Baby Steps: India’s first children’s literature festival, Bookaroo

As India’s first children’s literature festival, Bookaroo bags award at the London Book Fair, co-founders Swati Roy and Jo Williams talk about their journey.

Written by Pallavi Chattopadhyay | Published:March 18, 2017 12:16 am
bookaroo, children's literature, literature fetival, london book fair, books, literature, indian express news Visitors at one of the earlier editions of Bookaroo.

You just won the International Excellence Award at the London Book Fair. How does it feel to receive global applause?

It’s an affirmation of our belief that a children’s literature festival can stand on its own. It has just been two days since the announcement was made and is, therefore, too early to measure the impact it may have. However, it has been heartening to discover — at the London Book Fair — how many people have heard of Bookaroo.

How have you seen Bookaroo progress since it was founded in 2008?

It has been a phenomenal journey with its fair share of twists, turns and challenges, ranging from unpredictable sponsors to even more unpredictable weather. Passion, perseverance and positivity have enabled us to surmount obstacles so that without any guaranteed sponsorship, Bookaroo has now travelled to seven cities in India and one in Malaysia. Building a community of readers, writers, illustrators, poets and storytellers across continents has brought its own rewards.

What, do you think, is the most fun part about organising a children’s literature festival?

For us, having the freedom to chase our dreams, to let our imagination soar and then to see the pieces of the puzzle come together — Bookaroo after Bookaroo — is something that never ceases to excite us.

What is your take on children’s literature in India?

There are many more children’s book publishers in the business now compared to even five years ago and more titles are being published. However, there needs to be a concerted marketing and promotional push to ensure sales.

What have been your biggest challenges as organisers of the festival?

Overcoming the scepticism that a standalone family literature event for children could succeed without having schools send busloads of children is a constant battle. Reading for pleasure has never been a popular concept in India, so changing that mindset has been, and remains, a challenge. Unlike adult festivals where only genres have to be taken into account, here, the ages of the children have to be carefully considered for a balance. Securing funding is an issue for all festivals but a children’s literature festival is even less attractive. Another challenge is to ensure that a children’s literature festival does not become a circus.

What have been the most memorable responses to the festival?

There have been many instances. Once a young girl came up to us to ask if we could hold the festival every weekend. A boy who, when asked what he liked best about the festival, replied: “Everything”. A four-year-old who had very reluctantly left the venue (with her parents), returned after a while to make sure that the event had actually ended.

What are your plans for the upcoming editions of Bookaroo?

Bookaroo hopes to travel to more and more cities in India and neighbouring countries where the programmes will be curated so as to reflect the unique flavour of that region. As Bookaroo prepares to celebrate its 10th birthday in Delhi, we are planning to mark the occasion in 10 special ways.

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