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Ambika Shaligram | Sunday, 25 September 2016 AT 09:05 PM IST
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Tata Literature Live!’ Mumbai Literature Festival will be unveiling The Big Little Book Award at this year’s edition. The award has been instituted by the Parag Initiative of the Tata Trusts and the Mumbai Literature Festival to recognise and honour significant contribution of  authors and illustrators to children’s literature in Indian languages. The first award will be given to a Marathi litterateur and illustrator/artist.

Amrita Patwardhan, who handles the Tata Trusts education portfolio, is one of the judges. Here, she shares her thoughts on children’s literature and the Parag Initiative which is aimed at boosting independent publishers of children’s books .   
How would you explain your transition from being a primary teacher to holding the education portfolio of Tata Trusts? Do the roles intersect at any point?
My work as a primary school teacher in Aksharnandan School in Pune, was one of the most important experiences for me as an educator. Planning and then translating a curriculum in the class, handling diverse learning needs of children, learning classroom management that supports objectives and reflections on the role of the teacher who is also a learner, are some important insights from my primary school teaching experience.
This experience, along with my formal training in child development and education, research and exposure to diverse field settings, including rural and tribal, has helped me with perspective, skills and understanding required to shape and handle a large and diverse education portfolio of Tata Trusts.

What was your experience of primary education system? And, how have you implemented those lessons in Parag Initiative of Tata Trusts?
The Parag Initiative evolved in response to the recommendation we received as part of the five year Strategic Plan led by Professor Krishna Kumar, in 2005. The Strategic Plan urged Tata Trusts to invest in sector gaps and children’s literature was one of those critical, yet invisible gap areas that was outlined for our focused attention. So the process of building an initiative involved consulting various stakeholders and developing partnerships. My past experience as a teacher was also drawn upon.
In Aksharnandan, where I was teaching English to Marathi medium students, I set up a lending library of English and Hindi books for Grade 3 onwards. This was with the belief that easy access to curated collection of good children’s books can support learning a new language and motivate them to read.
The Parag Initiative’s thrust on supporting development, dissemination of quality books, setting up libraries, building capacities of librarians/ teachers and illustrators has enabled us to build on diverse needs as experienced by us and validated by experts.

In one of the Parag Initiative reports, you said ‘basically the idea is to create space and environment where a newer kind of thinking, experimentation around creating content for children can be done with focus more on the printed material but not excluding other forms’. Comment.
Supporting development and dissemination of storybooks for children in various Indian languages; creation of storybooks in inclusive formats such as braille are among various initiatives that Parag has taken. Since paying capacity, visibility and investment in Indian language publishing remains limited, it deserves strong commitment from foundations, civil society groups and governments.
Parag Initiative is our way to contribute to sector building and the ‘Big Little Book Award’ is instituted to recognise authors and illustrators who have made outstanding contribution to Indian children’s literature.

Can we know which authors and illustrators are in running for Tata Literature Live!’s Mumbai Literature Festival’s The Big Little Book (BLB) Award?
We received nominations for 30 illustrators and 12 authors for BLB Award. Considering that this was the very first year when the award was announced, we received a good response. Thereafter, an internal committee prepared a longlist and shared it with jury along with a list of books by each author/illustrator. At present, the jury is working on generating a shortlist which will be announced in early October. So, watch the space!

What did you read in your childhood? And, what are your thoughts on today’s children’s literature?

Studying in a Marathi medium school, I mostly read Marathi literature while growing up. Some of my favourites were, Faster Fene series by Bha Ra Bhagwat, Chaughijani (excellent translation of Little Women by Shanta Shelke), Padas (moving translation of The Yearling), Lambutangi Pippi (illustrated version of Pippi Longstocking that is now out of print) and poems by Vinda Karandikar.
Some of the books I have read and enjoyed deeply in recent years are Born to run by Michael Morpurgo, Moin and Monster by Anushka Ravishankar, Hanna’s suitcase (translated by Madhuri Purandare), Wave wordless picture book by Susie Lee, Biblioburrow by Jennet Winter, Malu Bhalu by Kamla Bhasin and Mukund and Riyaz by Nina Sabnani.
Being a mother to 7 and 11-year-olds, I have been able to revisit children’s books and read new ones through the eyes of my children. I am currently reading Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone,’ on insistence of my son.

The author can be followed on Twitter @riceandpickle

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