Popular and much loved author Ruskin Bond inaugurated the digital event marking the announcement of Neev Book Awards 2021. Neev Literature Festival introduced the awards to promote and encourage high-quality children’s literature from India. This year, Vinitha R for Ammu and the Sparrows (Early years); Nandita da Cunha for The Miracle of Sunderbaag Street (Emerging Readers); Devika Cariapa, William Dalrymple, Anita Anand for The Adventures of the Kohinoor (Junior Readers); and Devashish Makhija for Oonga (Young Adult) received the awards.
A quick lowdown on the award winning books –
EARLY YEARS: Ammu and the Sparrows by Vinitha R; Illustrations by Jayesh Sivan (Publisher: Pratham Books)
Parental discord wreaks havoc on a young child. Neither Ammamma nor the sparrows attempt to moralise or solve Ammu’s problems. Instead, the sparrows make a parallel connection to the situation allowing for the problem to sit side by side as the child navigates his emotions. Like the writing, the art work demonstrates the raw nature of pain and brilliantly uses negative space to create room for the outpouring of emotions.
EMERGING READERS: The Miracle of Sunderbaag Street by Nandita da Cunha; Illustrations by Priya Kurian (Publisher: Kalpavriksh)
Relationships, like the environment, need a special nurturing that involves kindness and patience. The subtle parallel between a barren heart and barren land brings forth a deeply relevant theme of the miracle of community where both the young and elderly co-exist and also inspire each other. The standout collage artwork complements the story beautifully and rewards repeated examination.
JUNIOR READERS: The Adventures of the Kohinoor by Devika Cariapa, William Dalrymple, Anita Anand (Publisher: Juggernaut Books)
(Devika Cariapa has adapted the original book for grown-ups by Dalrymple and Anand to make a children’s version.)
The Kohinoor diamond as a literary device has enabled the authors to offer a wonderfully approachable account of the history of the Indian subcontinent to Junior Readers. It narrates, re-enacts and contextualizes how the diamond is imbued with the symbolic value of power, status, and the right to rule. Struggles for power are brought to life, but always footnoted with a brief, yet informative account of historical facts. The final questions as to whether the gemstone should be returned to India or not will hopefully encourage young readers to reflect on reparation in other contexts as well.
YOUNG ADULT: Oonga by Devashish Makhija (Publisher: Tulika)
This novel uses the adventure story as a vehicle to explore how tribal protectors and conservators of nature can be historically marginalised and misunderstood by those in power. It helps young readers and adults see how we might move closer to stewardship by viewing the earth as tribal people do, and away from ownership and the resultant devastation that comes from the urban ‘developmental’ viewpoint. This book is remarkable for building a powerful thematic structure by controlling several interacting leitmotifs. These interacting ideas bring within the novel’s scope a staggering range of subtexts from hope in human wisdom to near despair at human depravity.