Ickabog’s India connection

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on November 24, 2020

Meet the eight children whose illustrations adorn JK Rowling’s new fairy-tale book

Ten years in an attic. Not just any attic. Author JK Rowling’s attic. That’s how long The Ickabog hibernated before it saw the light of day. Rowling’s new fairy tale — after the phenomenal success of her Harry Potter novels and the crime series under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith — came tumbling out the figurative attic during lockdown earlier this year.

The Ickabog; J.K. Rowling; Hachette; Fiction; ₹1,299


Little by little, the story unfolded online, giving housebound parents and children a ticket to the kingdom of Cornucopia, ruled by a man with a fine moustache. Bakers, butchers, cheesemongers and a pair of young adventurers captured attention as Rowling, who used to read the story to her own children before she got busy writing the Potter books, posted one episode after another. And the appearance of Ickabog, a mythical green creature who lives in a marshland, opened up a whole new world for children — one in which friendship, loyalty, sensitivity towards fellow beings are still treasured.

Rowling, however, was not happy to just release the story online. When the time came to publish the fairy tale in the form of a book, she chose to up the game by adding illustrations made by children. A competition seemed to be the most obvious way of inviting entries for the project. In an email interview, Hilary Murray Hill, CEO, Hachette Children’s Group, said: “It was JK Rowling’s idea to run a competition for children to illustrate The Ickabog. Over seven weeks in the summer, as Jo released new instalments of the story and illustration themes, children, aged 7-12, from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and India drew, painted and created more than 18,000 pictures and their parents entered the competition for a chance for their child’s artwork to be published in the printed book.”

She adds that the quality, diversity and sheer imagination of the art was a privilege to see, and a “tremendous task to judge”. The panel debated between detailed illustrations and expansive, bold paintings, between exotic peacocks and delicious cakes.

Ultimately, more than 30 illustrations made it to the book, out of which eight are by children based in India. The youngest among them are all of seven years while the oldest is just 11. Settled in different parts of the country — Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal — the children came to know about the competition from parents, teachers and friends who either follow Rowling on Twitter or through reports in newspapers. Out came the sketchbooks, colour pencils and paints, splashing the canvas with imagination and creativity. While some practised for hours, others completed the illustration at just one go.

Divymaan, Age 10, India: Divymaan likes reading biographies. But his love for non-fiction doesn’t limit his creativity when it comes to illustrating characters and situations from a fairy tale such as The Ickabog. In fact, six of his drawings made it to the shortlist, giving the 10-year-old a huge boost in confidence. The one that made it to the final list is of his favourite character from the book: Mr Dovetail, who, in Divymaan’s words, is “honest, brave and talented”.   -  TM & © J.K. ROWLING 2020

Indrashis, age 7, India: It was a lockdown morning but an article in the The Telegraph made all the difference to seven-year-old Indrashis. His parents drew his attention to the drawing contest announced by Rowling, and his sibling Ananya quickly took upon the task of reading The Ickabog out to her brother. There was some discussion with his parents before the young contestant chose Lord Spittleworth, with narrow cunning eyes and hair brushed back, as the subject. His choice of colours — red, gold and wine — indicate that the character is a royal. Indrashis hopes to illustrate the dancing skeletons from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.   -  TM & © J.K. ROWLING 2020


Published on November 21, 2020

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