Being asked to be on the jury panel for the 2014 Raymond Crossword Book Award 2014 for Children’s Writing was not only exciting, but also an immense responsibility. To evaluate the 60-odd books—including picture books and illustrated books, middle-grade and young adult novels, non-fiction and various others that bucked easy slotting—written and illustrated by contemporaries was a scary thought. A single award clubbing all ‘children’s’ books into one category was also immensely unfair, making the evaluation process tricky.
In the end, however, it was an easy decision. My fellow panelists, Shilpa Ranade and Samina Mishra, and I were agreed unamimously on this year’s winner, Timmi in Tangles by Shals Mahajan, illustrated by Shreya Sen.
Here is the citation note for the award, which explains why Timmi stands out in the crowd:
Writing for younger children is often seen as something ‘easy’, something that does not require too much of effort or care, something that anyone can do, something not challenging enough. But simple does not mean simplistic.
When we cast our mind back to our childhood, the chances are that our earliest memories are of the stories we heard and read, and made up. The early years are critical, formative years of our lives and the stories we hear can have a profound impact on how we see the world. So, in fact, telling stories to younger children requires extraordinary skill, and an ablity to represent a complex world in simple and engaging ways. It also brings with it an immense responsibility. And that is why Timmi in Tangles is such a remarkable book and a delightful surprise in this year’s collection.
In hir debut as a children’s writer, Shals Mahajan captures the child’s world and her imagination beautifully—the easy slipping between fantasy and reality, the need to assert and to have an opinion, and the important place of play as a child starts to make sense of the world she lives in. Shals does all this without ever losing the voice of Timmi, the young protagonist of the book. Rooted firmly in contemporary urban India, Timmi’s world reflects everyday experiences that resonate across myriad childhoods and at the same time creates room for representations that show us that the tangles in Timmi’s world are as much created by the grown-ups as by her. Timmi comes from a non-traditional family and that fact is presented in a matter-of-fact manner, challenging heteronormative settings in a gentle, positive way.
The quiet and unpretentious manner of the book is matched by the apt illustrations by Shreya Sen that are just as unassuming as the writing in this charming book. The little pictures match the little world portrayed in the little book, while telling a big story. Timmi has been made all the more endearing by the childlike squiggly lines and blobs the illustrator chose to use to draw her and her world. Made with the same ease as the effortless storytelling, the image and the words entwine to make the book unforgettable.
For all this and more, Timmi in Tangles is the deserved winner of this year’s award.
~Samina Mishra, Shilpa Ranade and Payal Dhar