#INDIAKIDLIT – All the Places that Reading Takes You: the Neev Literature Festival

by Karthika Gopalakrishnan & Samantha Kokkat

A festive atmosphere reigned on Day 1 of the 2022 Neev Literature Festival as readers of all ages came together to meet authors, as well as experience music, rhythm, and story.

It began with Kapil Pandey, a storyteller and performer, setting the tone with the depiction of sailing on a river of story — and he repeated the theme intermittently throughout the day, with the audience getting better with rhythm and response over time!

Kapil Pandey gave short performances all day long at Day 1 of the Neev Literature Festival 2002

Then Goshtarang, a theatre group from Maharashtra, regaled the audience throughout the day with performances in Hindi, Kannada, and Marathi.

Goshtarang, a theatre group from Maharashtra, performing

From listening to authors read from their books to examining different aspects of reading, writing, and book creation, visitors to the festival also had a chance to pick their favourites from a curated selection of books on sale.

Among the highlights, Bijal Vachharajani’s interactive session touched on turning the science of climate change into interesting fiction, ending with a call to action for young children on what they would do for the environment.

The Miracle on Sunderbaag Street – by Nandita da Cunha, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan (2020) / Our Constitution, Our People — by Harsh Mander, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan (2022) – available in Kannada and English

In her Masterclass for students, acclaimed illustrator and crowds-favourite picture book creator Priya Kuriyan took children and adults through the process of making a picture book. She showed the audience a sketch she had drawn more than ten years ago, when she was still in university—one she took to people expecting huge praise. But the feedback she got then was anything but encouraging. “Why are all the characters white? Why is the setting so alien?” This got her thinking, and changed the way she drew images. 

Priya reflected on Chimamanda Adichie’s observations about the danger of a single story and started to introduce the multiplicity she saw across the country into her books. In When Ali Became Bajrangbali, a tree took on the shape of a chawl, a multi-storey building in which the underserved live in one room accommodations. 

When Ali Became Bajrangbali – by Devashish Makhija, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan (2011) – available in English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujurati, and Bengali
Indira – by Devapriya Roy, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan (2018) / Beauty is Missing – by Priya Kuriyan (2021) – available free online in 33 languages via Storyweaver

For Indira, she visited Allahabad and researched deeply about the life of Indira Gandhi. For Beauty Is Missing—her latest book, set in a small village in Kerala where a woman tries to solve the mystery of her missing buffalo—Priya looked up pictures of policewomen in India, drew sketches of tea shop owners, and even attended a workshop on the nature of buffaloes! Excited students looked on as she  showed them spreads she had drawn on paper for the book. 

Arundathi Venkatesh, SCBWI member and award-winning writer, talked about the importance of home-grown stories and representation during her session on raising readers and writers. Her latest book I Want a Pet features a Punjabi protagonist, a child wearing a turban. She asked the audience, composed largely of children, if any of them had ever read a book set in Punjab. None of the audience could reply in the affirmative, and there lay her point: the importance of seeing and reading about the lives of children from all corners of the country. 

I Want a Pet – by Arundhati Venkatesh, illustrated by Resha Singh (2022) / Bookasura: The Adventures of Bala and the Book-Eating Monster – by Arundhati Venkatesh, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan

Devashish Makhija, celebrated filmmaker and writer, explored a similar vein of thought in his session on the Cross-pollination Between Prose and Cinema. His Neev Book Award-winning novel Oonga, came from a feature film of the same name. He felt he couldn’t do justice to its protagonist or the story that was set in a tribal hamlet, in the movie. It took a 350-page book to bring out the nuanced stories he wanted to narrate. Devashish also showcased four of his short films, which led to a very rich discussion on what can and cannot be portrayed in short films as opposed to feature films.   (See this previous blog post reviewing Oonga as well as this previous blog post by Devashish Makhija – and note he wrote the picture book mentioned above, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan: When Ali Became Bajrangbali .)

While authors, illustrators, and publishers relished the opportunity of coming together to meet each other at a literature festival after three years, families flocked to the Books Marketplace to stock their reading nooks. 

In her closing address, Neev Book Award Student Chair Noor Sabharwal summed up the essence of why the festival and the award exist.

“If a body of literature is how memory and identity are transmitted from one generation to the next, what children read must reflect what it means to be Indian, where India is coming from, where India is going, what stories are native to this subcontinent, and who we are. The Neev Book Award spreads awareness of Indian narratives empowering us as readers to see our rich cultural heritage, as a cauldron of creativity and a forest of diversity.”

The day ended with the announcement of the 2022 Neev Book Award winners—more on that tomorrow!

Go to the Neev Literature Festival FACEBOOK page for video snippets of all the events.

Karthika Gopalakrishnan & Samantha Kokkat

Karthika Gopalakrishnan is the Head of Reading at Neev Academy, Bangalore, and the Director of the Neev Literature Festival. In the past, she has worked as a children’s book writer, editor, and content curator at Multistory Learning which ran a reading program for schools across south India. Prior to this, Karthika was a full-time print journalist with two national dailies. Her Twitter handle is g_karthika.

Samantha Kokkat is the Reading Community Manager at Neev Academy, Bangalore, and helps organize the Neev Literature Festival. Prior to this, she was part of an initiative which aimed to create a community of 1 billion young readers in India. She has written a children’s book published by MsMoochie Books, and holds a Master’s degree in English Studies.

September is #WorldKidLit month and this year the GLLI blog is exploring different aspects of #IndiaKidLit in the run-up to the 2022 Neev Literature Festival, a celebration of Indian children’s literature being held Sept 24 and 25 in Bangalore. At the Festival, the winners of the 2022 Neev Book Award, which aims to promote and encourage high-quality children’s literature from India, will be announced in 4 categories: Early Years, Emerging Readers, Junior Readers, and Young Adult

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