#INDIAKIDLIT – Tara Books – a pilgrimage and homage

by Nadine Bailey

This is a personal story of my relationship with Tara Books – for an extensive history of the company please read their latest blog celebrating 28 years of existence

My first introduction to Indian books was through what is probably one of Tara Books’ most famous offerings – the inimitable London Jungle Book. Pardon my gushing but… The Illustrations! The Imagery! The Writing! The Feelings! 

The London Jungle Book – by Bhajju Shyam, with Gita Wolf & Sirish Rao (2005)

A few years later through a series of fortunate coincidences I was invited to be on the first jury of the Neev Children’s Book Awards and had my chance to feast on the many varied literatures coming out of the subcontinent. 

It was an offering and sentiment that I could identify with – coming from South Africa, yet another British colony, and having grown up with our own culture and literature shoved in the closet while the likes of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and the like took first place in the cabinet of curiosities and we wondered about boarding schools with French, not Afrikaans or Xhosa! being smattered in conversations, animals we knew not of while ours were neglected, and that strange idea of cold Christmases. Something that Indian colleagues, friends and authors could also relate to. 

I was more than a child in a candy shop at that first Neev Literature Festival – stuffing my suitcase with every Tara Book that was on offer. Not only were they fabulously illustrated, but the innovation and thoughtfulness of design was quite arresting. And I’ve not even started on content that offered a unique perspective on topics that occupy the minds of our students and educators. 

Imagine my delight in February 2018, while at the ECIS (Educational Collaborative for International Schools) Triennial Librarians conference in Chennai, when a few of us managed to squeeze in a side-trip to the Tara Books printing presses and their head office!

When you read that Tara Books uses a handmade book process it is hard to imagine just how authentically handmade the books are. A few photos from our trip give an idea of the magic behind the books.

During our visit to the head office we chanced to meet Gita Wolf – the legend behind the company, chat with an artist-in-residence, and admire the artwork and book collections as well as buy some of their Fluke books – love how nothing is wasted. 

Gita Wolf, founder of Tara Books / Maguma / Fluke books

As a librarian who strives to continually discover books that are relevant to curriculum and our student lives and inquiry, I’d like to highlight a few of my favourites from the vast offering of Tara Books that you may want to incorporate in your collections. 

God of Money – an excerpt by Karl Marx, illustrated by Maguma

Not every student of economics delights in delving into a dense document from 1844 in order to access the ideas of Karl Marx – but leave this book lying around your economics classroom or library and somehow the concepts become so much more accessible. You can read about how this book came to be in this Tara blog post by Maguma, the Spanish artist.

Water – by Subhash Vyam (2018)

Relates to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs): 6 (Clean water and sanitation), 9 (Industry innovation & infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable cities  & communities), 12 (Responsible consumption & production), and 13 (Climate action).

This beautiful book, based on a Gond tribe fable and illustrated by a Gond artist, covers so many of the sustainable development goals using a fable storytelling style. The author contrasts the respect and frugality with which water is treated in the village with the rapacious use of the city. It is a wonderful device to start discussions about the complexities of choices that societies need to make to balance the needs of the population and that the global goals cannot be seen in isolation from each other.

In the Land of Punctuation – by Christian Morgenstern, translated from the German by Sirish Rao, illustrated by Rathna Ramanathan (2009)

Guarantees you’ll never look at punctuation in quite the same way again! Punctuation is personified in a dark political drama about freedom of expression and political uprising. 

Following My Paint Brush – illustrated by Dulari Devi, text by Gita Wolf (2011) / Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit – by Amrita Das, Gita Wolf & Suseela Varadarajan, designed by Rathna Ramanathan (2013)

When my students have a memoir / biography unit I love slipping in these two books – Following my Paintbrush and Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit – which depict the extraordinary turns of the lives of otherwise ordinary woman. They are a delightful counterbalance to the traditional western narratives of success and accomplishment. 

I See the Promised Land – by Arthur Flowers, illustrated by Manu Chitrakar, designed by Guglielmo Rossi (2013)

Following the idea of bringing in a surprise element to a biography unit, this amazingly illustrated graphic novel of Martin Luther King allows students to see the links – personal and political between the civil rights movement in the USA and the independence movement of India united by the relationship and travels of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior.

I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail – illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami (2011)

There is something irresistible about a book with holes in ever diminishing sizes cut into it that you can poke little fingers into while exploring poetry – with the images enhancing the text.  What is even more delightful is that this is a trick poem which despite its nonsensical nature is such fun. 

It is a truly wonderful thing that we have access to these books that delight the eyes, the mind and the senses. Tara Books are widely available, recognised and appreciated both inside India and internationally.  Besides the fact that the handprinted versions are collectors items, I’d encourage librarians everywhere to buy these books for both pure enjoyment and the pedagogical value they can add. 

Nadine Bailey

Nadine Bailey is an experienced teacher-librarian. She has lived and worked in Asia for 16 years, the last eight in the IB environment. She is now the middle school teacher librarian at the American School of Dubai. Nadine is passionate about diversity and enhancing a multi-cultural, multi-lingual environment. She has been on the Neev Book Award jury since its inception. Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter: @intlNadine

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 blog 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.

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