#WorldKidLit Wednesday: Neev Book Award Winners

Are you familiar with children’s and YA books from India? If not, the Neev Book Award is great place to start. It is a fabulous showcase for children’s and YA literature that promotes a “fuller understanding of India, Indian lives and Indian stories.” First introduced in 2018 as part of the Neev Literature Festival, the Award comprises four categories: Picture Books, Emerging Readers, Junior Readers and Young Adult. Books are selected by an international jury that includes children’s writers, educators, teacher-librarians, university professors and an anthropologist.

Here are some of the award-winning books* in the first two categories from the last four years. All are beautifully written and illustrated and it has been a joy to read them.

PICTURE BOOKS

Ammu and the Sparrows

Ammu and the Sparrows is a small, square picture book with striking illustrations in black and white enlivened with splashes of blue, yellow and brown. On the surface, it contains a simple tale about a young boy, Ammu, of around five years old who lives with his grandma. We discover that he is waiting for Amma and Accha to come. He and Ammamma leave food out for them and eventually two sparrows arrive. But there are hints in the text and illustrations that more is going on. In one image, readers will spot a photo of a (human) couple with the young boy in the middle; Ammamma also refers to “court” and “they love you.” And those familiar with some Indian languages will know that Amma means Mom and Accha, Dad.

The Mountains of Mumbai

This book features two young girls of around 9 years old. Doma is from Ladakh in northern Indian but is in Mumbai with her friend Veda. When Doma announces that she misses the mountains of her home region, Veda takes her on a whistlestop tour where they soak up the sights and sounds of the bustling metropolis. The watercolor illustrations show people, cars and rickshaws jostling in the streets, signs in Hindi and the heart-pounding thrill of making it to the top of a vertiginous skyscraper. On the left side of the book, short bursts of text contain simple narrative and dialogue, while illustrations are on the right. The unusual, narrow landscape format also allows for some glorious double spreads. The Mountains of Mumbai is a beautiful, colorful exploration of friendship, imagination and city life.

Maccher Jhol

Baba (Dad) is sick in bed so Gopu, a young boy of around seven, creeps out of the family home and straight into a busy urban environment. The streets are alive with people and traffic and Gopu’s adventure takes him close to the main road. His destination: the market, where he purchases some fresh fish to make maccher jhol (fish curry) with his grandma as a surprise for his dad. This picture book features unusual text and illustrations. We discover that Gopu measures his journey in steps and turns; he is also sensitive to the sounds and smells of the busy streets. The sights are portrayed in dark, blurry sepia images with various objects picked out in color. Baba is furious when Gopu returns home and readers will see why (the clues have been there all along). All is well in the end, however. Maccher Jhol is a heartwarming story of individual determination, achievement, ability and family love.

I Will Save My Land

Mati, a young girl of around 7, works the land with Ba and Ajji, her father and grandma. When Ba states that girls “don’t have fields,” Ajji reminds him that she fought hard for the right to keep it. Mati later insists on having a patch of her own to plant out and look after. When she learns that “monster machines” are on their way to her village as part of a planned coal mine, she shows how determined she is to protect her land. I Will Save My Land is aimed at children ages 6+. It features bold illustrations of Mati, her family and the other villagers in bright colors and earthy tones. The text, comprising narrative and dialogue, is on the lengthy side compared to many picture books and is sprinkled with words in (Romanized) Hindi. As well as being a fascinating read, it is a valuable resource for promoting discussion about women’s rights and the impact of coal mining on traditional ways of life.

EMERGING READERS

The Miracle on Sunderbaag Street

Every evening, Zara takes refuge in a yard full of junk near her house. She looks miserable and her surroundings do too. But all that changes when Miss Gappi, her old craft teacher, arrives on the scene. The old lady shares her creativity and energy with the young girl and soon Zara has become the driving force behind the junk yard’s rebirth as a community garden. She enlists the help of the local gang and brings people of all ages together from the area. The Miracle on Sunderbaag Street is written in lively, readable prose and accompanied by mix-media illustrations that become more colorful as the story progresses. It is a beautiful celebration of nature, community and a young girl’s personal growth.

Srinivasa Ramanujan: Friend of Numbers

As a young boy, Srinivasa Ramanujan had a fascination with numbers and plenty of questions about the world around him. This picture book biography for emerging readers starts with Ramanujan’s birth in 1887 and covers his early years as a mathematical prodigy through to the difficult decision to travel to Cambridge University to work alongside a well-known professor and his death at only 32. Srinivasa Ramanujan: Friend of Numbers draws attention to Ramanujan’s extraordinary intellect and innovative thinking. The text and illustrations manage to convey both his human journey and his ability to see unique patterns in numbers that no-one had seen before. Whether you are a budding mathematician or not, this is a truly fascinating read.

PICTURE BOOKS

Ammu and the Sparrows
Written by Vinitha
Illustrated by Jayesh Sivan
Pratham Books, 2020
ISBN: 978-93-90190-57-7

Available in English, Hindi and Kannada.

Award: Neev Book Award 2021

The Mountains of Mumbai
Written by Labanya Ghosh
Illustrated by Pallavi Jain
Karadi Tales, 2019

ISBN: 978-81-9365-429-3

Award: Neev Book Award 2020

Machher Jhol
Written by Richa Jha
Illustrated by Sumanta Dey
Pickle Yolk Books, 2018

ISBN: 978-93-5321-312-1

Award: Neev Book Award 2019

I Will Save My Land
Written by Rinchin
Illustrated by Sagar Kolwankar
Tulika Publishers, 2017

ISBN: 978-93-5046-918-7

Published in eight languages, including English, Hindi, Telugu and Bengali.

Award: Neev Book Award 2018

EMERGING READERS

The Miracle on Sunderbaag Street
Written by Nandita da Cunha
Illustrated by Priya Kuriyan
Kalpavriksh, 2020

ISBN: 978-81-87945-85-7

Award: Neev Book Award 2021

Srinivasa Ramanujan: Friend of Numbers
Written by Priya Narayanan
Illustrated by Satwik Gade
Tulika Publishers, 2019

ISBN: 978-93-89203-80-6

Available in eight languages, including English, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam.

Award: Neev Book Award 2020

*Review copies of all the above titles were kindly provided by Rasil Ahuja, Co-Founder of the Neev Literature Festival and Jury Co-Chair of the Neev Book Award.

Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com

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