#INDIAKIDLIT – Neev Book Award 2022: Early Years category

by Ann Lazim

And the winners are…. 

Imagine the excitement on the Neev Literature Festival floor building as the awards begin to be announced. Parents, children, educators and librarians fill the main festival space brimming with chatter about their favorite books and preferences, each on the edge of their proverbial seats. The first category to be announced was Early Years.

The 2022 Neev Book Award shortlist for the Early Years category: Paati’s Rasam by Janaki Sabesh & Dhwani Sabesh, illustrated by Pallavi Jain, storyboard by Vaijayanti (2021) / Bumoni’s Banana Trees by Mita Bordoloi, illustrated by Tariq Aziz (2021) / Ikru’s First Day of School by Sunaina Coelho (2021) – available in print in English, Hindi, and Kannada as well as on the Storyweaver platform in 11 languages.

Only one question was on everyone’s mind. Of all the fabulous books on the tight shortlist, who would be the winner? This was the scene late Saturday afternoon in Bangalore, India.  

Suddenly, a hushed silence fell upon the crowd gathered under the festival tent.  Drumroll please. 

The winner of this year’s Early Reader category is: Bumoni’s Banana Trees! And the crowd went wild. 

In Bumoni’s Banana Trees, a little girl must save her family’s banana trees. For Bumoni and her community, the banana tree is not only a major source of livelihood and sustenance, but also daily essentials. Clever little Bumoni comes up with a great idea to keep the elephants away from her precious banana trees, while helping the large creatures. Mita Bordoloi tells a powerful tale of human-animal conflict set in Assam, which addresses modern problems related to sustainability, our carbon footprint and co-existence with endangered species.

Here’s a selection of some books the Neev Book Award international jury received this year, in this category aimed at our audience in their early years. 

This Is Where We Live by Manjari Chakravati (2021) – available in English, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, and Kannada – and also free online via Storyweaver / Ayyo…that parrot! – by Abhi Krish, illustrated by Shreya Sen (2021) – available in English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Gujurati, and Marathi

The books under consideration for the Early Years category for this year’s award included two very different wordless picture books. Ikru’s First Day of School is clearly aimed at the younger end of this age group who can read the pictures and follow one particular child’s experiences as he moves through his first day at school. It repays revisiting to dwell on the details in a book that delineates a universal experience at the same time as portraying diversity in Indian society.

It’s sometimes a mistaken belief that wordless books are only for young children whereas they can be very sophisticated and require reading in other ways than books that contain words. This Is Where We Live has appeal for Early Years readers but could also be enjoyed by an older age group. The pictures are entirely in black and white, so the light and shade within them is important, and they draw on a variety of techniques including cross-hatching. Two cats provide the focal points in a rural setting replete with lush vegetation and where weather plays a significant part in daily life.

Bumoni’s Banana Trees is a story based on real life events in Assam, seen from a child centred viewpoint and with an important underlying theme of sustainability. It was originally published in Assamese and, while English language publications are center stage in this award. It’s good to see the acknowledgement of books that started life in another of India’s many languages. This variety also plays a part in Ayyo…that parrot! in which Murali is teased by a multilingual parrot – or is the bird what it seems?

Aai and I – by Mamta Nainy, illustrated by Sanket Pethkar (2021) / Sometimes Mama, Sometimes Papa – by Nandini Nayar, illustrated by Upamanyu Bhattacharyya (2021)

Sensitive subjects are dealt with in several of the titles submitted. For example, in Paati’s Rasam, Malli, the child narrator expresses her grief following the death of her grandmother by recalling the special recipe they made together and treasures her memory by making it her own. A child’s response to her mother’s illness is subtly conveyed in Aai and I. The illness is not named but seems to be cancer as her treatment has resulted in hair loss. Her grandmother has always said how alike they look and this is reflected in mirror images in the illustrations. Has this changed and what can the child do to ameliorate this situation which is important to her identity?

Sometimes Mama, Sometimes Papa is a simple and effective exploration of everyday life for Keya whose parents have recently separated, an unusual circumstance among her school friends. Keya and her parents are shown co-operating so that there is no question of her having to choose between them.

Playing by Sunaina Ali, illustrated by Debasmita Dasgupta (2021) / Chhoti by Anam Fatima, art by Greystroke (2021)

Playing has a simple rhyming text in which a girl shows positively all the things she can do before revealing that she has an artificial leg. Disability is seen from another angle in Chhoti, in which a girl describes her frustration at the way she feels everyone is over protective about her little sister who has special needs.

The Boy in the Cupboard by Harshala Gupte, illustrated by Priya Dali (2021)

Finally, gender identity is a theme that occurs in other categories of this year’s award longlists and early exploration around this could begin with reading The Boy in the Cupboard.

2021 was an excellent year for picture books in India. It was such a pleasure to read the Neev Book Award nominated titles — and so difficult to choose between them.

Ann Lazim was Librarian at CLPE (Centre for Literacy in Primary Education) in London for 29 years. She previously worked in school & public libraries. Ann was centrally involved in reviving the UK section of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) in the mid 1990s and served as secretary then chair of the section and was on the international executive 2004-2008. She was co-director of the IBBY Congress in London in 2012 and is still on the IBBY UK committee. She completed an MA in Children’s Literature at Roehampton University in 2005. Since retiring from CLPE in March 2021 she has continued to be involved in a variety of voluntary projects both within and outside the children’s book world, including being a member of the Neev Book Award jury.

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

2022 GLLI blog editors for #WorldKidLitMonth
  • 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.

  • Katie Day is an international school teacher-librarian and one of the Jury Co-Chairs for the Neev Book Award. An American with a masters in children’s literature from the UK and a masters in library science from Australia, she has lived in Asia since 1997, including 15 years in Singapore, first at United World College of Southeast Asia and now at Tanglin Trust School.  She has also lived and worked in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the UK. Her Twitter handle is librarianedge.

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