"Books Are The Best Way To Fire A Child’s Imagination": An Interview With Amy Fernandes

Amy Fernandes, Associate Festival Director of the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest, speaks to ParentCircle about the Little Festival, a literature festival exclusively for children

By Vani Venugopal  • 5 min read

"Books Are The Best Way To Fire A Child’s Imagination": An Interview With Amy Fernandes

“Characters From Around The World” was the theme of the recently conducted children’s literature festival, the Little Festival. Hosted as a part of the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest, the Little Festival catered exclusively to children, bringing together many renowned children’s writers in fun and interactive sessions. In its second edition, the Little Festival opened its doors virtually this year. While this was a measure to rise above the challenges posed by the pandemic, by going virtual, the festival allowed for children around the world to participate.

The festival aimed to excite and enthral young readers by giving them a glimpse into many aspects of life, nature and cultures, through storytelling, music, dance and performances. The festival saw children’s writers from across genres hosting interactive sessions online. Sudha Murty, Arshia Sattar, Ranjit Lal, Bijal Vachharajani, Lavanya Kartik and Anurima Roy were among the line-up this year.

The festival also featured a range of unique performances including shadow puppetry by I Made Sidia, one of Bali’s foremost shadow artists, and Australian puppeteer Peter Wilson, a performance of "The Snow Queen" through music, song and narrative by cellist Matthew Sharpe. Other highlights of the festival included a blindfolded storytelling session by animator Chetan Sharma and an Odissi dance about birds by Swapnokalpa Dasgupta, Head of Department of Dance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai.

ParentCircle caught up with Amy Fernandes, Associate Festival Director of the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest, to learn more about the festival. An independent journalist and a former editor of at Femina, Times of India and DNA, Amy is passionate about children’s literature and believes that books are the secret to creating a generation of curious yet well-informed young minds.

In this conversation, Amy talks about her experience hosting the Little Festival and why children’s literature festivals matter.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

Tell us about your experience curating the second edition of the Little Festival.

To tell you about the second, I have to get to the first which was a well-put together three-day festival, organized by me and my colleagues Reena Agrawal and Quasar Padamsee Thakore. We knew it was a success from the way the children responded to the sessions and the way they eagerly lined up for the next one.

This year, the ground realities were very different. So, we kept two things in mind while planning the festival: children were already tired of their laptops, with the pandemic having turned it into classrooms and that every session had to be ‘dramatized’ to keep children interested. So, most of our sessions, even the ones like “Quirky Tales from History”, were read by young actors to make the stories come alive.

For conversations with authors, we asked teenagers to conduct the interviews to keep it relevant. We had Naima Ramakrishnan talking to Sudha Murty and Tariecka Sinh discussing the Mahabharata with Arshia Sattar.

We even had sessions like “Blindfolded”, in which children were asked to listen to the programme with a blindfold on, so that they could understand the world of the visually challenged. Another session, “Birdie Dance” for the differently abled children, is about mudras shown through dance. Ours is probably the only festival for children that has been truly inclusive and we’re proud of it.

It’s not easy to gauge children’s responses online, but our workshop with Anurima Roy on “Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them” gave us a fair indication that we were not doing too badly. Sounds of excitement and eager responses from children came flooding back to us.

What are a few of the highlights of the festival this year?

Each of our sessions had a different flow, which makes it difficult to single out a few. But like I mentioned earlier, this is the first time a children’s festival has attempted to be all-inclusive, with sessions for differently-abled children and for everyone who wished to join in.

We had award-winning authors like Sudha Murty, Bijal Vachharajani and Kiran Millwood Hargrave from the UK talking to children, and interactive sessions on how to build a board-game through stories by Lopamudra Mohanty. Sophia Thakur, a young UK-based poet, told us how turn people into poems. And yes, a session on shadow puppetry too! The list long.

Was it challenging to host the festival virtually?

The only real challenge was getting an author from Australia to be part of a session with another author from the UK and a moderator from India, given that we’re all living in different time-zones. Otherwise, it was pretty smooth.

Why are children’s literature festivals important?

Books are the best way to fire a child’s imagination. If literary festivals can get children to enjoy listening to authors and then go read the book, we have a generation of curious yet well-informed young minds.

Children are spending more and more time on their gadgets these days. How can parents encourage them to read more?

Surround them with books. Read to them and let them handle pages even as toddlers. Let them wallow in picture pop-up books. They will get the drift. 

Also read:

10 ways to spark your child’s imagination

Building Your Child's Creativity Through Play

Spark Your Child’s Creativity

About the author:

Written by Vani Venugopal on 4 December 2020.

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