by Karthika Gopalakrishnan
India is a country of multitudes, made up of over a billion lives that intersect across lines of class, culture, language, and tradition, to coalesce into a thriving, proud, and fascinatingly curious whole.
Composed of individual states, some of which are more populous than Brazil while others have roughly the same population as Bermuda—and with each having little in common with the other—one can only begin to imagine the diversity of experiences that exist in this country.
Where do Indian children then begin to see themselves in books?
For a long time, they simply didn’t, but that’s not the case any more.
Indian children’s publishing has evolved from the agenda of nation-building, and popularising folk tales or mythology, to having writers and publishers work actively to reflect conflicts; cultures from different states; and lived experiences, in ways that contextualise each for young readers.
However, these books co-exist in a market that is dominated by global bestsellers, and fueled by parents’ preferences for educational material and activity books.
“When it comes to the genre-wise break-up of the books being sold in the children’s market, activity books and novelty books emerge at the top. Many publishers believe the market split to be 70%-30% in favour of non-trade books (i.e. educational and academic publishing.)”
The study mentioned that US and UK bestsellers like Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton along with books by Julia Donaldson, Eric Carle, Oliver Jeffers and David Walliams, were always in demand.
This has made it hard for homegrown literature to gain as much visibility in bookstores and popular media as Western titles do.
Publishers quoted in the study observed that this had contributed to apathy from the book sales ecosystem to actively promote homegrown literature. There was also the fact that children’s book publishing in India wasn’t yet financially feasible for book creators to pursue as a full-time career option, the study noted.
Publishers who work with Indian authors and illustrators to create representative literature fight an uphill battle everyday. Among their wins, though, they count a sustained interest in the sales of their backlist as contributing to boosting revenue, and the efforts of independent bookstores to promote their work.
“Independent booksellers are more likely to stock children’s books by Indian authors and also recommend them to customers, and not give a preference to western titles over Indian ones.”
The Neev Literature Festival and the Neev Book Award seek to further the work of spotlighting homegrown literature and celebrate India, Indian lives, and Indian stories, by identifying books that stand out from the crowd, as well as their creators, and their enablers.
For this series of Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI) posts celebrating WorldKidLitMonth with a focus on India, we reached out to academics, educators, authors, publishers, and librarians to each consider an aspect of Indian children’s literature that was important to them.
They weigh in on a range of topics, including the journey of Indian children’s publishing over time; relevance of ancient Indian stories for children today; what ought to constitute an Indian canon that may be taught in schools; drawing readers to see themselves in books; as well as literary representations of different Indian communities, regions, and significant events.
Publishers write about the importance of multilingualism as well as folk tales. Teacher librarians write about publishing houses such as Pratham Books and Tara Books while the work of celebrated Indian authors Paro Anand, Anushka Ravishankar, and Ruskin Bond is honored.
These posts are intended to give us sliced views into the Indian children’s literature sector. The aspects listed on the GLLI blog, and more, will come to life at the Neev Literature Festival in Bangalore on Sept 24 and 25, 2022. The Neev Book Award completes five years since its founding in 2022 as well.
Towards the end of the month, a series of articles here on the GLLI blog will capture how this festival has evolved over the years; what the observations of the jury members have been of their reading of the four categories in which the Neev Book Award is announced; and what this year’s process and observations for choosing the winners has been like.
We hope this helps give you an introduction and feed your enthusiasm for Indian children’s books.
For the month ahead, Happy Reading!
September is #WorldKidLit month and this year the GLLI blog is exploring different aspects of #IndiaKidLit in the run-up to the 2022 Neev Literature Festival, a celebration of Indian children’s literature being held Sept 24 and 25 in Bangalore. At the Festival, the winners of the 2022 Neev Book Award, which aims to promote and encourage high-quality children’s literature from India, will be announced in 4 categories: Early Years, Emerging Readers, Junior Readers, and Young Adult.
2022 GLLI guest editors for #WorldKidLitMonth:
- Karthika Gopalakrishnan is the Head of Reading at Neev Academy, Bangalore, and the Director of the Neev Literature Festival. In the past, she has worked as a children’s book writer, editor, and content curator at Multistory Learning which ran a reading program for schools across south India. Prior to this, Karthika was a full-time print journalist with two national dailies. Her Twitter handle is g_karthika.
- Katie Day is an international school teacher-librarian and one of the Jury Co-Chairs for the Neev Book Award. An American with a masters in children’s literature from the UK and a masters in library science from Australia, she has lived in Asia since 1997, including 15 years in Singapore, first at United World College of Southeast Asia and now at Tanglin Trust School. She has also lived and worked in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the UK. Her Twitter handle is librarianedge.