Look who's on the jury
Ahead of the third edition of a city literature festival for kids, we speak to five members who form part of the jury for India's first-ever children's choice awards
We don't know if we would have passed our school grades if we didn't write an answer to the "moral" of the story we read. But when we pose the same question to a few members of the jury for India's first Children's Choice Awards at the Peek-a-book children's literature festival, their answer bottles down to "nothing really". "Here, we don't do 'moral' of the story," festival director Lubaina Bandukwala adds. And after a 40-minute conversation with them, we get why.
The 15-member jury consists of students divided across five age groups ranging from five to over 13 years, who were selected after a call for applications was put out on social media. "Through the festival, we hope to engage them in activities that will hopefully translate into a love for reading. But we also want to know what children think of the publishing industry right now, and a five-year-old would read differently as compared to a 10-year-old. And it's safe to say that everyone on this jury really loves to read," Bandukwala shares. "You do like to read, right?" she asks the children for a confirmation. We hear a loud, "Yes!"
The themes of the shortlisted books largely strayed away from traditional happy-ending stories. One of the nominated books that five-year-old Anyssa Shah read was I Need to Pee by Neha Singh, which deals with the state of public toilets through the protagonist Rahi, who loves slurping refreshing drinks. So there wasn't a lesson to be learnt, or a forced message when you finished reading it, because it mirrored reality. And hence it made the cut for Shah, who "likes to read, but doesn't like to spell". For Shayaan Vaidya, eight, the protagonist from Ten Heads for Tanuj by Priya Narayanan was his favourite because it best resembled him. "He's so funny and there would be no story without him. He also has a younger brother like me," he says.
The humour also came through with Ninja Nani written by Lavanya Karthik that Shiraz Aga and Manasvi Dadbhawala, both nine years old, thoroughly enjoyed. "Deepu's grandmother is a ninja and I haven't read anything more funny," Dadbhawalla says, while adding that in a literary world where adventure is limited to Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, this was a refreshing read. "It wasn't inspired by anything; it was created. And it didn't feel like a copy. Indian authors use familiar names, places and situations, so their stories are different," she tells us. Aga concurs, "This is a very creative plot because we don't usually see grandmothers in action roles and we need more characters like this."
An integral issue that the jury highlighted was the focus on Indian authors that is often absent from school syllabuses. Ananya Shah, 11, explains, "You can't relate with British and American authors as most stories are about schooling. And they don't have students getting up early in the morning and more importantly, they don't have to wear uniforms! We need to give more attention to Indian writers as they write equally well."
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