Sybil Nanda in Guinness Book with Wonder Crystal | Sunday Observer

Sybil Nanda in Guinness Book with Wonder Crystal

Iconic children’s author and illustrator Sybil Wettasinghe was honoured by the Guinness Book of World Records with her latest book Wonder Crystal.  The book has won a place in the Guinness Book as the book with the most number of alternative endings – 1,250 to be exact.  

The much loved author said of this outstanding milestone in her illustrious career, “I did not expect such a thing.” Continuing, the nonagenarian (92) said, “ I am happy that I have been able to achieve a world record.”  

Sybil Wettasinghe  was approached by Ceylon Biscuits (Pvt) Ltd (CBL) marketing team to write a book without an end and let children give the different endings. This was under their Little Imaginators  program launched to commemorate World Children’s Day last year. She readily agreed.  

Wonder Crystal was born within the short space of around three weeks. “ It never takes me long to write a book,” Sybil said.  

The objective of the author was to make the children read the incomplete story and encourage them to use their imagination and creativity to give an ending of their choice. The book was shared among schools island-wide in Sinhala, Tamil and English and the children were asked to give their endings in the form of a story, illustration or poem.  

The children gave different endings and received 20,000 entries. They also brought up issues they faced, such as, lack of proper school facilities and an alcoholic parent. The endings proved that author Sybil Wettasinghe had more than succeeded in the objective, for the book also provided a social platform for children to air their issues.  

The selection of the most suitable entries was done by Prof. Subhangi Herath, a Socioilogist at the University of Colombo and her team. They chose 1, 250 from the total number of 20,000 entries received .  

CBL had a grand ceremony at which the Certificate of Authenfication from the Guinness  Book of  World Records was presented. The author, Sybil Wettasinghe, sponsors and Guinness officials were present along with over 2,000 children.

As usual, Sybil Nanda or Sybil Atthamma received an overwhelming reception from the children. “Children were calling out to me and as I was leaving some teachers called their students to meet me as I was leaving. I was surrounded by love and it made me very happy”.  

The concept of the book – getting hands- on involvement was nothing new to Sybil Wettasinghe: In her 70 years of writing she has always sought the children’s point of view. She once said, having written for four generations I always respect the children’s ability to appreciate something good.”  

During her interview with the Sunday Observer, the veteran author illustrated her point with one of her experiences. She was writing the book Podi Achchige Pulung (cotton wool) and visited a school to get the children’s opinion.

She suggested that the cotton wool were the clouds. One little boy had contradicted her saying that it was not true and that his teacher had told him that the clouds were vapourised water. Sybil then asked him for a solution and finally the author and the child decided that the pulung would get mixed with the clouds.  

The empathy Sybil Wettasinghe has with children is unique. This is perhaps best expressed in her own words. In her acceptance speech at the Nikkei Art Prize 2012 (awarded for ‘her magnificent contribution to enrich people’s lives in the region’) she said,” I am an octogenerarian who is a child at heart. I have five grandchildren of my own. I consider all the world’s children as my own. I love them all. They are the spice of my life”.   

Then again in her book

The child in meshe says :  

A child and  

Grown-up  

lives in me ,  

in perfect  

peaceful harmony  

within me ….  

Together they dream of  

Magical things  

To amuse  

Enthrall  

Enchant  

All the world’s children.  

That is the dual personality in me.  

 

Sybil Wettasinghe was born to Hikkaduwage Sawderis de Silva and Kotanadurage Joslin de Silva in Gintota, Southern Sri Lanka on October 31, 1928. She had her education at Holy Family Convent, Colombo where she loved to draw more than study. She began a journalistic career by illustrating H.D. Sugathapala’s Standard Five Navamaga Reader. This book revoulutionised Sri Lankan books as it was the first children’s book in colour. Renowned author Martin Wickremesinghe reviewed these drawings and said, “this child has a great future before her”.  

Sybil then joined the Sunday Times and subsequently moved to the Lake House group to join the Janathapaper. Here, she met her husband, Dharmapala Wettasinghe who was a sub editor and then became the Chief sub editor.   He always encouraged her in her writing and illustration. One example was when he encouraged her to go to Rangoon for a seminar when she was three months pregnant much to the horror of her mother. In Rangoon Sybil had an unexpected encounter with the President of Burma (now Myanmar).”

They were some of the happiest weeks of my life,” said Sybil. They have four children. Sybil loved her childhood home so much that she drew the environment and characters for her stories from it. They also depict the life of the times. Author and critic Tissa Devendra calls Sybil a social historian and says, ‘The child in me depicts the social development in the country over decades’.  

Kuda Hora, ( The Umbrella Thief) was written in 1952 and published in 1955. It has been translated into 13 languages and used today in Japan, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and South Africa. In 1986, it won the best Foreign Book to be published award and in 1987 the Most Popular Children’s Book by Japanese children . Her illustrations for the Sinhala Children’s Bible, Deeptha Maga won her an award in Czechoslavakia.  

Among the distinguished awards clinched by Sybil Wettasinghe locally are the Kalakeerthi Sammanya, , Rohana Pradeepa from the University of Ruhuna, the Solius Mendis Award, the Galu Pansilu Award and the Gratien Award for The child in me.  

 

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