JUMPSTART 2014: festival for creators of children’s content

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Two cities – New Delhi and Bengaluru, three days, 13 speakers, four countries, eight industries – Jumpstart was studded with panel discussions, presentations, interactive sessions, feedback sessions and master-classes. The 6th edition of JUMPSTART was successfully held in New Delhi (August 25-26, 2014) and Bengaluru (August 28). Organised by German Book Office (GBO), India and inaugurated by Dr Martin Hanz, deputy chief of mission, The German Embassy, New Delhi, this festival for the creators of Children’s content, took off with an invigorating address by Nury Vittachi a.k.a Mr. Jam! Nury spoke about the ‘importance’ of children’s content creators and supported this with hard facts that no one could refute! From Harry Potter to The Hunger Games and right now The Fault In Our Stars, he demonstrated how ‘Children’s literature underlies and dominates the whole entertainment industry!’ He also brought out many interesting facts, examining the history and contexts of children’s content.

The sessions that followed “PLAYWRITE – the idea of play in children’s books’ and ‘PLAYSCHOOL – Play in and as Pedagogy” flowed seamlessly one to the other in many ways. Sophie Benini Pietromarchi, began the session with a dream and the importance of it, along with playing. She encouraged everyone to go play with children, go on a treasure hunt and collect all the treasures to be able to create magic on a page. “Ask yourself if your design allows your reader to ‘experience’ the book. The process of creating a children’s book, is not simplification’ but rather a going back to the essentials. The process of illustration also allows you to be ‘universal at another level. And as a creator, you have a second chance at ‘being a child’,” she said.

While, Asha Nehemiah begun with “Children don’t need an invitation to play, they simply do, and in the most unusual ways….” She spoke about how as a writer for children, she uses the simple and seemingly ordinary to weave stories, children don’t just accept but they embrace the magic in your stories! She ended her presentation, saying, “When children engage playfully and noisily and happily with stories, pictures and words, don’t just encourage them, join them.”

Nury Vittachi, back on this panel, spoke about harnessing a child’s creativity, entertaining everyone with the story of how “Mr. Edward Teddy Bear” became “Winnie the Pooh”, and just in case you didn’t know, it was the writer’s child who came up with it!

The “Playschool: Play in and as Pedagogy” session began with Amukta Mahapatra, who is presently involved in a committee that is reviewing ‘Activity Based Learning and its variations’ in seven states in India. She spoke about the natural instinct that all human beings have to explore. But very often adults use ‘play’ patronisingly with children and this defeats the purpose, harming a child’s natural instinct. Children take play very seriously, but, she says ‘our education system allows for very little play and exploring. A child’s natural tendencies are suppressed, and learning is imposed on children via outdated models. And there is a need for more awareness so that we allow children to live more spontaneously’.

EK Shaji of Judo Gyan, does what seems to be quite a tough thing, he teaches children to ‘love math’, though he seemed perfectly happy, doing what he does, we find out why. ‘We seldom see a math teacher smile!’ he said. He demonstrated simple yet very effective ways to teach children how to grasp mathematical concepts, guided by basic principles.

Sujata Noronha, shared her work and learnings at the Bookworm Trust in Goa, which believes in taking ‘good books’ to children. She spoke about the difficulty to find books that relate to children’s contexts in India, books that spoke about death and anger, etc. She ended her talk on an important question ‘Are we creating spaces for children to use their minds?

Another interesting presentation on ‘Innovations in Print – Augmented Reality & Other Cool Stuff’ was made by Mohammed Shamim Alam of HP India. He underlined the impact of personalised books for children, which is a great example of innovation, given a shape by technology. “Emotional value is high for such books,” he said. He also mentioned about Aurasma, HP Live Paper, which connects video with static photo.

Anshumani Ruddra got the afternoon going, taking audiences into the wired world of gaming. This was followed by the launch of the Vani Foundation Fellowship for Writers and Illustrators’ and the announcement and of the first fellow – Lavanya Karthik, an illustrator.

The final session of the day was on Transmedia Storytelling tilted ‘Playpen’ the speakers included – Jiggy George, Ralph Möllers and Padmini Ray Murray. Padmini spoke on Transmedia Tales – how to think about transmedia and its components – form, content, story and character, to understand audience. She also spoke about how none of the forms cannibalise the market for the other. Ralph Möllers stated that ‘Multimedia is not the end of the book as we know it, but rather that when content works, then it creates new markets’. Last but not least, Jiggy George of Dream Theatre, ended on a very good note, “The book never goes away. Everything else is an extension!”

The second day of Jumpstart included master classes on writing, illustration, transmedia and animation and a workshop for teachers jointly organised with Pratham.

“Great books are always rewritten”

A message to all Asian authors from Nury Vittachi, in conversation with Varsha Verma.

Nury Vittachi is a journalist and author based in Hong Kong. His columns are published daily, weekly in a variety of newspapers in Asia as well as on his website. He is best known for the comedy-crime novel series The Feng Shui Detective, published in many languages around the world, but he has also written non-fiction works and novels for children. He is also known for his role in founding the Asia Literary Review, the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, the Man Asian Literary Prize, and was the chairman of the judges of the inaugural Australia-Asia Literary Award in 2008, where he shares more about his love for books and the pleasure of being a judge for literary prizes.

Being a judge to many literary awards for more than a decade, what are the basic attributes he keeps in mind? “It is tough being a judge as every book is unique. Every organisation has their longlist and they have some key elements on which a book has to be judged, but I personally, do not go by those elements alone but love the enchantment and the magic in a book which makes you forget the world,” he replied. “We are soon launching a World’s Readers Awards in November in Hong Kong to honour the best book written in the world, which is dominated by Asia,” he informed. “Asians are becoming more and more assertive. There are so many literary awards where Asian authors cannot participate. It is ironical that the maximum numbers of internationally successful books are from West while the bulk of audience is in the East. The Asian book industry is growing. Hence, it is important to have an award where Asian writers can compete,” he told.

On asking about the standards of Asian authors, Nury replied, “Asian authors complain too much about the lack of good editors, agents and distributors. What is important is to write a fantastic book and all things will appear on their own. Asian writers are not very ambitious and they are not very keen on taking creative risk. In the west, authors take at least a year or two to complete one book and do 4-5 revisions before submitting it to the publisher. Great books are always rewritten.”

As a message to Asian authors, he concluded, “The world is ready for you to write great books.”

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