As kids who grew up in the 90s, our experience with English children’s stories penned by local authors were quite a rarity. We had great storytellers – Sibil Weththasinghe, Janaki Sooriyarachchi, and the like – but overall, there were very few English language stories that put our Sri Lankan childhoods on the pages of a book.
We were quite happy to become armchair travellers as we read the stories about children in the British countryside or from the American South, wondering how children in faraway countries experienced life. But now, children abroad will have the same opportunity to wonder the same about our beautiful island and the lives of our children, and Sri Lankan children can finally see their own experiences reflected in the stories they read.
Amongst the many talented writers, illustrators, and creators of children’s stories from Sri Lanka are the incredibly talented husband and wife duo Manesha Udawatte and Sean Abeyewardene. With Sean illustrating to life Manesha’s beautiful vision, the duo have so far released a number of children’s books, the first of which was titled Kal the Adventurer: Explorer of the Ocean, a children’s picture book that beautifully blends fiction and scientific facts about the ocean. Speaking to Manesha, she shared that the second book in Kal the Adventurer series is ready for release in March 2022.
Finally, Manesha’s most recent work was launched on Christmas Eve 2021 and is titled Maharani and the Whales – the great escape. Speaking to the author, she shared that the story was inspired by the mass stranding of nearly 100 pilot whales on New Zealand’s remote Chatham Islands. Having just completed an ocean-inspired book, she said that herself – and especially her son – was very interested in marine life and the world’s waters.
She said that because her son was so curious, they looked into it together and in her research she found that the science is not conclusive on why it is that these mass stranding actually took place. But there are several theories available and one such theory was that pilot whales are social creatures, always travelling in large pods, and when one strays from the pod, the rest will follow suit in the spirit of staying together.
Manesha was inspired by this sentiment, and in learning that pilot whales have a matriarchal society, she penned her story from the point of view of the pilot whales where the pod’s matriarch Maharani is leading their pod with her two sisters Manika and Managala.
Considering her experience as an early childhood educator, Manesha shared that she does not believe in talking down to children. She firmly belives that if they are guided then they can learn the words, there’s no need to dumb down a story for the ease of a child. She said that if it is for independent reading, then her book is best suited for seven-year-olds and upwards, but if you are going to do a reading then any age category is fair game.
In addition to a helpful glossary explaining all the necessary words, Manesha’s books all contain a QR code that allows the user to download the accompanying audio book into their electronic device of choice. The audio book is narrated by the author and professionally produced, by non-other than Dilan Irugalbandara of the Voice Print Music Academy, with sounds and music to enhance the literary experience. She shared that the book aims to broaden the scope of literacy by including auditory learners/visually impaired book lovers as well.
To get your hands on “Maharani and the whales – the great escape”, direct message Manesha on Instagram.