Crystal of a kind | Daily News

Crystal of a kind

Behind every child’s book lies a large renaissance garden of enchanting beauty. Sybil Wettasinghe is someone extraordinary you can name in Sri Lankan children’s literature: book writer, illustrator perhaps fused with a few ground-breaking achievements. Sybil Nenda must be the oldest children’s author with the largest number of books written under the genre. Achievements, accolades and records are nothing new for this amazing illustrator who has already cast her spell.

It is not so long ago that we happened to fall upon her most wonderful crystal. Sybil Nenda’s newest children’s storybook ‘Wonder Crystal’ earned the Guinness Book recognition as the work with the most number of alternative endings.

The news made waves on Twitter with the Guinness World Records announcement followed by a happy-face emoticon:

The 1250 endings were shortlisted from around 20,000 endings received from various school children across Sri Lanka. 92 year old Sybil Wettasinghe told the audience at today's event that achieving the record was the happiest moment of her life.

The event coincided with the World Book Day UK.

“One little thing is enough to kindle my imagination,” muses Sybil Nenda at her home perched in the middle of much humdrum of the city.

Seated in the living room, with her gaze fixed on the kitchen, Sybil Nenda recalls how she once imagined the kitchen to be flooded. The vegetables caught in the flood make a tour to the outside world.

She is a veteran in her art. Most artistes give up the job as they reach the pinnacle of their veteran status. Approaching nineties, they will continue the legacy in a society based on their celebrated works. But Sybil Nenda is not the one to give up or give in her legacy that easily.

Writing and painting are two different jobs. Writers hardly illustrate while painters are not so interested in writing. But she plays both roles. How does she strike a balance?Her ‘veteran’cy fits right in here.

“A lot of people inquire about me writing and illustrating simultaneously. When I think of a story, I think it up in pictures. I imagine a lot of pictures. Then I ‘write’ down the pictures first. I write it better later on. That will be easy because I have planned the whole book in pictures. Children like to read in pictures. In Japan, they concentrate more on pictures. Children read through pictures. When ‘Umbrella Thief’ was first published in the 1960s, it was the only book with text as well as pictures. Now, a child who cannot read can grasp the story through pictures.”

‘Crystal Wonder’ is the result of the collective works of several children who submitted their imagining of the books ending. It is them, 1250 in all, who finished the book for their long-loved Sybil Nenda. More than securing a Guinness entry, the author aimed to motivate young writers to explore deep into their imagination.

Sybil Nenda’sgrandson, who is in his twenties, received a little red car as a birthday gift when he was little. His grandma still remembers the joy the little one had in his face. He would drive it in the garden. Everybody told him that he must learn to take the car inside the home, but he would never do it. When his grandma reminded him that the car would be stolen one day, he responded to her. “Listen to me. This is what happens. The little red car is in the garden.

And when it gets dark, he yells: “I am afraid of the dark. Please come and help me. I am afraid of the dark.”

Then Uncle Mango Tree asks: “Who is crying?”

“I am the little red car. I am afraid of the dark.”

Then Uncle Mango Tree brought its branches down and lifted the car. When nighttime dawned, the birds came and watched over him. In the morning, the boy came out and found out that the car is missing. He began to cry. “Amma my car is lost. I love him.” Then the little red car came down and said: “I know you love me. We are friends, and don’t forget to take me in at night.”

That impression of her grandson’s creativity inspired Sybil Nenda to author another book. “But children are naturally mischievous,” Sybil Nenda recalls now, “And you know what happened when I published the book? There is a little mistake in this, he said. I asked what it is. “I am the one who told you the story,” he pointed out my mistake, “but you have mentioned Story and Illustrations by Sybil Wettasinghe.”

“So what should I do,” Sybil Nenda asked.

The little one had a set of instructions for his grandmother. In the first place,she was to draw a squirrel grandma and a squirrel grandson. And then she has to mention that this story was told to grandma by so and so.

“So this is the child’s mentality. I got it printed and asked him to show it to his teacher. You know, he came home teary-eyed. “Teacher aunty told me that I am a silly little boy. She asked me how can a mango tree put down branches.”

Sybil Nenda adds that children see life in everything in the surrounding. When you are creative, you think in pictures. A lot of writers think up of stories in pictures. Roald Dahl is a classic example. Wind in the Willows is another. Writer and illustrator must think alike. In this country, the writer sends a manuscript to the publisher. The publisher passes it to the illustrator and he paints something poles apart. Both of them should think together. You cannot think in an adult’s point of view and write.

“So we need to arouse the creativity in the child. They have a nice imagination. It is their first experience of storytelling.”

Even at 93, Wettasinghe continues to be the much-adored Sybil Nenda. Things have moved on since her times. Today’s children, or the Alpha generation kids, are more at home with sophisticated gadgetry. But Sybil Nenda thinks otherwise.

“Painting on the computer is not acceptable for me. A child can draw on the computer and see their creativity on screen. But they can see the machine drawing too. In Japan, they do not accept pictures drawn on computers. There are some lines which you cannot paint on the computer.”

When she writes, Sybil Nenda reflects on the beauty of the words. She puts in a lot of thinking before actually writing on the paper. She is really fond of the age-old long-hand writing method.

They say the machine is easier and faster. But Sybil Nenda does not mind. She wants time to think and write.

Add new comment