Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Why the Elephant has Tiny Eyes: Q and A with author Pow Aim Hailowng

             The first chaang, the first elephant, once had big eyes,
Which the animals thought looked beautiful and wise.
Then along comes a little wagtail and changes the chaang forever! So goes this hilarious folktale told by the Tai Phake, a lesser-known community from India’s northeast to which the author, Pow Aim Hailowng, belongs. Here’s what she has to say about the book (illustrated by the inimitable Priya Kuriyan), and why she wrote it. 

What was the inspiration to retell this folktale?
I relate the Tai Phake folktales to my mother narrating them as she prepared food or did other work, then to my father starting to tell them in the midst of a normal conversation, and one of the tales, in fact, to my grandfather who narrated it as we sat soaking in the winter sun. Years later, I realised that most of these tales were a lot of ‘why’s’. Like Why the Elephant has Tiny Eyes, ‘why does the cock crow when the sun rises?’, ‘why does the cuckoo lay her eggs in a crow’s nest?’, ‘why do some monkeys have red bottoms? and so on. They were all adorable and funny. I thought it would be nice to share these stories with other kids. As an adult, I thought the Tai Phake was among the lesser known tribes. Stories would be a good way to start introducing children to these tribes and about the existence of other ways of life.
Why did you choose verse over prose for this story?
As kids, we had to remember poems by heart to write them during exams. I always found it easy to remember poems that employed a rhyme scheme. For example, R. L. Stevenson’s poems, Travel – ‘I would like to rise and go, where the golden apples grow’, and The Vagabond– ‘Give to me the life I love, Let the lave go by me, Give the jolly heaven above, And the byway nigh me’, are still etched in my memory. Primarily because they rhymed and had a singsong wave to their rhythm. Of course, I understood their deeper meanings only years later. So when I tried to recall what I loved as a kid, and how easy it was to grasp something in verse form, I realized that kids would enjoy verse more. But, I also had a lot of fun rhyming the words.

How was the experience of telling this story to children? How did they respond to it?
At all those times when I told the story, children were curious to learn. Why the Elephant has Tiny Eyes’ has a wagtail bird, not usually found or seen in most places in India. So, the children want to know more about how they really look or where they can be found. The book, which has some Tai Phake words, also introduces them to a new language and they have been excited to learn them. But, children are also honest. If they are bored, they will tell you outright. So, writing a book for children and reciting it to them are two very different things. I am not sure if I will ever be prepared for their multiple reactions! I have a lot to learn.

When you are not writing stories, what are you usually doing?
I am a doctoral student. So when I am not writing, I am researching to write some more! The only difference is the kind of ‘stories’ I write! Apart from this, I also watch a lot of movies- Marvel series, the clich├ęd rom-coms, drama and so on.
Who are your favourite children’s authors?
Uncle Pai. He was the editor of the TINKLE magazine. Since he introduced a lot of the 90s kids to reading, I would count him as one of my favourite writers. I received a lovely handwritten letter from him when I was nine or ten years old. It was a rejection for a story I had contributed, but it was inspirational as it spoke to the mind of a nine or ten-year-old about never giving up. I still love reading the old TINKLE comics. Apart from him, my favourite authors would be Enid Blyton and Ruskin Bond.
What other stories would you like to see come alive as books?
The human imagination is limitless. The Harry Potter series is an example of what can be created – a whole new world. But I do feel that no matter what stories come out, there is also the need to talk about the accessibility of those books to every kid. If my book cannot be read by someone who is visually challenged, it means they will not be able to enjoy the same laughter as other kids. When a book is too expensive, it means the story might not reach every kid. Well, these issues keep popping in my mind. But like I said, the human imagination is limitless.
What books are you working on now?
I am still revelling in the satisfied feeling of having had a book in my name. There are more Tai Phake folktales that I would love to share with the world.  
      Want to read this humorous folktale? 
Go ahead, grab your copy here!


Pow Aim Hailowng belongs to the Tai Phake community. She is one of the few fortunate people who got to pursue higher studies and is currently working on a PhD in Legal Studies. Writing fiction is her passion.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Workshop on Creative Non-Fiction for Young Children

Presented by Parag and EdelGive in collaboration with Tulika Publishers

18 - 21 March 2019

About the Workshop

This four-day intensive workshop will be a think tank for writers and illustrators interested in producing creative non-fiction for young children. The workshop will expose participants to visual and verbal narratives and give them an opportunity to reflect on different aspects of creating non-fiction: from exploring a range of relationships between text and image to developing and sequencing narratives.

The workshop will also create a space for collective and individual discussion, encouraging participants to critically reflect on their own work in the process. In addition to getting an opportunity to review their ideas with a peer group, each participant will also have one-to-one critical reviews with the workshop coordinator, a senior editor and the publisher, who will offer their inputs and expertise.

About the Participants

Applicants to the workshop will be shortlisted on the basis of their entries.
A total of 10 candidates (5 writers and 5 illustrators) will be chosen to participate.

Call for Applicants

Your idea could be a book that explains concepts in science or maths in simple, tangible ways. It could be a biography of anyone from a mathematician or an astronomer to an artist or inventor. It could follow trails and happenings in the natural world, imagining it from non-human points of view. It could be a story on the environment that helps children draw links between their immediate surroundings and things that take place on a larger scale. Creating non-fiction for children is exploding with possibilities – you can take your pick! Your work should be aimed at 5- to 7-year-olds.

If you are a writer, please fill in the Application Form and email it to us along with any idea/ideas you have in mind. Also include other samples of your writing for children (fiction or non-fiction). This is just for us to get a sense of your work.

If you are an illustrator, please fill in the Application Form and email it to us along with a visual concept based on the brief above. Also include samples of visual sequences and images from your portfolio that reflect your approach.

About the Workshop Team
The workshop will be led by an experienced team of editors from Tulika who will also interact one-to-one with the participants.

·         Responses must be sent by 20 February 2019.
·         The shortlisted 8 writers and 8 illustrators will be asked to elaborate on one or two of the ideas and send them in by 1 March 2019.
·         The final list of 5 authors and 5 illustrators will be announced in the first week of March.
·         The chosen participants will attend the workshop from 18–21 March 2019 in Chennai. Their travel and accommodation expenses will be paid.
·         The writers and illustrators whose work is finally selected for publishing will be paid a one-time fee for the work.

Friday, December 21, 2018

My Experience Narrating 'A Home of Our Own' by Meghaa Aggarwal

Our own Meghaa Aggarwal has turned author with ‘A Home of Our Own’ (Tulika, 2018). Here she writes perceptively about her experiences reading it to children.

This year I ticked one off my bucket list — to author a children’s picture book. I’ve had this one on my list since 2014, when I first joined Tulika and was exposed to its rich and vibrant catalogue of picture books — that too in eight Indian languages, apart from English. But, as I discovered, becoming a published author is a mean feat, even if you work for the people you want to publish with!

Nevertheless, after four long years, this has finally been accomplished and I’m now a bona fide children’s author. But what I didn’t imagine was that my first children’s picture book would deal with a subject as sensitive as poverty, homelessness and the quest for happiness. 

It’s a relatively straightforward plot, about a group of street children playing house. In my narrations, I make children from the audience role-play the various characters in my story – rag-pickers, beggars, child-labourers – and arm them with props – old plastic bottles, discarded packets of chips, an empty paint bucket… After this we have a discussion on the book and a short activity.

So far, I must have narrated my story to over 100 children at different venues. They are usually quite happy role-playing. In fact, some of them eagerly raise their hands to do this — unfortunately, my story only has seven characters! After I arm the 'actors' with the props, I ask them and the audience to ponder over the significance of the props. 

Most of them initially struggle. Being children from relatively well-off families, they wonder how anyone could possibly play with things they consider to be 'garbage'. “Miss, they will put the plastic bottles and packets of chips in the dustbin at home,”, “Miss, who ate the chips?” A 10-year-old even had an epiphany, "Miss, miss, they are recycling things, isn't it?!" But soon enough they get the hang of it and begin to enjoy the 'guessing game'. Witnessing their imagination at play and their delight, when they discover how an old, square carton can also be a TV, is an inimitable experience!

Social distinction and class-consciousness are so ingrained in our society that even five-year-olds are not entirely immune to these. There is an evident perception of 'the other' when my typical audience first talks about street children. They're poor, they're dirty, they steal, they're lonely, they use cuss words — the adult-influenced judgement is unmistakable because none of the children admit to ever actually interacting with street kids. One four-year-old innocently disclosed, “Mumma kehti hai woh chhee-chhee hote hain aur woh maarte bhi hain,” (Mummy says that they’re dirty and they also hit you).

Even during the act, I can sometimes sense mild discomfort when I first introduce the ‘actors’ to their roles. Some of the parents, if they’re around, don’t look too happy. 

Sometimes this perceived discomfort rubs off on me too. For instance, once I picked a particularly dark-skinned girl for the role of a rag-picker and I immediately wondered if she or her mother, sitting in the audience, might wonder if I picked her because of her skin colour. Another time, I was narrating to a group of underprivileged kids and I wondered if they would be comfortable playing the role of street children, who are not too far removed from their daily lives.

One parent even told me that while she enjoyed the fun-filled narration, with acting, props and even a cardboard car, she thought the subject was too heavy for young children. “Don’t you think literature for young children should be about tickling the funny bone?” 

But in my discussions with the children following the narration, I find them to be very discerning. A lot of them begin to wonder how street children would be living. “Where do they live, if they don’t have a home?”, “Where are their parents?”, “Do they wish for new toys to play with?” Some children also remark on how the characters are so happy despite all their troubles. “I think the story is about how one does not need too many things to be happy,” “I think these children are happy because they have so many friends to play with”. I still remember one boy who was particularly moved by a character who scavenges food from garbage bins, “Miss, miss I will never waste my dabba and I will share it with children who are hungry.” 

I’m ever-thankful for their thoughtfulness. It fulfils all the hopes I have in my book.

So, I’ll say what I wanted to say to the well-intentioned parent but couldn’t phrase it as well at the time, “We underestimate our children — they’re more resilient than we think. They are growing up in a world which is as ugly as it is beautiful and their curious minds are full of unanswered questions. Questions that are unanswered because they’re rarely discussed in their social milieu — the home and the classroom. Questions that aren’t ‘okay’ because for adults, children are too innocent to be tainted with the often-uncomfortable answers. But the truth is, children often do have these questions on their mind and I’ve come to believe that literature is the floodgate that opens to unleash all these questions, offer answers and fill a void in a child’s mind.”

A Home of Our Own’ has been going places. Follow the car! Get your copy of the book here!