“As tall as two horses. Eyes glowing balls of fire. Long, razor-sharp claws. The Ickabog is coming,” read the lines from J.K. Rowling’s latest book. One always wondered if the author would get back to children’s fiction after the conclusion of the Harry Potter series, but she seemed to have pivoted to writing for adults with the Cormoran Strike series. Finally, with The Ickabog, she returns to the kids’ space again. Released in early November, the book draws its title from the word, Ichabod, which means ‘the glory has departed’. “I think you’ll understand why I chose the name once you’ve read the story, which deals with themes that have always interested me. What do the monsters we conjure tell us about ourselves? What must happen for evil to get a grip on a person, or on a country, and what does it take to defeat it?” she writes in the foreword.
The book, which comes to life in a tiny country called Cornucopia ruled for centuries by fair-haired kings, was written in spurts between the Harry Potter books. During a five-year break after the series concluded, the unfinished manuscript went up to the attic, and would have stayed there if not for the covid-19 pandemic. With children stuck at home, with not many options for recreation, Rowling decided to put the story online for free. An open call was sent out to children to participate in a competition. School kids from all across the world answered, including eight from India, aged 7-12. Their illustrations have now made it to the published book as well.
9-year-old Radhya, who has drawn illustration #4 about the beautiful Lady Eslanda in the book, calls Rowling her favourite author. “She uses words that exactly express the scene, thoughts and expressions, and I immediately started visualising it. So, it was not so tough to illustrate,” she says. Radhya was extremely bored during the lockdown until she got an email from her class teacher, informing about the competition. She immediately started following the story online. “There was a lot of suspense at the end of every two or three chapters. I used to get really curious to know about it,” she adds.
7-year-old Aria, who has contributed illustration #15 to the book, concurs. “Each chapter ended with an idea that something was about to happen in the next one. And everyday with just two chapters being released, I would be restless till the next ones would come out to know what is going to happen,” she says. For her illustration, she put her newly-acquired skill of painting with watercolours to use. The “Blood and the Chicken feathers’ features a light background, for which she allowed light colours to blend with each other on wet paper. “Then I painted a few feathers, hoping they look like chicken ones and not like autumn leaves!” says Aria. The favourite part was when she had to splash red paint to show blood spread over the feathers.
Yet another winning illustration is by 10-year-old Divymann, who has painted a portrait of Mr Dovetail. “I really enjoy making portraits and I also like his character for being so strong in spite of all the hardships,” he says. “I was very happy to see that out of my six illustrations, which were shortlisted for the competition, it was finally a portrait that won me the prize.