THE daughter of parents who come from Kairuku in Central Province and West Papua is the winner of the inaugural Buk bilong Pikinini Award for Children’s Writing in the 2014 Crocodile Prize.
Iriana Wanma is a 25-year old graduate, currently job hunting and living in Brisbane with her family.
She wins a cash prize of K5,000 and a trophy to be presented at the awards event in Port Moresby on Thursday 18 September.
“I graduated last year with a degree in health science,” Iriani told me. “I gave myself a break for six months then started looking for a job. I'm a qualified health promotion officer.”
Iriani’s writing that particularly drew the judges’ attention was the tale of Oa Grasshopper and Kaipa Caterpillar, which she also illustrated and describes as “an educational story about friendship and transformation.”
“I love children and their sense of curiosity, adventure and imagination,” Iriani said.
“I knew some children liked insects and decided to do the story from the point of view of insects with human qualities to make it interesting for children.
“Having a caterpillar as a character allowed me to incorporate the life cycle of a butterfly into the story. The aibika tree and the characters' names add a PNG flavour to the story.”
Iriani began to write when her family in 2004 when she was 15. “I used to write letters to my cousins and friends and that developed my love of writing. I also enjoyed English throughout high school.”
Asked about the Crocodile Prize, Iriani referred to it as “an empowering initiative that allows writers to have their work published and in doing so contribute to PNG literature.
“It is such a pleasure to read literature by Papua New Guineans and the Crocodile Prize through the PNG Attitude blog has allowed me to that.
“The Prize is work by the people for the people and is facilitated by an incredibly selfless and hard-working team.
“I am in awe of the efforts of the Crocodile Prize Organising Group and truly appreciative for what they do.”
Iriani also praised the sponsor of the Children’s Writing Award, Buk bilong Pikinini.
“I sincerely thank Buk bilong Pikinini for supporting the Crocodile Prize this year and for the opportunity to have my story and my fellow children's authors' stories published in this year's Anthology.
“It is a privilege to be presented with the Children's Writing award. I'm also appreciative of the work of Buk bilong Pikinini in helping to educate Papua New Guinean children with the establishment of libraries across the nation.”
The judges’ citation
Children should be read to from a very early age, ideally beginning around the time they begin to talk and comprehend words. Some people even suggest that reading to children while they are still in the womb can be beneficial. When they are able, children should be encouraged to read for themselves so that they develop reading as a lifetime habit.
Writing for children requires special skills. Most writers who write for children target their work towards particular age groups and sometimes gender. They also take into account the social environments in which children live.
Some of the material for children is written purely to entertain; some is written to educate and some is written 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 decide the demographic of each work and then how it performs in those specific terms. In the end it could come down to deciding between a deceptively simple work for five year olds and a sophisticated piece for twelve year olds.
Judging writing for children in Papua New Guinea adds to these variables. What might be appealing to a child in a remote rural setting might not just click with their counterpart in a town area.
A traditional story with a distinct cultural setting may appeal to the rural child but leave the town-dweller cold. In this sense, it is sometimes better to stick with universal themes.
With all these factors in mind the judges decided to award the children’s writing prize to Iriani Wanma and 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 subtly educational and entertaining at the same time. Lastly, it has a Papua New Guinean flavour, which is not overwhelming but sufficient to firmly fix it in place.
"What was also important for us in terms of judging the story, publishing it and its viability,was the target group age," said Buk bilong Pikinini founder and chairman, Anne-Sophie Hermann (pictured).
"School children come to the libraries in the afternoon and pick their stories themselves and borrow what they like, whereas the children attending our literacy program greatly enjoy having stories read to them and using them for small plays and activities.
"This is such a story and one where they can immediately identify what is going on and imagine themselves as part of the action."
Anne-Sophie says she is looking forward to publishing Iriani's story and getting it onto the BBP shelves.
And, with another four libraries on the way this year, that's a lot of shelves.
Anne-Sophie also hopes to work with Iriani in future to develop a series of children's stories.