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Children’s book ‘A Little Spice is Extra Nice’ introduces kids to Kochi’s Mattancherry spice market and shows them how spices are made

An illustrated children’s book takes a trip to the Mattancherry spice market in Kochi and traces the journey of spices from farm to kitchen

Annie and her appooppan (grandfather in Malayalam) are cooking in their home in Kochi when they realise they are almost out of spices — star anise, cardamom and cloves. Where else would they go for a refill but to the spice market in Mattancherry? Annie learns about spices — their journey from farm to kitchen — as she explores Mattancherry with her grandfather. Long-time friends Sruthi Vijayan and Sanjana Ranjit tell Annie and Appooppan’s story in this deliciously illustrated children’s storybook, A Little Spice Is Extra Nice – Annie Goes To Mattancherry.

Speaking Tiger/Sanjana Ranjit
 

Chennai-based photographer/travel writer Sruthi Vijayan and freelance illustrator/interior designer Sanjana Ranjit, who lives in Italy, collaborated on the project during lockdown, last year. The idea was born out of a phone call in the initial days of the lockdown to check on each other. Sanjana was at home, in Chennai. As the conversation meandered about what each was doing, Sanjana told Sruthi about the illustrations she was doing to keep herself occupied. The call culminated in [plans for] a chidlren’s book.

A children’s book was a first for both, “It was a great learning process. Once Sruthi and I discussed the theme for the book, I created a mood board to understand the visuals’ look and feel. Then came the character designing. By this time, Sruthi had further built on the story. Next, I worked on the rough sketches, the sequence of scenes, and the visual transition between scenes. Finally, I rendered the colours and textures to the images. It was a collaborative process. Sruthi and I shared a lot of creative inputs through the whole process and we learnt a lot through it all.”

Speaking Tiger/Sanjana Ranjit

Speaking Tiger/Sanjana Ranjit
 

Locating the story in Mattancherry was a conscious decision. “The setting had to have a visual character, we thought using spices [as motifs] would be a great way to integrate the two,” says Sruthi.

Sanjana adds, “The thing I love most about Mattancherry is how different cultures and religions have co-existed there for centuries. It’s a beautiful tapestry of customs, food and practices from around the world. It also has a long history of global spice trade. Both visually and historically, it was the perfect place for this story. And of course, the lovely ferry ride to Mattanchery has been one of my favourite things to do in Kochi — it’s like a time portal into an old world. The ferry scene in our book is of my favourite illustrations!” Although her family is settled in Chennai, she has roots and extended family in Kerala.

Sanjana Ranjit and Sruthi Vijayan

Her references [for illustrations] were memories of trips to Kochi and photographs from Sruthi’s documentary project on the city. “Every little nook and corner is an illustrator’s delight.”

A deep connection with food combined with the realisation that they aren’t too many children’s books about food or rather cooking, led them to the theme. The other intention was to get children interested in how food is made/sourced. “It’s to give kids an idea of the long journey spices make before reaching their tables and homes,” says Sruthi.

Sanjana adds, “Very early on, we had decided that we wanted to create a story about food — specifically, cooking. We felt it is an often ignored but essential skill set. We zeroed in on spices since it is an essential part of Indian cooking. We knew that through spices we could talk about history, food, culture and even the economy.”

Speaking Tiger/Sanjana Ranjit

Speaking Tiger/Sanjana Ranjit
 

The premise of the story — a man who cooks — was a conscious choice. “We wanted the grandfather to cook, to break the stereotype of a grandmother or a female family member cooking. At the end of the day, it is a book for children and we didn’t want to get into anything too heavy or serious,” says Sruthi.

Sruthi and Sanjana graduated in visual communication, where they became friends. Since everything related to the book — concept to publication — happened during lockdown, the friends did not meet each other through the entire process. “The entire collaboration was equal input. It was not difficult, since we were very clear about what we wanted. Plus we are very good friends…” says Sruthi. Will release for online since it already has ‘words’.

With no contacts in the publishing industry nor any idea about how it works, they sent the book, illustration and all, to Speaking Tree, which published the book. They are planning two more books as part of the series.

The book published by Talking Cub, an imprint of Speaking Tiger, is available on Amazon.

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