We are especially looking for illustrators for children’s literature. Illustrators should indicate their preferred style of illustrations while submitting their portfolio to us.
By Radhika Sainath for Lithub
As a new parent, I’m now alert to a substratum of media that passed below the radar of my younger, less narcissistic, self. In the space of mild leftist parenting, this means acquiring board-book samizdat such as Click Clack Moo (cows striking for workplace benefits), and A Rule is to Break (inculcating anarchist principles in pre-literate children.)
Of course, the post-colonial space of this genre (Babar notwithstanding) is pretty unpopulated, so I was excited to spot P is for Palestine by Golbarg Bashi at my local Book Culture.
The book is fantastic on so many different levels: it features a little girl with curly black hair, big eyes and brown skin; the illustrations are gorgeous; and it teaches the alphabet through egalitarian and multi-cultural words from both Arabic and English like “C is for Christmas,” “E is for Eid,” and “M is for Miftah, Key of Return.”
But nothing Palestine-related, no matter how anodyne, can be consumed safely in America, let alone on the Upper West Side.
When I started chatting with the cashier when I bought the book a couple of weeks ago, I learned that the store was in the middle of a targeted boycott campaign.
“They haven’t even read it!” he said.
Googling the story, I learned that Bashi, the author, received death threats and needed police security at her storytime reading at Book Culture’s Upper West Side location. Book Culture received threats comparable to when it refused to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa. A local synagogue threatened to ban Book Culture from an upcoming book fair if the owners did not denounce the book, and anti-Palestinian activists called for a boycott of the store. The “Upper East Mamas” Facebook group was shut down after parents “went ballistic” over the book, as reported in Page Six, The Forward and The New York Post.
Benevolent kings and their beauteous queens stroll in palace gardens or verdant forests while loyal servants eavesdrop and evil enemies plot. Meanwhile, marauding armies scale impossibly high walls and are beaten back by animals that can miraculously talk. A courtier outwits his king every single time and a poet brings strong men to their knees with his intelligence.
This complex cast of characters operating in a fantastical world held us in thrall every single issue of Amar Chitra Katha that we devoured eagerly. As the legendary comic brand reaches its 50th year of production, with over 450 titles to its credit and an astounding 100 million copies sold in over 35 languages, like any 50-year-old, it is emerging from its own version of a mid-life crisis.
Although adored by two generations of Indians, in the last 10 years, some of the adulation has been countered by scepticism bordering on outrage about what has been labelled Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘regressive’ content, both in its art and script.
A number of scholarly writings have come up, criticising and condemning the comics for reinforcing stereotypes: women characters are too subservient, caste hierarchy is established by skin colour, with upper caste characters invariably lighter toned, and its religious biases are clear. The controversy has been similar to what the Enid Blyton pantheon faced, forcing it to rethink its golliwogs and dwarves.
Beards and saris
If all this had happened in an Amar Chitra Katha, a single word from the superhero (placed in a spiky speech bubble) would have reduced the grumbling detractors to tiny, powerless creatures to be borne away on a tidal wave of nostalgia and affection. But real life is less forgiving. Thus, recently, when young artists in the comic house’s studios pointed out that there were no women in the crowd scene in a new title on Sardar Patel, Reena Ittyerah Puri, Executive Editor, immediately had it rectified by removing beards and adding saris for some of the crowd.
Satyajit Ray’s eccentric character is being turned into a film by his son Sandip.
When Sandip Ray read the first draft of his father’s stories based on fictional scientist Professor Shonku in 1961, he was not even 10 years old. The character appeared to him a “bit eccentric and over the top.”
Soon after the stories on the old scientist created by Satyajit Ray were published in a Bengali periodical, accolades in the form of letters and phone calls started coming in.
Five decades later, Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku retains undiminished appeal, prompting Sandip Ray to bring the character to life on the big screen.
The film, Professor Shonku O El Dorado, produced by SVF Entertainment, one of eastern India’s largest production houses, is likely to hit the screens by the end of 2018.
“I have been thinking about making a film on Professor Shonku for a long time. With so many developments in the visual effects field, I think this is the right time,” Mr. Ray said. The film is based on one of the spell-binding stories in the Professor Shonku series, called ‘Nakur Babu O El Dorado’.
The main character, Professor Shonku, is a scientist-inventor, and along with the visual effects, the plot takes the audience to the forests of South America. The bilingual production in Bengali and English will be shot in both West Bengal and Brazil.
The director has made a number of films on Feluda, the iconic detective, and another of Satyajit Ray’s creations. The new venture will be both a “challenge and a nice change of pace after so many Feluda films,” he says.
Ray created Feluda, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, giving the character a resemblance to everything about the muse: physical features, methods and the chronicling of his adventures. But Professor Shonku is different. He is inspired by George Edward Challenger, better known as Professor Challenger, also created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Shonku is an eccentric inventor, living in Giridih with his servant Prahlad and cat Newton.
Rather than being weighed down by pedagogy, children’s literature must set you free — to imagine, to recall, to revel in the warmth of shared food
Many children’s books in English these days are full of pedagogy. They focus on teaching children how to wash their faces, brush their teeth and tie their shoelaces. This is not the job of literature. Literature should teach kids how to be, not what to do. The greatest children’s book writers, like Sukumar Ray, Lewis Carroll or Dr Seuss, provide us a sensibility, a way of being, by drawing us into a world of wonder. And, not surprisingly, many of their books centre around food. What could be more useless, frivolous and also wondrous, than a book devoted to green eggs and ham? Ruya is three years old. She can’t read more than a few letters or count beyond 10. Yet, she already knows her way to the local sweet shop and samosa shop. I believe it has to do with her close reading, or viewing, of Abol Tabol. Ray’s characters are always eating, chasing food or under the threat of being eaten. There’s Bombagor’s Raja, chhobir framey badhiye rakhe aamsotto bhaja, who keeps dried sweet mangoes in picture frames. Or the monster in Bhoe Peyo Na (don’t be scared), who feigns weakness and then threatens to devour the reader. And of course, there’s Khuror Kol, (which could be translated as chacha’s contraption), a rhyme about an invention intended to make you walk faster by dangling food in front of you that you can never reach.
Shamne tahar khaddo jhole, jar je rokom ruchi
Monda mithai chop cutlet khaja kimba luchi
mon bole tae ‘khabo khabo’, mukh chole tae khete
mukher shonge khabar chote palla diye mote.
(Food hangs in front, according to your tastes
Sweets, chops, cutlets and luchis
The mind says ‘yum yum’, the mouth goes to gulp
The food rushes away and the mouth gives chase.)
Dibyajyoti Sarma in conversation with renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen for Sakal Times.
Renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen and illustrator Proiti Roy were the winners of the second edition of the Big Little Book Awards 2017. Instituted by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts, the awards were announced on the closing day of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Lit Fest last Sunday.
A first-of-its-kind in India, the Big Little Book Awards seek to honour authors and illustrators who have contributed to the world of children’s literature. For authors, the focus is on one Indian language every year. The first edition of the awards focused on Marathi. This year, nominations were invited for authors writing for children in Bengali. The illustrators’ entries however were not limited to any language.
This year’s winner for children’s literature in Bengali, Nabaneeta Dev Sen has been writing for children since 1979. A feminist author, she has also written widely for adults spanning across several genres — novels, travelogues, short stories and plays.
Sakal Times spoke to Nabaneeta Dev Sen on the eve of her winning the award. Edited excerpts from the interview.
Bengali has a long history of children’s literature. How has it evolved?
Bengali children’s literature started with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the 19th century with tiny stories for children in his first Bengali wordbook for children, Varna Parichaya. Bangla children’s literature started with strong roots in Bengal. Upendrakishore Ray wrote Bangla children’s fables that we grew up on and my granddaughter also knows, although she does not read Bangla. Sayajit Ray, Upendrakishore’s grandson made his first classic children’s film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne based on his grandfather’s short story.
Our children’s literature developed on its own with local fables, fairy tales, funny stories, and ghost tales, etc from the villages. And with endless tales from Sanskrit classics, Bengali children grew up on our own literary imagination for a long time, but soon the adventure stories and detective stories began to appear, whose basic idea was Western, but the story materials hundred per cent Bangla. Our generation knew Western stories along with the Bangla ones not only because there were many English medium schools in the cities, but also because the standard of teaching English was high in the Bengali medium schools as well.
Helen Wang, a London-based literary translator and British Museum curator has been recognised on the international stage for her “special contribution” to children’s literature at the 2017 Chen Bochui International Children’s Literature Awards in Shanghai.
Wang, who translates contemporary Chinese literature, including novels, picture books and graphic novels for children and young adults, was commended as “a tireless champion” for Chinese children’s literature at the event, which named her Special Contributor of the Year on the eve of the city’s fifth international children’s book fair.
Wang earlier this year took home the 2017 Marsh Christian Award for her translation of Cao Wenxuan’s Bronze and Sunflower, set in the Chinese countryside during the Cultural Revolution, that was originally published by Phoenix Publishing House and published in translation by Walker in the UK and Candlewick in the US.
In addition to her translations, Wang has also worked collaboratively with the China Fiction Book Club, Paper Republic and Global Literature in Libraries. In 2016, she co-founded Chinese Books for Young Readers, a resource collating scant reliable information about Chinese children’s books.
“Helen Wang is a tireless champion for Chinese children’s literature. And her advocacy is widely recognised and appreciated,” said Junko Tokota, one of the judging panel.
She added: “Although her name is synonymous with children’s translation, Helen Wang has raised the visibility and professionalism of children’s literature translation worldwide.”
… And imagination, Huang added, is something that children’s book writers and illustrations have in abundance. Take Julia Liu and Leo Tang’s Tony Bunny: A Rabbit with Short Ears (CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing Company), which has been published in Korean, Russian, Thai, and Turkish. The story is is inspired by the spike of children with microtia (small ears) and a desire to boost their confidence; a follow-up title, featuring the courageous short-eared bunny and his timid elephant friend, has the same goal. “In fact, illustrator Leo Tang created a piggy bank featuring the bunny and elephant to encourage children to save their coins and donate to their peers with microtia,” Huang said. “One cannot help but be inspired by these unique and uplifting titles.”
Picture books, said Huang, “transcend barriers—cultural and societal—and now, it is time for the picture book to transcend its traditional format, to move beyond print into other forms. That is the mission of this pavilion with its 45 illustrator exhibits. We want our content creators, and those from other parts of the world, to think beyond the printed pages, and to think differently.”
Pushing Technology- and Membership-based Programs
For Kyowon, one of the biggest publishers in South Korea, its picture books continue to sell well, especially new series such as the 30-volume World Folktales and 24-volume Smart Science with Book TV (which incorporates QR codes that link to videos, animations, augmented reality experiences, and virtual experiments).
…. Trend-wise, activity, counting, and game-based titles were popular three to five years ago, according to Nonoka. “We had great success with Toshio Iwai’s 100 Stories series. Then the popularity of Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska’s Maps threw the spotlight on illustrated nonfiction, and that category became very popular. This year, we are seeing a return to titles with beautiful illustrations and unique storylines.”
Interestingly, Kaisei-sha has been working very closely with industry counterparts Fukuinkan Shoten, Iwasaki Shoten, and Kodansha to produce a series of tactile picture books with Braille for Japanese children. “We share the technology so as to defray the production costs, and we market the books—currently at around 62 titles—together as a part of our social responsibility and awareness campaign. We believe that visually impaired children should be able to read and enjoy the same picture books that are available to others. While we are not promoting these titles to overseas publishers, we are exhibiting them at this fair to show that Braille can be applied successfully and effectively to picture books.”
Working on Social Responsibility and Beyond
Responsibility is also a major topic at Beijing-based Children’s Fun Publishing Company, a joint venture between Egmont Group and Posts & Telecommunications Press. “We are talking about social responsibility that goes beyond worker welfare and environmental protection. Sustainability when it comes to printing and selecting the correct printing partners is equally important,” said general manager Ao Ran.
“I try to read omnivorously, because I never know what’s going to spark a new idea. Often the things that I least expect to seize my imagination end up being the most productive.”
The author of, most recently, “Little Fires Everywhere,” often returns to “The Count of Monte Cristo”: “Right now, I see it as an exploration of the complexities of good and evil and how easily one shifts into the other.”
What influences your decisions about which books to read? Word of mouth, reviews, a trusted friend?
Friends. Taste is idiosyncratic, so I don’t love everything people recommend me, and I don’t love everything my friends love. But if a friend adores a book or thinks I will, there’s always something in there that’s interesting and worth thinking about and discussing.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
I was reading about life in the Soviet Union, looking for information about samizdat for novel research, and learned that people shared banned music by cutting old X-ray film into circles and making records out of them. They called them “ribs” or “bones.” I’m fascinated by the ways people under repressive regimes still manage to share information — and joy.
What kinds of books bring you the most reading pleasure these days?
I read with my 6-year-old son every night, and frankly, with the state of the world, it’s a relief to turn to children’s literature. We’ve been enjoying some classics like “The BFG” and some new books like Abby Hanlon’s “Dory Fantasmagory” and Shannon and Dean Hale’s “The Princess in Black” series, which make both of us laugh. And picture books — especially really thoughtful, beautiful ones like Aaron Becker’s “Journey” trilogy, Carson Ellis’s “Du Iz Tak?” and everything by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen — are a balm for the soul. They give me hope for the next generation.
Greatness surrounds Melissa Cabrera when she attends classes at Bronx Community College. That should not be surprising, because the campus is home to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, where busts of scientists, scholars and statesmen, among others, line a grand colonnade that wraps around Gould Memorial Library, an architectural treasure designed by Stanford White.
Classical tributes are fine, but the greatness of which Ms. Cabrera speaks was found sitting alongside her in a children’s literature class she took at night, when her fellow students came straight from work, still dressed in the uniforms of nurses, fast-food workers or security guards. A few brought their children, because money for child care was scarce. English was often their second language, and most were the first in their immigrant family to go to college.