In 2018 the Big Little Book Award for Author went to Mr. Nagesh Hegde for significant contribution to Kannada children’s literature. At Parag we wanted to capitalize this opportunity and use Mr. Hegde’s extensive experience of writing on the environment and for children and young adults. That year we also supported publication of five books on environment and wildlife in partnership with Kalpvriksh – Po Tricks his Foe (story of the pangolin), The Poop Book (All about Animal Poop), People and Wildlife, The Dalai Lama’s Cranes and Critters around Our Homes. With Nagesh Hegde on board we started exploring publishers who would be keen to take on the project of translating and publishing the titles in Kannada. We were excited. We had the content, books were beautifully illustrated and all a publisher had to do was translate and print. They would get the open files from Kalpvriksh and replace the English text with Kannada! But we were in for a surprise. No publisher, including the two leading ones, were willing to invest in translation and printing of picture books. They were appreciative of the content but were convinced there was no market for the books. Also, good quality picture book pricing would be higher and they did not believe customers would pay for the books.
We have been struggling for the past two years to get good Kannada children’s book into our libraries. We know from our libraries that when children get their hands on good book they read. So Parag supported the translation of the books. After much negotiation Ankita Prakashan came on board as our publishing partner and the Kannada edition has now been printed. The next step will be to promote the books and ensure they reach children.
Translation is one way in which we are trying to rejuvenate children’s literature in Kannada and add contemporary titles to the sector. In 2016 Parag decided to re-print classic Kannada poems as picture books. The process was time intensive. Along with our publisher Pratham Books, we identified a set of poems that were relevant to the times and had universal appeal. We sought permission from the family members of the poets who were long gone. Then illustrators were identified. The initial idea was to get the poems illustrated by local illustrators. Sadly, that did not work out except for one book. The others poems were translated into English/Hindi and given to illustrators. The result was a set of five picture books that feature some of the famous and well known poetry of Kannada authors/poets including G.P. Rajaratnam, Kuvempu, Panje Mangeswar Rao, B.K Thirumalamma and Siddaiah Puranik. The books were presented as a set of classics titled “Makkala Janapriya Sahitya.
The books were an instant hit with children accessing our libraries in Yadgir, Karnataka. Parents, who had earlier read the poems in textbooks, were thrilled to see them as picture books. Earlier the poems were out of print and lost to current generation of children, but the picture book format has made them accessible again. Yet dissemination remains a challenge and the sale of books is slow at best.
During the Big Little Book Award process in 2018, we got insights into Kannada children’s literature. In the process of receiving nominations, talking to the jury members and going through the work of nominees, we realized that Kannada children’s literature had several classics for children written by famous authors and poets. But little contemporary writing was happening. There were a few authors who were writing or wanted to write for children, but the publishing ecosystem did not support them. So Parag and Azim Premji University’s Kathavana children’s literature festival are partnering to bring stakeholders together and explore ways to rejuvenate the sector. In the first of many workshops to be held, we brought together authors, publishers and educationists to discuss the existing challenges and brainstorm possible solutions. Original and contemporary content, new voices, lack of a reading culture, absence of libraries from schools, teachers not reading and dissemination and demand for children’s books were some of the challenges that were discussed. Many things need to be done to catalyse the Kannada children’s literature ecosystem. Some of the areas identified that we jointly identified for future work are workshops to nurture new writers, getting established authors to write more for children, working with publishers to publish new content and focusing on advocacy to create spaces for reading literature and using it with children. Watch this space for more developments in the future.