for the reader until they are able to imagine it for themselves. That said, pictures can contain a world of stories in themselves, and the best picture books are ones where the illustrations complement and go beyond the written text of the story. When you read books in general, the idea is that you are transported into the world of the story.

For older readers and more accomplished readers, they visualize the characters and events of the story through words and text. It’s an abstract idea to be able to do that. I think children’s books with pictures and illustrations are like a learning aid to get to that stage. Besides, humans are a visual species, we eat up things with our eyes without even realizing it. There is so much one can communicate with illustrations that go beyond the text in the story, capturing the emotions, atmosphere, mood, and small details.”

Highlighting the importance of public libraries, especially in light of the fact that not everyone has the same access to technology and that the pandemic has disproportionately affected vulnerable sections that do not have adequate resources to adapt to remote learning, Eipe said, “One worries that when the dust clears at the end of this, it would have deepened an already gaping economic and social divide and that in the face of economic hardship, things like reading for the joy of it will almost certainly be considered expendable. People like us may be able to order books online and read it or access our smartphones and participate in activities like book reading sessions. But not everyone has that kind of access to technology. I don’t think that is the result of the pandemic, but it has brought the inequality of access to the forefront. I suppose public libraries could be a step forward…spaces like these serve as important breeding grounds of creativity, zest, passion, and imagination for children.”