#INDIAKIDLIT – Looking Back, Looking Ahead at Indian Children’s Literature

by Karthika Gopalakrishnan

After three years of gathering at events online, authors, illustrators, and publishers came together at the Neev Book Award Retreat to discuss the space that Indian children’s publishing finds itself in and what can be done to go forward.

This event was conducted to commemorate the fifth year of the award, ahead of the 2022 Neev Literature Festival on Sept 24-25, 2022.

Winners in each category from the first four years of the Neev Book Award. All shortlists can be viewed on this page.

The day began with young readers sharing their opinions of the titles from this year’s Neev Book Award shortlist that they connected to, from one of the youngest who found a bit of himself in the protagonist’s relationship with her grandmother with the picture book Paati’s Rasam, written by Janaki Sabesh, Dhwani Sabesh, and illustrated by Pallavi Jain (Karadi Tales), to the high-schooler who understood what it was like to be in the head of a non-binary teenager in Rain Must Fall by Nandita Basu, published by Duckbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House. 

A session conducted by Rachael McDiarmid, from RM Marketing Services in Sydney, Australia, on how authors and publishers might make the best use of social media, emphasised the need for book creators to know who their audience might be; what their likes might be; where they might be from; and to have a content plan ready to help keep the promotions of one’s work consistent. 

Rachael stressed that it was also important for writers to not always solely promote their own work, but also that of their peers, and to engage in conversations with their readers.

A study of the sector commissioned by literary agent and publishing commentator Kanishka Gupta quoted the Nielsen Annual Report of 2020 which estimated that the size of the children’s book market in India to be Rs 1.48 billion, which is 5.3% of the total trade market (28.2 billion).

Graph taken from “Value proposition of the Indian publishing:
Trends, challenges, and future of the industry,”
a May 2021 report produced by the Association of Publishers of India and EY-Parthenon

With there being a greater demand for early learning picture books, activity books, board books and colouring books, literary work from Indian children’s book writers in English has relatively little visibility, not enough demand to boost sales, resulting in lower motivation within large publishing houses to allocate these books a generous budget.

As the complications were discussed, the discourse shifted to the need to form a community, to counter the inertia from the market.

Shobha Vishwanath (Commissioning Editor, Karadi Tales), Kavita Gupta Sabharwal (co-founder of the Neev Literature Festival and Head of Neev Academy), and Sayoni Basu (Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House India)

Writers and editors spoke about how the information regarding the titles that have been released for Indian children each year isn’t easily accessible in one place. Others chimed in on the need to create more awareness among parents about the Indian children’s literature segment, through school visits and book fairs, as well as wondering how school and public libraries might play a role.

Global examples were touched upon, of initiatives that are currently underway to increase communities’ access to books and libraries such as Bring Me A Book.

As the conversation continued, the unifying thought that emerged was that there are many Indias that exist where we are today, filled with readers of every hue. If the ecosystem of writers, editors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, booksellers, parents, and educators, have to champion Indian children’s books, it would need a multitude of strategies and collective commitment, to move the industry forward from being a labour of love to one that can truly hold its own on the national stage.

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

Karthika Gopalakrishnan

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.

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