"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."
— J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
Today is J.K. Rowling’s birthday, and in honor of her literary contributions (over 4,000 pages of them!), we bring you the story of two young women from Sri Lanka who are following in her footsteps.
At just 15 and 17 years old, respectively, Sarasi and Chathurika have already written and illustrated a successful children’s book with the help of Room to Read’s Local Language Publishing program. Now, three years after the book was first published, the two girls reflect on their first foray into children’s literature, and what the future has in store for them.
Three years ago, a small ad in a leading newspaper in Sri Lanka inadvertently brought two young school girls together for the first time. It was a call for submissions for a competition held by Room to Read that aimed to find and develop young literary talent in Sri Lanka, as well as identify potential authors and illustrators for the Local language Publishing program.
When the competition ended, 12-year-old Sarasi and 14-year-old Chathurika were among the winners. “I had participated in several competitions so when I was told that I was the winner, I was happy and all I expected was some kind of prize… I never thought that I would get an opportunity to write a story to be read by children all across my country,” says Sarasi.
Chathurika, too, did not expect the competition to be a life-changing event. “When I submitted my painting, I did not even know that I had this potential—I enjoyed drawing but never took it seriously,” she confesses. “But when I was selected, it made me realize that I can draw—it was a moment of epiphany.”
Thinking back to her days at the illustrators' workshop held for the winners, Chathurika says she is almost embarrassed by how “raw” she was, having never taken a formal drawing class before. “I had no idea about scale or shading or about the different mediums of this craft,” she says, "it was at the workshop that I realized that there was much more to drawing than just copying—I learned that there was indeed a method to this madness!”
It took her precisely 20 days to do the artwork for Sarasi’s 20-page story, Baby Fish Goes to School, which the young author says came to her almost immediately when she joined the writers’ workshop. “We had just put a civil war behind us and because my dad is in the army, the message of peace was at the top of my head,” she says.
Three years later—after becoming a much beloved children’s book in their native Sri Lanka, Baby Fish is back, with a whole new set of illustrations, courtesy of Chathurika.
Since their first foray into children’s literature, both girls have continued to develop their talents. Sarasi has even begun illustrating some of her own stories. “I have dreams of becoming an army doctor or a scientist,” shares the 12 year-old with confidence, who plans to continue writing and publishing her stories on the side.
Chathurika, on the other hand, says that art has become her life, having illustrated several more Room to Read local-language books since Baby Fish. After passing her exams, she has decided to attend art school, and dreams of one day holding exhibitions of her work. “I will always find time to do books for Room to Read however,” she says with a smile, “for after all it was Room to Read that showed me the way.”
Learn more about our programs in Sri Lanka.