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No more a child`s play

No more a child`s play
Highlights

The monsoon has failed in Yellaiah's village in Andhra Pradesh and everything is dry and dusty. One day, he is sitting under an old peepal tree with...

The monsoon has failed in Yellaiah's village in Andhra Pradesh and everything is dry and dusty. One day, he is sitting under an old peepal tree with an old fruit seller called Rajamma. He looks up to see a kite that's descending downward and it falls right beside him. Excitedly he picks it up. Rajamma tells him it is a wish-fulfilling kite. So Yellaiah calls it Korika. Soon, all his friends are making wishes � for bangles, a school bag, a full meal... 'A Kite Called Korika' written by Sharada Kolluru, and many other interesting books by Indian authors are catching the imagination of kids from across the country making children's books from India a serious business
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Rajeshwari Kalyanam From listening to bedtime stories, many children move to reading on their own usually with western fairy tales. 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'Snow White and Seven Dwarfs' and 'Cinderella' slowly give way to 'Famous Five' and 'Nancy Drews', with a few Enid Blytons thrown in here and there. The quota of Indian stories is promptly filled in by the grandparents followed by comics, especially the Amar Chitra Katha series.
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The trend has been more or less the same till the last decade until contemporary fiction and fantasy made their presence felt in the domestic children's books market. Books like 'Harry Potter' and 'Dairy of Wimpy Kids' series rose to extreme popularity amongst the young readers (9 � 13 years); even as fairy tales and colourful story books and classics from west continued to hold their sway. Indian authors writing children books were usually about Ruskin Bond and RK Narayan, but not anymore. New age writers like Payal Kapadia, Roopa Pai, Aniruddha Sengupta, Khyrunnisa A, Ranjit Lal, Priya Kuriyan, Asha Nehemiah, Anushka Ravishankar and Shabnam Minwalla are dotting the horizon. Indian publishers like Tulika, Pratham, Scholastic and Duckbill and several other mainstream Indian publishers are shifting majorly towards writing for children. The shift may be attributed to the availability of good books with a variety of themes set closer home. Anushka Ravishankar and Sayoni Basu started children's publishing house, Duckbill, in October 2012. Anushka is also the author of Moin and the Monster Series. Their books are usually set in contemporary India and not some remote place in England or America. She says, "There is a shortage of illustrated books for children who have just started reading independently" and three of their books released in March also have good illustrations in addition to being set in familiar locations with characters that relate easily to the readers. Tulika, on the other hand, also promotes a lot of regional language literature. The independent publishing house based in Chennai has been publishing multilingual books (English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali) since 1996, playing an important role in the emergence of contemporary Indian children's literature. A talented line up of authors churns out stories that carry an underlying current of Indian art, culture and traditions, through illustrations, themes and locations. Telling the stories of other cultures and lifestyles in a familiar narrative style and familiar language is necessary in the multilingual and multicultural society we live in, believes Tulika. So you read about Kalia, a poor cobbler who lives with his wife Swapna, in Patna and makes fantastic shoes with fine curling points, in English and other Indian languages, told with the help of beautiful illustrations inspired by the world famous Mithila paintings of Bihar, popularly known as Madhubani.
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"I am amazed the way children absorb the story when I read it to them. In fact I feel there is no language barrier when I narrate the story with its Telugu words," shares Sharada Kolluru who regularly conducts story reading sessions in Gurgaon and across India. "Children understand the difference between a fairy tale and fiction with a more natural setting. They are also ready to move away from fantasy. Indian writing is also getting recognition in the segment," says the author who is all set to release her next children's book. She was born in Hyderabad and studied in Osmania University before shifting to Gurgaon after marriage. She started writing as a hobby and soon she was writing stories for children. "In addition to writing a simple straight story which is a combination of reality and fantasy, I try to show urban kids that there is life in villages through my stories," she shares. Come summer and parents who wish to inculcate reading habit in their wards go scouting for good books. Faheem, Area Manager, Crossword Book Stores, Hyderabad shares, "Parents of children below nine years of age usually buy activity books, drawing books and illustrated story books. And they usually look for stories that teach good values and morals. Children between 9 � 14 years who usually choose their own books opt for 'Famous Five' series, 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' etc., Books by Indian authors are also increasingly being sought after." Sridhar who is from a multinational company prefers to introduce classics to his daughter and Vijay, a software professional on the other hand prefers to buy activity books and story books that teach something good to his kid in addition to being fun reads. While parents of young children continue to have their own idea of a good book, publishers think that preachy stories are a big 'No'. The modern day children book authors also are much aware of it. "A book is good only if the child likes it. If a child prefers fantasy fiction, then so be it. As long as you give an eclectic collection of books and amply feed their imagination, you are with them," says blogger Prabha Ram. Her blog "Saffron Tree" is probably one of the very few blogs dedicated to children's books and their reviews. Prabha, who is also an author, started the blog in 2006 in a humble way. She had shifted to the US and was trying to look for contemporary books from India for her daughter who was around three years of age. She realised there were many on western books, but none from India. She started buying books and writing about them. Today "Saffron Tree" has 15 contributors and they handpick books from book stores and book fairs and write about only those books that they feel deserve to be written about. Throwing light on the current scenario, she says, "There is a surge in Indian writers and publishers. We are not yet in the corporate trap. A lot of good books are coming, but the resources for marketing continue to be limited. However thanks to the blogs and online marketing, this too has picked, in the last 6 � 7 years." Interestingly "Saffron Tree" has classified children into various age groups and slotted the books accordingly making it easier for the readers. "Parents want their children to read and expose them to books even as toddlers. Libraries and activities like story time and reading time will benefit the children," she adds. One of her recent books 'Bijoy and the Big River' � The story of a young boy from a farming community that produces the ahimsa silk who goes up the Brahmaputra river; in addition to being an adventure targeted at 7+ age group offers a glimpse of Assam. She has co-authored the book along with Meera Sriram. Recently Hyderabad- based publishers 'Emesco' has printed many children's books for 'Central Institute of Indian Languages'. The bi-lingual (English and Telugu) books tell interesting stories, new and inspired from the vast treasure of Indian stories said in simple and easy to understand fashion, with extremely attractive and colourful illustrations on glossy print. Priced reasonably at Rs 35, stories like 'The Perfect Match � Thagina Janta', 'The Stinking Den � Samaya Spoorthi', 'The Lean Cat and the Fat Cat � Bakka Pilli � Laavu Pilli', are perfect to introduce kids to fun-filled reading. "Telugu reading kids can try and learn to read English and vice-versa � The books also help young children learn the language," shares Vijay Kumar, CEO, EMESCO. On the other hand Ashok Kumar CEO of Alakananda Publishing House and owner of Ashok Book Store, Vijayawada, says there hasn't been any significant increase in purchase of children's books despite the summer holidays. "These days the kids are too busy attending classes and activities even during holidays. There hasn't been any marked rise in buying. Even those who buy usually prefer to buy English books in a bid to make their kids learn the language," he shares. The publishing house recently published a story book in Telugu and priced the book at Rs 150. "There is response, but not enough. While there are books being made for government institutions, there aren't many takers for books in Telugu. Further, to make an illustrated book in colour is a costly and risky affair," he opines. P Bhagyalakshmi, Co-ordinator of Manchipustakam has a brighter view of things. They publish simple stories in Telugu with bright illustrations for children. Many of these stories are inspired from the Russian books of yore that the 70s and 80s generation are familiar with. They also keep books that are not so easily available in the market, like the National Book Trust and Children Book Trust publications, at their store in Tarnaka. "We have always had good response, especially since the past few years. Parents seem to be more interested in making their children read good books in Telugu. And that includes the newly literate rural section which is eagerly waiting for our exhibitions that we conduct in Vijayawada and many other places," she shares. Children continue to like fantasy, read mythology, history and classics. Ruskin Bond is still the most popular author and RK Narayan continues to top the list. However they are also open to reading good stories told well. This is where online stores like 'Flipkart' is making a significant contribution by offering the look and feel of the book enabling the young authors to decide what they want to buy. Further e-books are making headway even in children's books category. It is now up to the parents, libraries, book fairs and not to forget the publishers to create the right environment for a great reading experience for the young readers. And the Indian authors are definitely making their contribution to this effect and successfully at that.
Preachy books don't work
What is the factor that helps you select stories for children? child3We specialise in picture books and bilingual picture books and also publish select paperback fiction and non-fiction. For picture books, it goes without saying that the stories have to have visual possibilities. We also think it's important to publish books for children that not only give them a glimpse into stories from different regions, but into different cultures and ways of life; narratives and images that are class-, caste- and gender-sensitive and offer a enriching reading experience. So we are always on the lookout for manuscripts that have original, stimulating content.
How important are illustrations?
Children instinctively respond to pictures, especially in the early stages of reading, they make sense of the story or make up their own with what they see. It is often said that children 'read' pictures before they read words. So illustrations are very important. Have you understood what works and does not work in Children's literature? Preaching or talking down to children never works, but treating them as equals always does. There is nothing that is taboo � children can grapple with all kinds of realities if they are presented skilfully and sensitively. They don't necessarily need happy endings all the time.
What is the state of regional literature (Telugu) in comparison to English in terms of selling and reading?
Compared to English and Hindi, and even languages like Marathi and Gujarati, sales for picture books in Telugu are lower. But while initial response was slow, it has been steadily picking up. What according to you is the reason for traditional children's books like chandamama are losing readership? The lack of fresh and contemporary content.
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