On 23, 24 and 25 November, the Bookaroo Children’s Literature Festival was held in Delhi, bringing together about 70 authors, illustrators, theatre people and various other storytellers—and, of course, thousands of young readers. While 23 November was the schools’ day, the next two days were open to the public. Entry was free and the crowds were impressive.
The Sanskriti Anandgram complex was a perfect setting and the mildly sunny winter afternoon weather was just as conducive. There were readings and discussions, workshops and quizzes, storytelling and puppet shows—plenty of stuff to do for children. The sessions were age-banded, starting from 4- to 6-year-olds up to 12- to 14-year-olds.
In attendance were well-known names like Paro Anand, Sampurna Chattarji, Wendy Cooling, Anupa Lal, Ranjit Lal, Frane Lessac, Manas R. Mahapatra, Parnab Mukherjee, Roopa Pai, Jerry Pinto, Geeta Ramanujam, Anushka Ravishankar, Rosemarie Somaiah, Marcia Williams, Bulbul Sharma, Natasha Sharma and Ovidia Yu. They came from not just around India, but from Australia, France, Germany, Singapore, Sweden, the US and the UK.
Despite the obvious good that Bookaroo is doing, I feel it needs to take a closer look at its scheduling for future programmes. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. There were 10 different locations at the venue hosting different sessions—and this is not counting the gallery and the bookshop—which made for an impossibly packed and confusing schedule. As if it wasn’t hard enough keeping track of what was happening where, many similar sessions clashed, forcing visitors to choose—and more importantly, forcing children to miss out on sessions they’d like to have attended.
This was Bookaroo’s fifth year, and perhaps the only such event in India, where the focus is not on selling books—though there was a bookshop at the venue as one of the organizers is a bookshop—but on getting children closer to stories. This is particularly important since despite the growing focus on children’s and YA literature in India, it still lags behind Western contemporaries. Some of this was evident at Bookaroo, such as when a bunch of kids asked Roopa Pai if she was the author of Horrid Henry, and the bookshop itself seemed to have most of its crowd concentrated in the non-Indian section. Also, it is difficult not to make a comparison between the high-quality foreign books and the sometimes-tacky production of homegrown counterparts.
Be that as it may, Bookaroo fills an important space in the sphere of children’s books—not to mention its outreach programme for schools, Bookaroo in the City, which takes authors and others to schools for readings, dramatized sessions, workshops and discussions. BIC also covers Kendriya Vidyalayas, MCD schools, schools run by NGOs and so on, organizing sessions in both English and regional languages. This inclusion was something that has been missing so far in the Bookaroo festival, which is clearly tailored for a more upmarket, English-speaking audience.
But five years is not a very long time, and one waits to see how Bookaroo will evolve in the future. Meanwhile, some photos follow (click for full versions).