On December 3, Justice Shahabuddin Park at Dhaka's Gulshan-2 became a very busy place, as kids of varying ages flocked to the park from 11:30 in the morning to attend the 'Stories in the Park!' event.
Organised by the California, United States based Guba Books, which publishes children's books in the Bangla and English language, the event was a collaboration effort with Let's Read-The Asia Foundation, Bookworm Bangladesh, Five R Securex Consortium, Turtle Comm, and The Growing Up Club.
With a storytelling session that kicked off the day, Guba Books unveiled six new titles at the event, four of which were published in both Bangla and English language, and in partnership with The Asia Foundation as a part of their 'Gom Acho' collection, which portrays and acknowledges the children's lives impacted by the Rohingya refugee crisis.
'Ami Bokul', written by Asma Ul Husna Sanchita with illustrations by Shayon Mukherjee,
tells the story of a little child in which she overcomes her prejudice against the refugees in her neighbourhood through interactions with Rohingya refugees and after hearing her grandmother's tales and struggles as a refugee.
The wonderfully written 'Where are the Chonchols?' is another fun book that features lively and colourful illustrations by Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy and introduces young readers to twelve distinct festivals celebrated in Bangladesh.
The six new titles contain two books by acclaimed novelist Shazia Omar. One of these, 'Sun Moon Secret' was designed by French artist Sophie Cousinié. The book tells the story of Surya and Chandra, two young twin sisters who live near the Bay of Bengal, and who use their special powers to protect their community from droughts. Throughout the story, the book also explores the idea of realising one's determination.
The other one of Omar's titles, co-authored with Guba Books founder Raya Rahman, is called 'Rani's Seashell Necklace'. It's a story about a girl who lives in Cox's Bazar and has to drop out of school when the Rohingya community moves in. But it also shows how she learns to empathise with the refugees.
"The event has turned out really well because it created a sense of fun around the books. We really need to encourage children to read. I think these days everything is getting more digitised, so an outdoor event like this creates a healthy environment for children", Shazia Omar said.
"We rarely have the kind of children's books in English coming out from Bangladesh by Bangladeshi authors that include the representation of Bangalee characters or traditions and are easily accessible to the Bangladeshi kids. But I am really happy that Guba Books has been formed and now we have such books to which the children can connect with and have a sense of pride about their country," she added.
The vibrant and joyous event also featured a wide range of day-long activities centred around young children, including music by Rushnaf Wadud, crafting by Kids Time, play with clay by Claystation, cartoon art by Tanmoy Cartoons, VR and Robotics games by The Tech Academy. The event ended with the screening of the film 'Kathal' by Amit Ashraf.
Attending as a guest, North Dhaka Mayor Atiqul Islam announced at the event that Bookworm Bangladesh, the famous book shop that recently moved out of its 30-year-old iconic Old Airport Road store, will be coming back soon in Gulshan 2.
Singer Zohad Reza Chowdhury of the rock band Nemesis, actor, presenter and musician Zinat Sanu Swagata, comedian and columnist Naveed Mahbub attended the event among other notable guests. A large number of foreign nationals living in the country also attended the event.
Raya Rahman, the founder of Guba Books said she was amazed by the turnout. "The purpose of this event was to get the community together and eventually it turned out bigger than I expected. So, I think I've achieved what I wanted to," she told TBS during the event.