BICW Awards – The Origin Story

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

This story begins with a book called Timmi in Tangles. Duckbill published it some time in 2014. We fell it love with it. In Jan 2015, we invited the author, Shals Mahajan, to tour a few of our schools with us. In the Summer of 2015, it won the Crossword Children’s Book Award for 2014. Duckbill was a new publishing house, and Shals was a first-time author. The award meant so much to them. Here’s jurist Payal Dhar’s blogpost on the book.

Except. 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 copy of the book would make Crossword a profit of 12 rupees. But even that much was doubtful. New publishing house and 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

(1) and (3) are ghost written, (2) and (4) are mythology 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 his right mind will challenge Ruskin Bond winning a book award? Eventually he did win this award.

Take a look at how Anushka and Sayoni, editors at Duckbil, feel about Timmi in Tangles in their blog here. Do you think anyone will feel like this 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

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

Going back to 2015. 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? 

Which brings us to the context. What is the purpose of an award? Why do awards exist? Why does the Nobel prize exist? Why does the Booker Prize exist? Why do the Oscars exist? 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 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.” 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?

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 the Academy Award nomination can bring them commercial success later on.

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.

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