Big Little Book Award winner Nina Sabnani on inclusivity and the role of illustrations in children’s stories
At the third annual Big Little Book Awards, Nina Sabnani won the award for illustrator across all languages.
At the third annual Big Little Book Awards, Nina Sabnani won the award for illustrator across all languages. She has been a Fulbright fellow at Syracuse, and taught at the National Institute of Design for two decades. She uses film, illustration and writing in her storytelling. Instituted by Tata Trusts, the awards promote authors and illustrators who have made a lasting impact on children’s literature. Sabnani was thrilled to win the award, particularly because it is the only Indian award that commends the work of illustrators, and said she felt grateful to her publishers, specifically Tulika books, for nurturing her work.
As an illustrator, Sabnani is most inspired by stories that cause her to reflect, and feel deeply. She enjoys working with various media, but is particularly interested in incorporating found images — made in nature, or in collaboration with other artists — in her work. She has worked with Warli, Bhil and Madhubani artists on illustrations, and collaborated with her teacher KG Subrahmanyam on animated films. She also enjoys using old images, and discarded embroidery in her work. In particular, Sabnani draws from her childhood, when her father worked in a textiles mill, by incorporating stitching in her work. “I like the tactility of fabric, which I feel is charged with emotion. It’s not so flat. It has texture, temperature and dimension that I love. I combine the handmade with the digital in my work as the digital allows me to play with the handmade in a myriad of ways,” explains Sabnani.
When asked about the role of illustration in children’s stories, Sabnani stressed that illustration can shape the way a child views the work. “An illustration can tell a child that a dark person is bad or that women have to do housework and rear children. A shift in that imagery will go a long way in inculcating values of equality, inclusion and empathy, that no amount of words could possibly do without sounding too didactic,” says Sabnani.
In her own work, Sabnani focuses especially on inclusivity, through language and representation in her stories. It is important for her work to be accessible to the communities she collaborates with. Her work, ‘Home’ for example, included illustrations of single-parent households, joint families, gay couples and a nomadic community. The reason for including so many different kinds of homes was so that children from all walks of life could identify themselves in her work. In the future, Sabnani plans to expand the scope of inclusivity, by co-creating books with children themselves. “I hope my books make children happy, curious about other people, places and also reflective about themselves,” she signs off.