Excuse the breathlessness but I’ve been on an author adventure! I’m just back from India and another visit to the amazing Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival in Delhi.
On the way, I flew to Bangalore to run a one-day workshop on Writing For Children at the British Council Library. I dozed through the overnight flight, checked into the hotel, slept a few hour and then went out to walk. I found the nearby British Library – yes, that urgent need to see "my venue" - then went wandering in some nearby gardens. I sat in the warm sun, watching sparkling water spraying on green lawns and flowerbeds. A short way over, a gang of laughing street children ran along the paths, trailing a bouncing cloud of bright balloons above their heads. Then I spied inside a small archeology museum, managed more intersting Indian pavements, made another brave crossing of the road, and retired to a very early bed.
Then came the enjoyable Bangalore workshop day with a group enthusiastic students. Although Enid Blyton had been a favourite children’s book of many of the students, there's a great wish for stories that reflect the Indian child's experience.
Next day came the flight to Kolkata, where the calm of the elegant hotel contrasted with my sightsseing stroll along the crowded, choking streets. But such an energy! The British Council Library there had kindly invited me to the Oxford Road Bookshop to hear Philip Hensher on his novel “Scenes from An Early Life”, his talk framed by a Bengali musical recitation. At the bookshop I met up with the people involved with the next day so was able to catch up on what was happening, when and where. Emails don't tell you all you need to know.
Yes, the Kolkata workshop was another happy experience. Must admit I felt quite sad that, having met the lovely students during the sessions and through their writing exercises, I then had too leave them again. Within hours I was back to the airport, waiting for the Delhi plane. Many thanks to all at British Council India for their help with these workshop days and their support for my Bookaroo visit to India.
On Thursday, I was driven out into the country south of Delhi, to the Gairatpu Baas Panchayat School at Tickli Bottom. After four cheerful story sessions with pupils from that school and others ( aged from 3 to 12) I spent a time chatting with the staff about telling stories. My visit ended with a wonderful staff picnic under the trees as the children played nearby, and then a look around the school. Many thanks to Head Teacher Sheela Bazroy and everyone for welcoming me to such a happy place.
The next day, Friday, was Bookaroo Schools Day. I was sent to help at the Doodle Wall, chatting to waiting children while others went up to draw and doodle an extraordinary Bookaroo Bookworm with the wonderful illustrator Vandana Bist. Her lyrical illustrations, seen in the Bookaroo Gallery, reminded me of Jane Ray. At the Doodlewall, the children and I talked about what it means to “eat up books” – whether as bookworm or reader -and I told them about Oliver Jeffers’ picture book “The Book Eating Boy”, In return, they told me about their favourite books.
At the second Doodlewall session, enthusiastic illustrator Petr Horacek began by showing and talking about his books, inspiring his young audience to draw animals doing unusual things and how to blend pastel or pencil colours to create stronger colours. The resulting collage was a riot of colour and fun! (Petr's name should take you to his Bookaroo blog!)
Schools Day offered all sorts of other events including story sessions from Usha Venkatraman, Shamim Padamsee and more, as well as talks and workshops from UK illustrator Marcia Williams, Bhopal illustrator Jitendra Thakur, plus author Grant Clark from Australia and writer & editor Nividetha Subramanaim. Too soon School Day was over – children needed to be bussed back to school, of course - and it was time to help sort stationery for the next day.
That Friday evening, the excited authors, illustrators and storytellers were back at the hotel getting ready for the Bookaroo Celebration Dinner with the sponsors, including the Hindu Times and many others involved in the Bookaroo Trust. A sparkling occasion!
I particularly enjoyed the fact that we, the “artists”, coming from across the world, had been put in one hotel, mostly, so we could make friends and share our many different experiences over the three nights we were staying and travelling together. If you want to know all the artists and authors involved, do look at the Bookaroo site but there had aslo been Bookaroo in the City events running throughout much of November. (This team also take Bookaroo all the way to Kashmir!)
On Saturday, Bookaroo saw huge crowds of chattering children and families arriving at the venue, Sanskriti Open Air Museum. I had a storytelling session for four to six year old children and their families in the morning and a session for older children about my book “The Third Elephant”, now published by Walker India.
This small novel was a special book for me and it felt an honour to be there, talking about the story behind the story and hearing the children’s own wishes - as well as knowing the whole Bookaroo site was buzzing with plenty more exciting sessions.
Then I crept back to helping with stationery, in the care of a regular Bookaroo speaker, visitor and helper, Wendy Cooling. She was busy all weekend creating “D is for Delhi”, a clever collage alphabet book, with groups of eager children.
Bookaroo Sunday was suddenly busier! I was booked for another storytime for small ones but also became part of an "emergency" session. Sadly, long-established children’s author Ruskin Bond was unable to attend Bookaroo.
Instead, a panel made up from several authors and artists was there to meet the many school-children waiting with their questions around the amphitheatre. Singapore storyteller Rosemarie Somaiah most ably led the panel, which included Indian writer and ornithologist Ranjit Lal.
After lunch, I was back at the amphitheatre again, this time admiring some beautiful puppets, including an alluring dancer with the most wiggly of hips and . . .
Oh dear. There was so much going on. And so much that I’ve left out, so many names, so many small details I’d love to share.
What I’d most like to leave you with is my admiration for all involved, not only all the authors, illustrators and storytellers I saw but especially for the main Bookaroo Trust organisers: Swati Roy & M. Venatesh of Eureka Children’s Bookshop in Delhi and Jo Williams as well asall the sponsors who value this admirable vision of children's literature reaching out through India.
Wishing all at Bookaroo good luck and much strength for your 6th Edition! .
And, ABBA reader, if you are still here, thank you for listening!