#INDIAKIDLIT – Neev Book Award 2022: Emerging Readers category

by Ann Lazim

The Neev Book Awards winners were announced on Saturday, September 24th, at the Neev Literature Festival in Bangalore, India.

Yesterday we reported on the Early Years category of the award, with picture books for children aged 5 to 7. Now let’s turn to the Emerging Readers category, which caters to eager beginning readers, roughly between the ages of 6 to 8, where the goal is to find books which children are able to read independently. This can be a tricky slot to fill, but it has proved to be a strong category again this year, with 5 shortlisted books, compared with 3 in each of the other categories.

The 2022 Neev Book Award shortlist for the Emerging Readers category: Topi Rockets from Thumba by Menaka Raman, illustrated by Annada Menon (2021) / The Girl Who Was a Forest: Janaki Ammal – by Lavanya Karthik (2021) / The Homework by Ashwin Guha, illustrated by Vaibhav Kumaresh (2021)
The 2022 Neev Book Award shortlist for the Emerging Readers category: That Night – by Bijal Vachharajani, illustrated by Shrujana Niranjani Shridhar (2021) – available free on the Storyweaver platform in English, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu, Bahasa Indonesian, and Italian / Jamlo Walks – by Samina Mishra, illustrated by Tarique Aziz (2021)

And the 2022 winner, hot off the press, is: Jamlo Walks!

Jamlo Walks is a stunning picture book that draws on a real incident, of a child carrying the chillis she earned harvesting to her home village far away. This story explores the trials of a young migrant worker during the Covid-19 lockdown in India, who, like so many others, is forced to make her way home on foot. The reader goes along with Jamlo on her journey, which is interspersed with glimpses into the lives of middle-class urban children, who do not face the same challenges. A simple, yet powerful narrative that deals with themes of justice, inequality and humanity.

A wide range of themes is represented in the books submitted to the Emerging Readers category this year for the Neev Book Award.

Chumki and the Pangolin – by Lesley D. Biswas, illustrated by Anupama Ajinkye Apte (2021) / Nida Finds a Way – by Samina Mishra, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan (2021)

Reference to the Covid-19 pandemic also comes into Chumki and the Pangolin, which focuses prejudices and fears around Coronavirus and wildlife trafficking.

Gender equality and identity figure in several of the books. In Nida Finds a Way curious Nida needs adventures and new experiences such as riding a bike and climbing a tree but her over protective father always tries to stand in her way. The final chapter sees Nida and her grandmother joining a political protest – will her father accept her involvement? 

(Note: all the “hOle” books, a Duckbill series created by Sayoni Basu, perfectly match the criteria for this Emerging Readers category.)

Mini’s First Vote by Shabnam Minwalla and Ekta Bharti – available in print in Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu, and English – also available in French and Bahasa Indonesian via the Storyweaver platform / Reva and Prisha by Shals Mahajan, illustrated by Lavanya Karthik

Taking part in democracy is at the heart of Mini’s First Vote which is about voting in school elections for the class captain. It questions who has power and who has the best ideas even if they are not able to present them so effectively.

Reva and Prisha features a family with two mothers and their everyday lives described with affection and humour.

Lavanya Karthik’s The Girl Who Was a Forest is an accessible biography of botanist Janaki Ammal. The illustrations, with their limited palette, are well matched to the story. The book encourages children to take an interest in the natural world as well as find out more about this pioneering woman scientist. 

Another book that combines science and history with an element of biography is Topi Rockets from Thumba, which is the story behind India’s first-ever rocket launch.

The variety in the shortlist is demonstrated by The Homework, a humorous and well-designed picture book about children researching and presenting a topic on a wild animal. They choose a rhinoceros after deciding that Uncle Gopi is not a suitable subject! The way different fonts are used for asking questions and labelling is particularly pleasing.

Another shortlisted title – That Night – strikes a more serious tone. Bijal Vachharajani’s story (based on an experience from her own childhood) portrays a scary situation in which many children may find themselves in and explores it through a child’s questioning point of view. It combines a brief text in which the language complements the imagery in the striking illustrations which make especially effective use of hatching. 

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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