Friday, March 4, 2016

Children's Books Set in the Indian Milieu

Apoorva Sripathi wonders whether the growing number of Indian titles in English for children reflects reading choices. A world beyond lacrosse and éclairs?

Today, Indian titles attempt to rethink stereotypes with relevant story lines, inclusion of words from regional languages (example, amma and appa instead of Mum and Dad), and scenes set in the Indian milieu.

It also owes a lot to the rising number of authors: Anushka Ravishankar, Annie Besant, Roopa Pai, Paro Anand, Samit Basu, Siddhartha Sarma are some well-known names.

It seems like there is no dearth of titles for the interested parent. Vidya Mani, managing editor of Goodbooks, a website that reviews and discusses books for Indian children, says that the trend could be due to parents “actively looking for books that can connect with children here. Indian books speak a lot more to children, and parents are recognising that”. However, she wishes that teachers and librarians take a little more effort to curate reading lists for children, apart from the ones put out by the CBSE. “For example, Classes III to X can study Salim Ali, especially Zai Whitaker’s Salim Ali for Schools, which would make academics quite easy.”

However, Sayoni Basu of Duckbill Books believes that the real achievement would be when children opt for books by Indian authors. “A lot of parents want books with Indian mythology and folktales; for which, there are no non-Indian substitutes. So, I’m not sure how much ‘opting’ it involves,” she says. And that may be because of parents who are partial to the ‘oldie but a goodie’ idiom — “Parents who enjoy reading Indian authors may want their kids to experience the same pleasure,” explains Sayoni.

With the number of publishing houses for children’s books increasing, the market looks relatively healthy. But is that the case? Yes, says Mala Kumar, editor of Pratham Books, citing the growing number of young readers today, despite popular opinion that millennials are hooked onto television and the Internet. “Many old and new publishing houses are widening their offerings for children. There is a larger supply to cater to the demand. It’s not just a trend, it’s here to stay.”

From a publisher’s point of view, a good children’s book, according to Mala, is one that contains a well-told story with contemporary themes and settings, lends itself well to illustration and translation and provides a fresh perspective. Pratham Books also recently launched a platform called StoryWeaver, a digital repository of multi-lingual stories (over 1,300 stories in 33 languages are available for free).

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