“Play is the work of the child,” Maria Montessori had said nearly a century ago, and in the ensuing period, this idea appears to have lived a strange double life. While there has been an explosion of play schools, these places have perhaps also had a role to play in taking children away from the true spirit of play. It is this spirit that the sixth edition of Jumpstart Festival was animated by.
The two-day festival (organised by the German Book Office), which was conceived as a place where “professionals involved in children’s books could come together, share ideas and hear each other’s experiences”, saw the participation of writers, illustrators and educators, allowing all of them to reflect on the idea of play from their unique vantage points.
Explaining how the theme of the festival (“Let’s Play”) was decided, Manasi Subramaniam, one of the three programme curators (with Anita Roy and Samina Mishra), said, “When we were trying to ideate for Jumpstart 2014 we realised that this (play) is the most basic way in which children interact and engage with the world. It’s also the most basic way of creating any content for children.”
For writer and filmmaker Samina Mishra, play is the necessary fallow period in the goal-oriented order of work. “If you want to create good work then you have to allow yourself free time in which you may be thinking about the work you have to do, but it’s not in the foreground of your mind,” she said.
The first day began with an engaging address by Nury Vittachi, the author of “The Feng Shui Detective” series of novels, and founder of the Asia Literary Review and the Man Asian Literary Prize. Referring to the success of Harry Potter series and books like “The Hunger Games” and “The Fault In Our Stars”, he said children’s literature “underlies and dominates the whole entertainment industry”.
Later, in a panel discussion titled “PLAYWRITE: The idea of the Game/Play in children’s books”, writer and illustrator Sophie Benini Pietromarchi urged everyone to go “on a treasure hunt and collect all the treasures to be able to create magic on a page.” Sophie added that as an illustrator, one gets a second chance to become a child. Asha Nehemiah, author of “Granny’s Sari”, “The Mystery of the Silk Umbrella” and other books for young children, shared the word-a-coaster game in which children are required to make up sentences with each successive letter of the alphabet.
Later, writer and game designer Anshumani Ruddra illustrated the overlap between games and books through an interactive session.
Explaining how games and books are similar, in that both operate within a framework of rules and present a series of choices to the reader or the player, he spoke of the genre of books that exploit this synergy – game books.
Where a conventional book follows a linear path, a game book lets the reader decide the path and the flow of the story, thereby letting him or her ‘play’ the book.
Another panel concentrated on “Play in and as Pedagogy”. While Amukta Mahapatra spoke of the obstacles to play and exploration built into our education system, E.K. Shaji of Jodo Gyan, an organisation working to find workable solutions to problems in classroom practices, highlighted the trouble with math education.
Identifying the dearth of purpose, context and storytelling in mathematical pedagogy as the problem, he said a solution could be experiential learning.
“It will prompt them to think and they will develop the tools to solve the problem on their own,” he added, demonstrating a few games and techniques Jodo Gyan has come up with to do the same.
Sharing her experiences with books and children, Sujata Noronha of the Bookworm Trust in Goa concluded that children need to have a tactile relationship with books and an aural relationship with words. Unfortunately, most schools do not allow either to blossom.
The festival also had sessions on transmedia storytelling by Jiggy George, Ralph Möllers and Padmini Ray Murray, which underscored the potential of technology to expand the limits of storytelling for children. A case in point is the film “Goopi Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya”, Shilpa Ranade’s animated retelling of Upendra Kishore Roychowdhury’s book “Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne”, which was also made into a celebrated film by Satyajit Ray.
(The festival, which concluded with masterclasses by Shilpa, Sophie and Nury on the second day, travels to Bangalore this Thursday)