Wednesday, May 15, 2019

#MayilVerse for Better or Worse!

So it’s time to emerge
And spread my wings to fly
The expressions that I once submerged
Take me through the sky

                   – excerpt from the winning poem, I Am, by winner Aditi V (age 15)

The third book in the Mayil series, This is me, Mayil, is named after a poem Mayil writes. Authors Niveditha Subramanian and Sowmya Rajendran explore a teenager’s emerging sense of identity in a world of 'selifiesteem' and soft focus filters. Tulika's growing list of Teens&Tweens books ( made us want to find out what 'Me' means for children today. Little did we know how surprised we were going to be with the answers!

As the poems flowed in, there was one recurring theme –  I am unique. No compromise is a promising beginning for the next generation of poets! The entries also covered a wide range of styles. There were lists and likes. Others that were immensely rappable and some that made us smile.

I like to play games
But not learning scientific names 
                                                       – Harshit Gupta (age 11)

The girl who can turn and twist like rubber
This is me,
The girl who can do all sorts of drama
This is me.
                                                           Meerashri (age 11)

Most gave us hope, whether it was for a better, greener world or one where reading is still valued. Like our other winner all the way from Singapore.

I am from books 
Books with pages 
Caressing a world
Far greater
Than the one we live in
                                                       Navya Singh (age 14), winner

Authors Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran at the event.

There were poems of acceptance and rebellion. Promising and performed with an enthusiasm that had most of us cheering along! 

Don’t know what I want to tell myself,
Am I the boss or Santa’s elf?
My mind is filled with a lot of confusion,
A lot of options, a lot of illusions,
Am I being the person the world wants me to be,
No dammit
I’m not a project
I’m ‘ME’.
     Jiya Francis (age 11), special mention

...and now that this girl is free
I’ll yell it from the rooftops
that this is who
I’m supposed to be
no matter what I look like
no matter what my gender is
no matter who I like
no matter what
because this
this mess of frizzy hair
this constellation of acne upon my cheeks
this short, chubby kid
this is me
                                                                – Janani Balaji (age 13), winner

Then there were ones that made us sit up and notice the bold self awareness that was almost painful. At an age when most kids do not understand or even notice bullying, body shaming or gender!

Hello, anybody there?
It's me, just me over here,
I may look like a big bully to you,
But no, I am always kind at heart.

     Shravanthika Karthik (age 10)

The event at the Tulika bookstore, featuring our local participants, saw 14 performances. The shortlisted poets from outside Chennai sent in video and audio performances that made us wish we had some kind of instantaneous travel portal. We would love to have seen them live! 

A special shout out to the parents who brought the kids to the store and sent us their lovingly taken video performances. You are doing it right!

Want to dive into the Mehyl zone? 
Grand your copy of series, starting from Mayil Will Not Be Quiet! here.


Monday, April 1, 2019

Warrior Women: Q and A with author-illustrator Tara Anand

 Flashing swords, firing guns, charging on horseback, planning strategies and talking peace… these twelve warriors did it all, and how! Some were royalty and some ordinary, but extraordinary courage and determination was common among these women.

Setting aside stories about men who ruled and protected women, Warrior Women is a slice of our lesser-known history, which the talented Tara Anand (author and illustrator) brings to light with striking illustrations.  We spoke to the history buff about her book, her art and her interests.  

A lot of young people find history boring. How about you?
I love history. I will continue to obsessively consume history related podcasts, books, movies and documentaries.
What kind of books have had an impact on you?
I read a lot, so it’s difficult to pin down just a few that have had an impact on me. Although, the books that I read as a kid like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, definitely had the most lasting impact on me!
In an interview, you once said that you grew up reading a lot of Tulika books. Any favourites?
I still have my first copy of Ekki Dokki. I even took it with me to college in the US!
Talking about this book, can you tell us where the seed came from and how it germinated into Warrior Women?
It started with a conversation I had with someone, where we were talking about powerful women in history, and I couldn’t name more than one or two Indians. So, I went home and did the research, which turned into my initial series of illustrations (‘I Am No Man’). I think, collaborating with Tulika and expanding the illustrations into a book, gave more dimensions to the stories!
What pops out of this book are the bold visuals. Did the look come to you right away, or did you work on it?
My favourite part of any piece is the colours, so that was my priority while working on the visuals. I definitely had to work on them a lot, because I wanted to create spreads that were fun, bold and super colourful!

Tara's bold visualisations brings the courage of 12 warriors to light 

Warrior Women is being hailed for its feminist approach to history. Was shifting the male-centric focus your motive?
Definitely. I think the version of history that most people know is primarily the story of men. So telling the story of women, especially those with power and agency, restores balance to the narrative. Alongside, it also gives 21st century women an idea about the legacy that they’re a part of!
Could you name some gender stereotype defying books that you think are must-reads for young readers?
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls is an obvious must. Similarly, Like a Girl (that I was lucky enough to contribute a couple of illustrations to) by Aparna Jain, covers Indian women across various fields, and Frida by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan is also really lovely! Outside the children’s picture books realm, I think Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a timeless story about a very strong, intelligent female character. Also, for the slightly older audience, I’d suggest Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Katie Green’s Lighter Than My Shadow.
Who are your favourite illustrators?
This list is always changing, but I’m currently loving Emma Rios, Jillian Tamaki and Frances Jetter!
Where does your art take inspiration from?
Usually, from a lot from fine arts, comics, animated movies, books and the people in my life!
The next book with Tulika is on women scientists. Any others in the pipeline?
I’d love to work on something about women in art or dance. It’s also my indulgent wish to illustrate a story about a tiger, because I love drawing them!
Want to dive into history with Tara’s dynamic illustrations?
Grab your copy of the Warrior Women here!

Tara Anand is a Mumbai-based illustrator, currently doing a BFA at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Her art is influenced by books, history and people around her. In 2016, at just age 17, she illustrated warrior queens from Indian history in the series I am no man, which won her a 'First Ladies' award from the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Picked up by Tulika, it evolved into this book. 

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.