Subhadra Sen Gupta and Rajiv Eipe have won the Big Little Book Award (BLBA) instituted by Parag Initiative, Tata Trusts. The award, in its fifth year, recognises outstanding talent in children's publishing by picking a writer and an illustrator working in a specific language. This year the language chosen was English, after Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, and Kannada in the previous years.
Each of the winners, picked out of a pool of nominations invited from industry stakeholders, gets a cash prize of ₹5 lakhs, a trophy and a citation for a body of work. The total number of nominations received this year was 318. The winners were picked by a jury of five for each category, including writers, booksellers, publishers and illustrators such as Ravi Subramanian, Proiti Roy, Sunandini Banerjee and Sujata Noronha.
The award takes a holistic approach to the recognition it accords to children's writers and illustrators, who are still insufficiently lauded by prize committees in India. "We are going to be engaging with both the winners over the next year, talking about their work on social media, taking them on school visits, and other outreach activities," says Swaha Sahoo, head of Parag Initiative.
Sen Gupta has written 60-odd books, which includes The Constitution of India for Children, The Secret Diary of the World’s Worst Cook, History Mystery Dal Biryani, and Let’s Go Time Traveling. Best-loved for her work in historical fiction, she began writing in the genre quite by chance.
"I had gone for a school visit and asked children about the subjects they hate most," Sen Gupta remembers. "The top choice was Hindi, followed by History." Since she had a Master's degree in the latter, Sen Gupta decided to try her hand at making the subject fun and exciting for young readers.
"One of my readers had asked me if children in ancient India were given holiday homework," Sen Gupta says. That led her to approach history from a completely new lens. Instead of focusing on the familiar big names and events from the annals of the past, her books began to take a close look at the lives of common people from a different time.
"We can count on [Sen Gupta's] rigour and her background research to stand by her content and always find her positions are balanced and enable the reader to arrive at their own decisions," as the jury put it. "Something very few writers for children in India in English can add to their list of qualities in writing."
Eipe, who is based in Bengaluru, trained in painting from the JJ School of Art, Mumbai. He later studied animation and film design at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. "I was drawn to illustrating for children as I was interested in storytelling," he says. One of his early popular books was authored by Geeta Dharmarajan, titled Dinosaur-Long-As-127-Kids.
Some of Eipe's most-loved illustrations have appeared in titles such as Dive, A Book for Puchku, Pishi and Me, Ammachi’s Amazing Machines, and Oh No! Not Again! “[Rajiv's] work stands out in originality and his observations of the world around us is sensitive and full of humour," the jury said in its statement. "A book with [his] illustrations is visually attractive, informative with details that are delightfully quirky and takes a reader to a world of imagination and fantasy effortlessly”.
Eipe says he is kept on his toes by the brutally honest feedback children are capable of giving. "There are illustrators who have a very strong style and they stick with it, and then there are others who try out various approaches," he says. "I don't fit into either of these categories—all I want is that the style should work for the story."