Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Adventures with Night

Junuka Deshpande is an artist, filmmaker and teacher. She likes to explore methods and forms of documenting and understanding people and their environment in an involved, collaborative, non-hierarchical and just way. She feels that it’s important to reach out to different kinds of children through art, storytelling and books. Junuka is the author and illustrator of the bilingual picture book, Night

“The head is like a cat but the body is like a tiger!”

A little voice came from somewhere in the audience. I was conducting a storytelling session at Buzz Book Club, Coimbatore, based on my book, Night, published by Tulika. The idea of the illustration was to suggest a tiger (which could be a cat) that the characters in the book spotted and ran away from. 

I started searching for the girl who had so spontaneously declared her view and finally saw her. She was smaller than the chair she was sitting on, but her eyes were wide and sparkling! I felt honoured as a visual storyteller.

Initially, I was apprehensive about talking about the black and white imaginative experimental illustrations in the book. Children are usually given colourful and ‘attractive’ visual material. My apprehension was about the newness of the black and white concept. I was proven wrong by the children. They took a deep interest in every page, expressing exactly what they thought. It was a good idea to project the illustrations on the screen in a size larger than life. 

We began with a small experiment. We switched off the lights and sat quietly with our eyes shut. Let’s pretend that the room is a forest, I said. As I talked, I moved about in the hall and on their own, children began mimicking animal sounds and bird calls. Later, we had a discussion based on all the different sounds we heard and imagined what it would be like if we too set off on a journey too – just like the two children in the book!

There is an illustration of a jungle where one of the trees has little elephants on it. The adults wanted to know why, but the children naturally accepted it. I was curious. Why are they elephants on the tree, I asked. One loud voice cried, “The children are fascinated by the forest so they are seeing like that!” 

I wrapped up with a drawing session where each child drew his/her own idea of the night. It was very interesting to see some of their interpretations.

The other event I did with Night was in broad daylight, at a children’s festival by Yellow Train, an alternative school in Coimbatore. In this session, we looked at the book and talked about each visual working around the idea of telling stories through drawings. 

The children in the group were very articulate and they seemed well-exposed to the world of books. I would love to make books with them based on their own stories and imagination – who knows how many author-illustrators one will find!

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