For children, about children


Rajib does not like school. His dreams are filled with snakes, pulling him into dark wells. He stares at his own reflection in the mirror, transformed by anxiety. The boy withdraws into himself, trudging against watercolour skies from one page to the next.

When Rajib’s older brother arrives from Australia, he brings with him a gaming set. During one of the games, the boys enter a dark tunnel, and the brother asks: “Bhai, it’s pretty dark in here, are you scared?”

Rajib responds: “No, I only get scared when I’m at school...”

But the tunnel takes a sinister turn when villains show up. The snakes from Rajib’s nightmares shed their skins to reveal his classmates. He cries and finally shares with his brother the secret that has been eating him up all this time.

In the book  गयल केटो (Absent Boy) by Bina Theeng and illustrators Dristi & Keepa Manandhar, Rajib is bullied and suffers from the resulting anxiety. It is one of six new  books produced by Srijanalaya in collaboration with The Asia Foundation's Let's Read Nepal initiative.

The project brought together six authors and six illustrators to design books on children's rights that address topics such as bullying, harassment, identities, gender- and caste-based discrimination and juvenile justice.

Read also: Milestone in Tharu children’s literature, Alisha Sijapati

Books for young readers by authors writing in languages of Nepal are rare. Even rarer are books that deal with the torment and confusion of being a child, so much of which goes unnoticed and overlooked by adults. Often, there is no vocabulary to articulate difficult thoughts and feelings – and even adults do not know what to say.

Another book छ्याँबले (Chhyanbale) written by Tirtha Gurung and illustrated by Roseena Sakya is narrated by a mother swallow. Set in the mountain village of Sikles, which also called Chwiuli (barn swallow) locally the book follows an eponymous young boy who cannot walk and is bullied by his peers. Woven together are themes of loss and hope – literally a thing with feathers in the context of the book.

“The inspiration for the story came from my own childhood,” says Tirtha Gurung who, like Chhyanbale, was unable to walk for a long time. “But all children grow at their own pace,” he adds, “and the book aims to give hope to parents as well, that it takes time and there is no reason to worry or feel bad.”

The musical story unfolds in warm yellow and orange and fresh green through the pages as light slants and curves giving the impression of someone looking over without rest, aiming to protect.

The artwork is similar in सुनौलो सुँगुर (The Golden Pig) by Swapnil Smriti and illustrator Swornim Shakya. It is the story of Lingyok, a young boy in Panchthar, also bullied by his classmates and teacher because of his family profession of rearing pigs. The rainy and thunderous palette mimics the unrest felt by Lingyok.

Illustrations by Sapana Sanjeevni and Pallavi Payal for अम्बरको धुन (Ambar’s Tune) by Pranika Koyu on other hand is inspired by vibrant Mithila art. The book is a day in the life of Ambar who is wheelchair-bound, and each line and shape, all larger-than-life, frame the lucid text to tell the story of boundless imagination.

“We wanted to reflect Ambar’s voice and character as closely as possible in our art,” explains Sapana Sanjeevani: “Mithila art with its two dimensional form helps to express his simple and flowing language.”

Sarita Pariyar’s उत्सुकता (Curiosity) is illustrated by Rupak Raj Sunuwar, and takes a more fabled approach to tell a powerful story of Dalit children which takes place in an entomic world, with industrious ants as protagonists.  ‘This is not an imaginary story. This is a story even more fearsome – the plights of caste-based discriminations,’ read the first lines.

“I was fascinated by weaver ants and how they use their saliva to make their homes, and this mirrored in how Dalit women use their saliva in sewing clothes which are then worn by the people of so-called upper caste.” says Rupak Sunuwar.

Narrated by a young weaver ant, Utsukta the story poses tough questions at society’s hypocrisies. She wants to understand why she should come second to her male classmate who copied her answers in exam, or why Pantheni bajai, who ‘reeks of raw milk and cow dung’ snaps at her to stay away before sprinkling purifying water on the clothes Utsukta has carefully brought for her.

Ujjwala Mahajan's जुभी (Juvie), is a much darker fable of children in juvenile homes, illustrated by Alina Chhantel in the many shades of red and black, with barbed wires running across the pages.

What is striking about this surreal and sensitive story is the multitude of eyes that grow on the children’s skins, as though constantly watched and judged by the world outside.

“Books about children's rights are usually didactic, and we have an image in our heads about people who are punished for breaking the law as irredeemable and violent people,” she says, “and with Juvie we wanted to break that narrative.”

Creators met young adults in Bhaktapur Juvenile Centre before writing the book that may be too sombre for children, but both Maharjan and Chhantel wanted it to be representative of the people it was about.

She says, “We believed that being honest to their story, reflecting the seriousness and discomfort, would help get the feeling across to the readers, and encourage them to be more empathetic and accountable.”

Pallavi Payal hopes the books will be able to encourage more writers and illustrators to create educational materials for children in Nepal in languages that are easy to understand and relate to. She says: "Children want to read books that make them feel they are not alone.”

The books are available online as PDFs in Nepali and English. To request a copy of जुभी (Juvie), please reach out to Ritica Lacoul of The Asia Foundation at ritica.lac[email protected], or Srijanalaya at [email protected].

Watch the book readings and conversations with authors and illustrators on Srijanalaya's Facebook


Ashish Dhakal


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