“A Wonderland for Children.” Sutapa Basu

August 23, 2023by Kids Eureka0

In this blog, ‘A Wonderland for Children’, celebrated author Sutapa Basu writes about her impression

I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.
I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.
I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

So simply, Julia Donaldson aptly describes the power of the written word. It zips you across time, spins you around worlds and lets you change shapes at a whim.

Just the same way, the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival is not just about books. It wants to manifest to young minds how books can change lives, change perspectives, change worldviews. Endless possibilities, innumerable worlds, impossible dreams can be revealed only through books to their readers. That is what Bookaroo is all about…the enchantment of reading…the magic that books carry within them.

The 13th edition of Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival was held after more than a year on 27th and 28th November, at the National Rail Museum, New Delhi. Keeping aside the fear of low footfalls, Swati and Venkatesh, the co-founders decided to organise the festival outdoors. They felt, ‘It was time to bring some normalcy back into the lives of our children.’ In only 45 days after this thought, Bookaroo was back in all its splendour.

Forty-six speakers; authors, illustrators, storytellers, sponsors, publishers, designers coming from places such as Gangtok, Mumbai, Pune, Srinagar, Bhopal, Vadodara and of course, Delhi participated this year. Eminent authors such as Paro Anand and well-known artists like Savio Mascarhenas interacted with the kids during sessions of storytelling, discussions, poetry, crafts and cartooning at the six venues.

Here are a few of my impressions of the festival.

It was the first time that I was invited as a speaker to the Bookaroo though I had been a frequent visitor. As I stood on a pleasant Saturday morning at the gates of the Rail Museum, with colourful tents flashing between foliage, it felt like a carnival. At a time when people are wary of physical interactions, long queues were thronging the ticket counters. While it is difficult for adults to get past the horrifying memories of the past month, I realised how resilient children are…how easily they bounce back. Erasing bad memories, they had  accepted the discomfort of masks and sanitizers and were ready to welcome outdoor events like this one, their favourite festival. The chattering crowds only reiterated how correctly Swati and Venkatesh had gauged young minds and decided to hold this year’s Bookaroo Festival in the verdant precincts of the Rail Museum. It brought back ‘normalcy’ to all our lives.

As I walked in and identified my mugshot among the line-up of speakers on giant billboards, I saw many parents pointing out the faces of favourite authors or illustrators to their kids. Soft sunlight flickered on eager, young faces gathered at every venue as volunteers went around ensuring people were masked up and social distancing was maintained.

My own sessions turned out to be great learning experiences. At my creative writing workshop, it was hard to believe I was speaking to pre-teens. Their discerning responses to my questions, their unique story ideas, smart plots, and description of unusual characters convinced me they were certainly much more in their element than I had expected. I made a mental note to up my game the next time.

The 6-to 10-year-olds at my storytelling session were adorably frank and very articulate. As I narrated a story from my latest book, Princesses, Monsters and Magical Creatures, they informed me that demons can never be victorious over princes in a story. ‘You see,’ they instructed me, ‘Princes cannot be defeated. They always win. That makes the story end happily.’ Another lesson learned!

Afterwards, I walked through the festival and attended a few sessions. The atmosphere was charged with excitement as parents and kids huddled over the festival brochures feverishly marking session timings and then rushing off to attend not-to-be-missed events or to hear their favourite author. Impatient children dragged their parents towards the Kahani Tree or quizzing in The Yard or to draw cartoons at the Doodle Wall or create wonderful stuff at Crafty Corner. The bookstore was mobbed at all times with constant wriggly queues forming at the author-signing desks.

What I really found most perceptive was the Wall of Healing. I stumbled upon children busy scribbling on post-it notes. They were penning down memories that had been painful or caused them angst. They stuck their notes on the Wall of Healing. Very soon, the wall was fluttering with colourful bits of paper, each one sharing a soulful tale. It was a thoughtful way to heal young minds. My salute to the compassion of the Bookaroo team for this intuitive initiative.

For a literature festival organised in such a short time, the Bookaroo was extremely well-coordinated. Swati and Venkatesh were everywhere overseeing everything from directing sound system teams to guiding parents to instructing volunteers and even taking time out for a personal word with every speaker. My appreciation and gratitude go out to them, the tireless volunteers and the other organisers for their hospitality and warmth.

Truly, the energy, the buzz, the ardour and passion visible at the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival makes it one of its kind. The fest has a legacy of not just contributing to children’s literature but also giving writers from the milieu a platform to showcase their work. Along with the children of this country, I fervently hope that year after year, Bookaroo will continue to bring us wonderful books and provide pursuits that promote reading. As for me, I am completely bewitched by this fantastic fest and wait to participate in more Bookaroos of the future.