Sybil Wettasinghe, Children’s Story Writer Par Excellence

An ADA DERANA Encomium, 1 July 2020, with this title “Sybil Wettasinghe passes away

Veteran author and illustrator of children’s books Sybil Wettasinghe, fondly known as ‘Sybil Nanda’ in Sri Lanka, has passed away at the age of 93.According to family sources, she had been receiving medical treatment at a private hospital in Colombo for the past 4 days and had passed away at around 11.00 p.m. last night (30).

Kala Keerthi Sybil Wettasinghe, the doyen of children’s literature in Sri Lanka, has been writing and illustrating stories for over 70 years. The internationally-known children’s story writer and illustrator had entered into Guinness Book of World Records in March this year for a book with the most number of alternate endings.

The 93-year-old grandmother of five, who has shaped the imagination of four generations, threw a challenge to her young readers to write an end to her story titled Wonder Crystal using their creativity. A total of 20,000 endings were received, and 1200 best entries were featured in a printed version to coincide with the World’s Children’s Day.

Sybil, who was the first Sri Lankan woman to work full-time as a journalist, has published about 200 children’s storybooks, some of which have been translated into languages like Tamil, Danish, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Vietnamese and Norwegian.

It all began with Kuda Hora (Umbrella Thief), a narrative she developed for the popular Sinhala eveninger Janata in 1952. Later the story was published as a book laying the foundation for her prolific career.

Her tales rooted in Sri Lankan simple village life has also cornered a sizeable market in the US by becoming the first Asian children story writer to be published in America.

In 1992 Japan honoured Sybil with a prestigious award to recognize her services. Kuda Hora was published in Japan in 1986. Another series of books about a humorous, crafty jackal, Hoity the Fox has become a sensation in Japan. Kuda Hora was honoured with the Best Foreign Book Award in Japan in 1986, and in 1987 it won the Japanese Library Association Award for the most popular children’s book.

Sybil’s memoir, The Child in Me, won the Gratiaen Award in 1995.

She began her career at Lankadeepa published by Times of Ceylon Group and later joined the Lake House and wrote stories and drew illustrations for Sinhala and English newspapers.

1 Comment

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One response to “Sybil Wettasinghe, Children’s Story Writer Par Excellence

  1. MAHINDA DE LANEROLLE

    I knew ” Sybil Aunty” when I was 4+ yrs old. Now I am 75. She was very lean and “plumelet wt” and was Miss Sybil de Silva then. The first editor of Lankadeepa Newspaper Julius de Lanerolle introduced her to my father K.D. de Lanerolle who was editing the weekly children’s section, “Lapatipela.” [ K.D.deL had been the first editor of “Singhala Daruwa,” the very first childrens’ magazine of Ceylon, published by Ananda College, CBO, which even had Tamil Lessons for the young readers in it.]

    K.D.deL introduced to “Lapatipela,” with 2 others, the character “Bindu” – a very friendly alien looking figure, universal friend of kids, a boy nor a girl; Bindu’s column had” Bindu’s Post” that answered all kids’ questions and wrote a weekly comment for kids, based on the week’s news. “Peththappu”, the 2nd character, in glasses was the kids’ questioner in the column, which had the answer for the previous week’s question and a new question for the week. The wise owl, bespectacled wearing a cap and gown was “Bakusu Mama” the 3rd character, in” Lapatipela” who wrote on important issues in simple language. From the heading to the 3 main characters, “Sybil Aunty” illustrated the entire page based on KDdeL’s directions.
    She , as Sybil de Silva also illustrated the entire RAMYA KATHA POTHPELA of K.D.de L and Dr N.D.Wijesekera ; some of the books in that collection were, Gamarala Devlowa Giya Sati,Rawana, Thiruwan, Mini Palanga and Saradiel.
    It is strange that none who wrote about this great journalist and writer did not
    refer to the above earliest work of her’s. Those were unique in style and reflected her talents at the age of 22.

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