The Vodafone Crossword book awards for the year 2009, announced recently, saw more than 200 entries vying for top honours. What made this year different was that an award was instituted for children’s writing for the first time.
Financial journalist Siddhartha Sarma’s debut novel, The Grasshopper’s Run, won the award for the best children’s work. Sarma says the recognition for children’s writing is long overdue. “Children’s fiction has always been there,” he says.
“But it’s the readership that has changed. Every successive generation of children is evolving at a much faster pace and children’s writing has been reflecting these changes.”
The Grasshopper’s Run is a coming of age tale set in the North East, against the backdrop of the Second World War and the Japanese invasion of India in 1944. It explores the friendship between an Assamese and a Naga boy, and how their lives are affected by the history that is unfolding around them.
Sarma says the book is as much a history lesson as it is a work of fiction. “In this case, most of the characters were real so I presented them as they were,” he says. “I had to fit my story around these historical events.”
But isn’t war and death — the Naga boy in the story is killed by Japanese soldiers — a rather sombre choice of subject? “I tried to show what a teenager experiences when he realises that the world is bigger, possibly more complicated and a little darker than what he had imagined,” Sarma says. “He re-evaluates his world view.”
Apart from The Grasshopper’s Run, Sarma was also nominated in the children’s category for 103 Journeys, Voyages, Trips and Stuff, a non-fiction work on 103 travellers of the world.