BICW Awards – The Origin Story

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
The BICW story begins in 2014, with a book called Timmi in Tangles.
The BICW Awards Origin story begins with a book called Timmi in Tangles.

Duckbill published it some time in 2014. We immediately fell it love with it. In January 2015, we invited the author, Shals Mahajan, to tour a few of our schools with us. In the Summer of 2015, the book won the Crossword Children’s Book Award, 2014.

At that point, Duckbill was a new publishing house, and Shals was a first-time author. That being the case, the award meant so much to them. Here’s jurist Payal Dhar’s blogpost on the Timmi in Tangles.

A Twist in the Tale

There was one exception to this otherwise happy tale. For most of 2015, the Crossword bookstores didn’t stock the book. And why would they? It was priced at Rs 125. At best, a single copy of the book would make Crossword a profit of 12 rupees. But even that much was doubtful. A new publishing house and a new author? Who would invest in making them popular? Certainly not Crossword!

Crossword has since then corrected itself. It offers the “Popular Choice Awards” now. On the website for the Crossword Awards, you will find that the 5 nominations for the Best Children’s Book (Popular Awards) 2018 were:

  1. Exam Warriors by Narendra Modi, Penguin Random House India
  2. The Man From The Egg by Sudha Murty, Puffin – Penguin Random House India
  3. Chase Your Dreams by Sachin Tendulkar, Hachette India
  4. The Mahabharata for Children by Devdutt Pattanaik, Puffin – Penguin Random House India
  5. Looking for the Rainbow by Ruskin Bond, Puffin – Penguin Random House India

In the above list, #1 and #3 are ghost written, #2 and #4 are mythologies retold and #5 is by Ruskin Bond.

With no offense to Ruskin Bond (we love him), he’s the favorite contender for book awards in India. Because when no one has the time to actually read and think about a book, they pick a Ruskin Bond book- the safest choice in the world. Who in their right mind would challenge Ruskin Bond winning a book award? Eventually he did win this award.

A Tangled Web

Take a look at how Anushka and Sayoni, editors at Duckbill, feel about Timmi in Tangles in their blog here. Do you think anyone would feel similarly about the 5 books listed above?

“Once in a while, we get a book that comes like a breath of fresh air–a new, completely unusual perspective and a style of writing that is not usually encountered in children’s books. Shals’ book came like a blast of fresh air! Here was a book that dealt with the little troubles of childhood, but with such a sensitive eye and such gentle, wry humour that we immediately knew we had to do it. The other thing I love about Timmi in Tangles is the way it subtly cocks a snook at the gender-inequitable, class-ridden world we live in.” 

– Anushka Ravishankar, Editor, Duckbilll Publishers

Crossword separately selected Unbroken (Duckbill Publishers) for its Best Children’s Book – Jury Award in 2018.

Questions, questions, and more questions…

Let’s go back to 2015 for a moment.

Why didn’t Timmi in Tangles sell better in spite of being a fabulous book and winning a major award? Is it the fault of the publisher? The author? The bookstore? The award itself?

All this now brings us to the context underlining the entire situation itself. What is the purpose of an award? Why do they even exist? Why does the Nobel prize exist, or the Booker Prize, o r the Oscars? Filmfare? National Awards? Olympic medals? Employee of the Month? Best student? What is the point of these things? Do they matter? When do they matter? Who do they matter to?

The Purpose of Awards

The Booker Prize was instituted to promote an industry: “The aim was to increase the reading of quality fiction and to attract “the intelligent general audience.”

In the West, production houses routinely back Oscar-worthy movies even if they have low chances of commercial box-office success. This makes sense because an Academy Award nomination can bring them commercial success later on.

Thus, the Booker Prize served an extremely important purpose. Are the existing Indian children’s book awards serving the ecosystem? Or are they failing the ecosystem?

We asked ourselves similar questions for the BICW Awards. Who are the BICW Awards for? What are we trying to achieve?

The Birth of the BICW Awards

These are the discussions that led us to think about setting up a new award- the Best of Indian Children’s Award – Contemporary. By 2016, we had a blueprint and a plan- and it was a 5-year plan. By 2017, we had carved out a section of the BLPS list into the BICW list. For the 2018 list, we selected the awardees ourselves. And for the 2019 list, we went the whole 9 yards- invited publishers to participate, and set up a neutral jury to select books.

There is more to the plan. But for that, we have to wait for 2020 and 2021.

Check out the BICW 2019 Winners here!

Hungry for more children’s writing? Don’t miss the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary Award List!

Also, check out our reviews of more books on the Neev Awards 2019 Shortlist!

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