In conversation with Ashok Rajagopalan.

The writer and illustrator of over 500 children’s books began illustrating for children’s stories way back in 1989. His first contribution was for the children’s magazine “Junior Quest”. Since then, his illustrations have also appeared in other children’s magazines such as “Impulse Hoot” and “Impulse Toot”. He has also written and illustrated story books for children and these have been published by well known publishers such as Tulika and Scholastic. Some of his well known titles that you may be familiar with are the “Gajapathi Kulapathi Series”, “The Silly Story of Bondapalli”, “India Through Archaelogy”, “Dancing Bees”, “The Thumb, Thumb Series” and “Sunu, Sunu Snail-Storm in The Garden.”

Image courtesy: Ashok Rajagopalan

Sir, it is an absolute delight to observe your illustrations in children’s books. They definitely bring the story to life. Would you Iike to tell us more about your approach to illustrating children’s books?

Well-known illustrators have a style of their own, and you can recognise their work when you see it, even without credit or a signature. I don’t have one style, but choose a style and treatment that suits the tone and voice of the story. I may draw cute characters for one story and wacky ones for another. There are books like Sunu-sunu Snail — Storm in the Garden, in which only after you read the credits would you know that I drew the pictures.

Your illustrations add a good dose of humour even to the most serious of subjects. Case in point is the book on Indian Archaeology. The book of course has been written extremely well but would not have the same appeal sans your illustrations. In your opinion how important are illustrations to attract a child’s attention and motivate him or her to pick up a book and read for pleasure?

Younger the child, more pictures, I feel. As the reader grows older, they can engage more with words than pictures. An adult does not need pictures in a book, unless some information is better conveyed through them.

Younger the child, more pictures, I feel. As the reader grows older, they can engage more with words than pictures.

When I read a novel, my imagination provides the visuals, and illustrations may be distracting, or worse, in opposition to the images in my mind. In a picturebook, pictures are not just for the ornamental value, they also communicate.

Motivation is a different issue. Pictures attract and motivate a child to pick up a book, as much as an interesting title does. Children dwell in pictures. As a child, I used to spend hours gazing at one picture, and imagining myself in that scene. I hope kids still do that, in spite of tv and videogames.

Pictures attract and motivate a child to pick up a book, as much as an interesting title does. Children dwell in pictures. As a child, I used to spend hours gazing at one picture, and imagining myself in that scene.

I have come across stories written and illustrated by you for Pratham. The ones I have read are funny in terms of story as well as the illustrations. As an author and an illustrator, how important do you think humour is in motivating children to read for pleasure?

Humour is an important part of a child’s life, like currency. Children collect jokes, riddles and funny anecdotes. A child or adult who makes them laugh is highly respected. Smiling and laughing is what a child does most of the time, and children should smile and laugh most of the time! I am not their parent or teacher, who are important to a child’s growth, but the jolly uncle who has no advice or message, just fun! My aim in life is to make people, especially little people, laugh. So I write and draw funny stories.

Humour is an important part of a child’s life, like currency. Children collect jokes, riddles and funny anecdotes. A child or adult who makes them laugh is highly respected. Smiling and laughing is what a child does most of the time, and children should smile and laugh most of the time!

Parents often complain that children have way too many distractions these days and reading for pleasure is not a habit that many children have. This is ironical as now we have so many beautiful books being written in different genres, more easily available than before and yet many children do not read for pleasure. What are your thoughts on this?

Can’t blame them, can we? I was addicted to books at a very early age, only because we did not have the television and internet then. Even after the advent of tv, I kept on reading, because I couldn’t take my tv along with me in buses or trains. But look at kids today! Why would they read books when they get quicker, louder and more animated experiences through other sources?

Is there any advice you would like to share with other parents who are just starting off on this lovely journey as well parents who are trying to encourage their reluctant children to read for pleasure?

There is hope for children of parents who read books and fill their homes with books. They see us deriving upliftment from books, and they copy us, just like they copy other things we do. Allow them to associate reading with pleasure – have read-aloud sessions with them, visit libraries and bookshops together, discuss stories. We must not thrust books upon them, lest they see reading as an imposition, as work and not play.

There is hope for children of parents who read books and fill their homes with books.
Allow them to associate reading with pleasure – have read-aloud sessions with them, visit libraries and bookshops together, discuss stories.

This is similar to the irony of education. All children are born with a natural desire to learn, and to learn fast. This they retain till they go to a regular school, which beats that desire out of them, and substitutes that with a desire to compete with people, and be ‘winners.’

For more information about his work from the author and illustrator himself:

Gajapati Kulapati

Lemon Salt Soda- His first novel series with a dose of humour for adults

Ashok Rajagopalan

Blog: http://ashokscape.blogspot.com/

His motto as a writer

Writing humour is easy for me since I am a naturally light person. I can’t do tragedies. If you’re a sensitive person, write a sensitive book. If a suspicious person, write a conspiracy. Write what comes natural to you and your writing will be honest and powerful.

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