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Teach and reach

Training and professional development is a decisive element in the Parag Initiative’s endeavour to nurture a love for reading

The promotion of books and reading, the central principle in the Parag Initiative’s way, needs support structures for it to be brought to fruition. Among the most vital of these is the training and professional development of the cadre of people at the heart of it all — librarians and teachers.

Parag has expended plenty of energy on this facet of its work, seeding and operating well-defined professional courses in library education. The flagship programme in the mix is the library educators’ course (LEC), a seven-month module in English and Hindi. There’s also the three-month children’s library course (CLC) and the short duration e-course. Additionally, Parag has a certificate course for artists and illustrators.

LEC, the most substantial of Parag’s professional development offerings, is targeted at teachers and librarians, development sector professionals, and literacy and language educators. The objective driving LEC is to deepen the understanding of library practices. The teaching sessions are conducted by experts in a stimulating environment, with rich exposure to children’s books and immersive and experiential learning.

The LEC course has more on its menu than libraries. Children’s literature and the joys of reading are blended in to provide participants with a broader perception of their field of specialisation. The focus, though, is libraries, how to go about setting them up and how to make them vibrant places for books and reading. More than 300 participants from 19 states have come through the course (LEC English is offered by Bookworm, Goa, while the Hindi course is by Parag).

There’s distance learning as well as contact sessions in LEC. Discussions, extensive reading, collaborative exercises and reflective writing are part of the course. The contact sessions for LEC Hindi are organised in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh — at, among other places, the inviting campus of the nonprofit Eklavya Foundation — and the instructors include an array of standout writers and poets, scholars of children’s literature and library professionals.

CLC is an intermediate version of Parag’s professional development spread. Its primary function is to build a band of master trainers to strengthen and expand library projects at the state level. These master trainers, in turn, train government schoolteachers and principals in the art of running libraries. Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the states that have benefitted most from this effort.

Hosted on the TISSx platform of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Parag’s e-course is an introductory module for would-be librarians. Its objective is to reach the widest range of interested individuals across the country and provide them with an understanding of children’s libraries and how to make them functional.

Writer S Sivadas (left) and writer-illustrator Deepa Balsavar, both BLBA winners in 2021, at the function in Kochi in Kerala where they were honoured

Prized rewards

Prominent names aside, writers and illustrators are a generally under-recognised lot, more so when the canvas is children’s literature. The Big Little Book Awards (BLBAs), instituted by the Parag Initiative in 2016, are a heartfelt endeavour to cement a dose of remembrance for the many talents bringing alive stories and storybooks for children.

A first-of-its-kind accolade for storytellers crafting high-quality literature for children and young adults — and the not-so-young as well — BLBAs recognise and reward writers and illustrators while providing them well-deserved space in the spotlight, or at least a corner of it in literature festivals and the like.

The author award goes to those writing in regional languages, with a different language chosen every year (the visual language they work with means there’s no such classification for illustrators). The regional language bias in the writing award is simply to acknowledge that outstanding children’s literature in India is not restricted to English.

BLBA 2021 winner Deepa Balsavar, a Mumbai-based writer and illustrator, had this to say in an interview with Horizons: “Parag has an immensely important role to play in making sure that more children have access … to books that are informative and fun to read.”

“Every prize is definitely uplifting for a writer. BLBA, the most significant such prize in India, is a recognition that every author [working in children’s literature] dreams of,” said Malayalam writer S Sivadas, who won the BLBA award alongside Ms Balsavar in 2021.

The annual Parag Honour List (PHL) complements BLBAs. Launched in 2020, this is a handpicked selection of exceptional books in English and Hindi for children and young adults. Parag’s objective in launching PHL was to put together a curated catalogue of top-notch works that libraries, teachers and parents could go by when acquiring books for children.