‘Illustrations provide the reader with a window into a new world’

There are certain characters in children’s literature that are unforgettable. For most of us who have read Mahasweta Devi’s ‘The Why-Why Girl’ (published by Tulika), Moyna is certainly one. Perhaps what makes her so memorable is her intense curiosity. But what makes her even harder to forget are her curious, sensitive, half-moon eyes and the white flower that is carefully tucked into her hair. Kanyika Kini’s beautifully detailed illustrations in ‘The Why-Why Girl’ have been cherished by thousands of readers across the world. In 2013, ‘The Rumour’ (published by Karadi Tales) – a wonderful picture book illustrated by Kanyika Kini – won the South Asia Book Award.

Here are excerpts from Hippocampus’ interview with the immensely talented artist Kanyika Kini:

You have done wonderful illustrations for several children’s books. What inspires you to draw for children?

Illustrations provide the reader with a window into a new world by not only visualizing the text but also enhancing the story with visual details that go beyond the text, creating a sort of parallel narrative. As a result, a picture book becomes much more than the sum of its text and illustrations, the creation of which is a magical process that I enjoy being part of.

Tell us about a book that you loved as a child and that you revisit even today.

An old favourite of mine is ‘Dr. Bhondoo Dentist and other stories’ by Aroon Purie that I was presented years ago. The protagonist is an amiable but rather clumsy monkey, who attempts various professions, including being a dentist and barber, but always end disastrously. The stories are all situated in a familiar Indian context, with vivid, humorous illustrations that are universally appealing. (This book is now unfortunately out of print!)

Name three contemporary illustrators whose work you admire and feel that children will love and enjoy. 

1. The illustrations of Quentin Blake are an integral part of my childhood-memory-wall. His line drawings are immensely expressive and his ability to evoke emotion in a stick or even the tail of a pig through the use of simple lines is fascinating. Roald Dahl’s quirky children’s stories wouldn’t be the same without the hilarious illustrations by Quentin Blake.

2. Illustrations by Pulak Biswas range in style from more realistic watercolour paintings to bold graphic illustrations, distinctly situated in the Indian context. The colours, textures and dynamic compositions are always a treat.

3. This list wouldn’t be complete without author and illustrator Eric Carle. His wonderfully simple stories illustrated in his unique style using vibrant colours and textures, make his books unforgettable. ‘The Grouchy Ladybug’ is my favourite.

Which are five books that every school library must own?

  1. The Amar Chitra Katha series – A great way for children to get acquainted with vibrant Indian mythological, historical and folk stories.
  2. Roald Dahl’s children’s books – Unforgettable characters with fantastic talents in wonderfully quirky and unpredictable stories.
  3. Dr. Seuss’ children’s books – His wacky rhyming style and unique illustrations make his books a must in any children’s book section
  4. Eric Carle’s children’s books – As mentioned earlier, these classics form a memorable part of learning to read.

There are several Indian publishers such as Tulika, Tara and Karadi Tales to name a few, that bring out fantastic books each year, that are situated in the contemporary Indian context and cater to children of all ages.

While exploring books with children, we often tend to focus more on the text while not tapping fully into the potential of pictures. What are ways in which we can explore the visual narrative with children more effectively?

I think children are extremely receptive to visuals, these actually forming their entry point to stories and reading. Activities that focus on the visuals in a book can help children develop language skills as well as inspire them to think creatively and interpret the story in their own way. Books offer great stimulus to children to embark on their own creative adventures.

If you could become any book character for a day, who would you choose to be?

There are far too many entertaining characters out there with exotic capabilities or fantastical forms that make that choice easy! But somehow I have always been partial to witches (mostly the bad ones with warty noses) – perhaps it has to do with their phenomenal ability to fly around on a broomstick at night and scare the living daylights out of children!

Kanyika Kini graduated in Communication Design from Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology in Bangalore, India. She has illustrated ‘The Why-Why Girl’, written by Mahasweta Devi, published by Tulika Publishers and translated into several Indian languages. She has also illustrated ‘The Rumour’, written by Anushka Ravishankar and published by Karadi Tales, which received the South Asia Book Award in 2013, administered by the South Asia National Outreach Consortium. She currently works at a web design agency in Munich.


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