COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – Janaki Sooriyarachchi’s phone rings nonstop. But the Sri Lankan children’s books author is not tired of answering the many calls from her young fans.
Rather, these calls inspire Sooriyarachchi to be more committed to her work, she says. A child’s voice on one phone call thanks her for creating a beautiful movie – the author’s first foray into the film industry.
Sooriyarachchi released an educational cartoon movie for children in September 2013 titled “Pinchi & The Alphabet.” Since then, it has gained popularity in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.
The film is Sri Lanka’s first Sinhala-language video that teaches the alphabet to children, Sooriyarachchi says. Sinhala is a phonetic language spoken by the Sinhalese people, the country’s majority ethnic group. Children typically first learn the 32 basic letters of the 54-character alphabet.
“My main intention in creating the movie is to make the alphabet easy to learn,” Sooriyarachchi says. “I want small children to enjoy learning their ABCs in the native language alphabet so they have lots of time to play.”
She has noticed that children have less time to play these days.
“When I was a small girl, I had enough time to think and be creative,” she says. “But today, it is sad that small children as young as 2 or 3 years old are saddled with studies. They have lost their playtime.”
For “Pinchi & The Alphabet,” Sooriyarachchi did the preproduction research, wrote the script and lyrics, created the illustrations, provided the voice of the fairy, composed the music for the songs, and sang some of them. She also produced and directed the cartoon under her video animation production house, Tikiri Animation Studio, which she launched in 2012.
During more than 18 months of research for the movie with children under 5 years old, Sooriyarachchi found that animation was an effective tool to teach them letters, she says. She observed that children could identify and memorize the letters faster and with less effort than by reading alphabet books.
“They learn the letters faster when they are watching a movie with songs,” she says.
Sooriyarachchi says that a good children’s book is like “a sweet that is wrapped with many good lessons” to influence children to lead better lives. The cartoon, which spans 106 minutes, also teaches moral values, such as love and kindness.
Creating the video was a dream come true for Sooriyarachchi. Her current goal is to bring the cartoon alphabet to children in poor villages and primary schools in the country’s rural areas to offer them the opportunity to learn as well.
“I will have a mobile studio – a van with a fixed TV – to display the video for them,” she says.
Sooriyarachchi says she lived in her own world of imagination as a girl. She wrote her first book about an adventure to fairyland with her dolls when she was 8. Since then, she has written children’s books on diverse topics such as how rain is created and how to become a young entrepreneur.
Sooriyarachchi has written and has illustrated 206 books, she says. She also publishes them under her own company, Tikiri Publishers (Pvt) Ltd.
More than 15 of Sooriyarachchi’s e-books have been translated into Tamil, English, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic, she says. She has also written 30 children’s books in English.