THE Buk Bilong Pikinini sponsorship for writing for children instituted in 2014 was short-lived, exited without explanation and then graciously picked up by the Paga Hill Development Company each year since.
The 2014 award had pointed to a fertile area of literature unexplored by the Crocodile Prize and which has flourished since.
The underlying principle that children should be read to from a very early age, ideally beginning around the time they start to talk and comprehend words, underpinned the rationale for this award.
When they are able, children should also be encouraged to read for themselves so they develop reading as a lifetime habit. Ideally, amongst their reading, will be books with familiar themes preferably derived from their own society and culture.
For children in Papua New Guinea the opportunity to read books by Papua New Guinean authors is severely limited. Even in schools, the available reading material is largely consists of overseas publications, many of which are not relevant or even understandable.
Writing for children is a special skill. Most people who write for children target their work towards particular age groups and sometimes gender. They take into account the social environments in which children live.
Some of the material for children is written purely to entertain, some to educate and some for both reasons. A children’s writer also has to be aware of what is of interest to children in their particular age group.
These variables make it difficult to judge entries in a general competition for children’s writing. The judges have to determine the demographic of each work and assess how it performs in those specific terms. In the end, the decision on who wins can come down to differentiating a deceptively simple work for five year olds and a sophisticated piece for 12 year olds.
Judging writing for children in Papua New Guinea adds to these variables. What might appeal to a child in a remote rural setting might not click with a counterpart in a town area. A traditional story with a distinct cultural theme may appeal to a rural child but leave the town-dweller cold.
With all those factors in mind, the judges decided to award the 2014 children’s writing prize to Iriani Wanma for her story Oa Grasshopper and Kaipa Caterpillar.
The story is simply told and does not require any particular cultural knowledge to appreciate it; nor does it incorporate tricky local words that need interpretation and thinking about. It is also educational and entertaining at the same time.
Finally, it has a Papua New Guinean flavour which is not overwhelming but sufficient to firmly fix it in place.
Iriani is the daughter of parents from Kairuku in Central Province and West Papua. She is a health science graduate and lives in Brisbane with her family.
As many readers will be aware, Iriani’s children’s story was eventually published in large format in a high quality production.
Oa the Grasshopper and Kaipa the Caterpillar
ONCE upon a time in a garden there was a little green grasshopper named Oa and a little green caterpillar named Kaipa. Oa and Kaipa were best friends.
Kaipa was much slower than Oa so Oa would always visit Kaipa. Oa and Kaipa lived on an aibika plant.
Every morning after Oa woke up he would hop over to Kaipa’s leaf and they would eat breakfast together then tell stories. Oa would tell Kaipa about his adventure and Kaipa would listen with great interest.
“You’re so lucky, Oa,” said Kaipa. “I wish I could go on adventures like you. I wish I could see new places like you do.”
“Don’t worry, Kaipa,” said Oa. “You keep eating and I’m sure one day you’ll grow legs and wings like mine; and be able to hop and fly like me.”
As the weeks passed, Oa and Kaipa began to change. Oa became big and strong – his legs longer, his jumped higher and his flight became better.
Kaipa became fatter and much slower. “Oh Oa, I’ve been eating and eating aibika like you told me to but nothing has changed,” cried Kaipa. He wiggled his legs, “My legs are fat and wobbly and they sure can’t hop… and I have no wings,” he complained. “What’s the use?! I’ll never be like you!” Kaipa hung his head. He was sad.
Oa kept quiet. He didn’t know what to say to his best friend. He walked over to Kaipa and put his arm on his best friend’s back to comfort him.
One morning Oa hopped over to Kaipa’s leaf to have breakfast like he always did.
“Kaipa? Kaipa, where are you?” said Oa.
“Down here,” said Kaipa.
Oa climbed down the stalk to a lower leaf of the aibika and looked up and there was Kaipa – hanging upside down.
“Hey Oa,” said Kaipa. “Why are you upside down, Kaipa?”
“I don’t know. I just felt like hanging upside down last night so here I am,” replied Kaipa. “Are you going to come down and have breakfast with me?” asked Oa.
“I’m not hungry but you go ahead and have some aibika,” said Kaipa.
Oa munched away at the aibika leaf while Kaipa hung upside down listening to him talk about his adventure yesterday.
The next day Oa came over for breakfast, Kaipa was still fast asleep so he ate breakfast alone not wanting to disturb him. For three days straight Kaipa was asleep when Oa came over in the morning. On the fourth day he decided to wake Kaipa up.
As soon as Oa woke up he made his way over to Kaipa’s leaf.
“Psst… Kaipa,” he whispered, not wanting to be rude. But Kaipa didn’t respond so he decided to yell,
“KAIPA! WAKE UP!” Not a single movement came from Kaipa. Oa flew up onto Kaipa’s leaf and hopped up and down, “Wake up, wake up, wake up, Kaipa!” But still there was no sound and no movement from his best friend.
Two weeks went by and Oa had stopped going over to see Kaipa. He was very sad that Kaipa wouldn’t speak to him and they didn’t have breakfast together anymore. He didn’t like his grasshopper friends; he just wanted his best friend, Kaipa, back.
One beautiful sunny morning as Oa opened his eyes he saw a bright yellow butterfly in front of him.
“Hey friend,” said the yellow butterfly with a big smile.
“Ah! Who are you?! And why are you on my leaf?” shouted Oa. Oa was frightened of the butterfly.
“Oa,” said the yellow butterfly as he walked towards him. “It’s me – Kaipa.”
“Kaipa?” Oa moved closer to inspect the yellow butterfly. “You look so different.”
Kaipa grinned. “I know. And look, I have wings now, Oa,” he said joyfully as he flapped his big bright yellow wings. “We can go on adventures together now.”
“Oh Kaipa, I missed you so much!” cried Oa.
The two best friends had breakfast together like they used to but this time on Oa’s leaf. And after breakfast they set off for their very first adventure together.