Are we telling our children enough stories?

We all grew up on stories, whether it was the regular bedtime tale by our grandparents or the occasional Enid Blyton we picked up from the library. But, while adults are spoilt for choice in the ever-growing world of publishing, children have long been managing on the exported copies of western classics. I remember in my humble school library, we had shelves dedicated to the popular Nancy Drew, Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Sweet Valley High and more. While there existed, a R.K.Narayan or an Amar Chitra Katha (Uncle Pai evokes a great amount of childhood nostalgia for many) in the gaps, there never was any effort put towards introducing Indian authors or stories. So I read in a tropical summer the spring break adventures of twins who (from the cover of the book) looked nothing like me or anybody I knew in real life.

While there is nothing wrong with children being exposed to western texts, the quantity of texts dumped by Multinational publishing houses based in the UK and the USA perhaps, left very little room for Indian children’s authors to emerge and find readership.

Children’s stories have been for long treated as a subsidiary by publishers in India. Until very recently some of the publishing houses didn’t even have have proper lists for Children’s books. Often lost in the shelves between activity books, textbooks and learning material, children’s authors are fighting for their place in the world now distracted by digital media and frivolous cartoons. But the stories we tell our children is important, especially amid the noise created by social media and television.

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As Venkatesh and Swati Roy started a few sessions with children in a little bookstore in Delhi, they might have not imagined that a few years later it would turn into a full-fledged festival that would travel to 8 cities in India and travel out to Malaysia. They might not have thought that for the next 10 years, they would be travelling to children carrying stories from authors of 14 countries, including many Indian ones.

Bookaroo Children’s Literature festival started by the duo along with Jo Williams was set up in November 2008 with a few sessions. It’s first edition was attended by 3000 kids and parents, and now they receive at least 15,000 participants each year.

What does a Children’s Literature festival entail?

Viewing literature festivals through the glass of the Jaipur giant, where panelists speak fluent theories and present critiques and analysis, the ongoings at a children’s festival would make one wonder. Bookaroo entails everything from story readings under banyan trees to puppet shows and even a doodle wall for children. In fact, to celebrate their 10th year (in November this year) they are painting stories on walls in New Delhi. Bookaroo is painting popular illustrations from children’s books on 10 walls across Delhi, 5 of which they’ve already completed – in Patel Chowk metro station, a de-addiction centre for children in GTB Nagar, Mother’s International, the Blind School in Lodi Road and Delhi Public Library Sarojini Nagar.Crowdfunding India has started gaining popularity.

Unlike ‘adult’ festivals which are divided as per genres, styles and authors; sessions at Bookaroo are divided as per age. Their participation includes children between age 4 to 16 and they divide their activities and interactions accordingly.

How do you interest a child with a story?

Children take stories way more seriously than adults do. Perhaps that is Bookaroo’s greatest challenge – to interest children year after year with stories. This year, more than 50 speakers will be engaging with the children. “Be honest in your storytelling. The child is a great judge of what’s interesting and what’s not,” Venkatesh suggests. Unlike adults who can pretend to like stories they don’t understand with children the feedback is often genuine and very instant. They have no fancy for names and nationalities or prizes, all they want is to be told a good story.

Bookaroo has indeed been telling great stories which won them the Literary Festival Award at the International Excellence Awards at the London Book Fair this year.

But as the festival gets bigger each year, it becomes all the more difficult to finance it. For its 10th anniversary, Bookaroo has great plans but funds are falling short. And, they have turned to the crowd for help. Their crowdfunding campaign has raised almost 1.2 lakhs but needs some more help. Crowdfunding is helping the festival curate, call more authors and help the festival reach more schools.

Venkatesh promises a lot of surprises for Bookaroo’s 10th anniversary but leaves us with a teaser when we ask what they are, “We have our plans.”

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