While JK Rowling, and Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl classics enjoy unprecedented fandom among kids here, awareness about the many excellent Indian authors and publication houses, who are striving to improve local content with stories and characters infused in Indian culture and spirit, is only picking up.
“One reason is that most of today’s parents grew up reading foreign authors (as very few Indian books were available earlier), and it’s natural that they pass them on to their kids,” says Naveen Valsakumar, CEO and co-founder of the Chennai-based publishing house, Notion Press.
The onus on widening the children’s reading repertoire also falls on the government and schools, adds Valsakumar. “Writing for kids and adults is vastly different. In places like Singapore and Malaysia, publishers work with even school and kindergarten teachers to come out with books that appeal to the children. They know exactly what kids like to read, and work with them actively on a daily basis. Also, along with the passion, there are a lot of incentives for them.”
“We conduct workshops where we encourage both adults and kids to dabble in children’s literature. That is one way that to increase supply to meet the demand, which is definitely there. So many children are turning authors today!”
It’s true – Tamil Nadu has seen a rise in the number of youngsters, especially pre-teens who have penned books for kids. Shraddha Anu Shekar, a 10-year-old who recently authored The Adventures of Morty, and 11-year-old Ananya V Ganesh (9 Chocolatey Bites) recently joined this expanding club of young authors.
Chennai-based Karthika Gopalakrishnan, the manager at The ilovereadin’ Library, as well as an editor at children’s book publishing house Ms Moochie Books, says that Indian parents do want their children to read more Indian books. “However, books produced by Indian children’s publishers are not as visible to a parent as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, or Geronimo Stilton. They’re not marketed as widely because the children’s book industry is still a growing sector in India today.”
If an international series like Harry Potter brings more children into the pleasures of reading, it’s a good thing, opined Gita Wolf founder of Tara Books, globally renowned for its culturally significant children’s books. “The success of a book like that is very complex. It has as much to do with a story that speaks to children all over the world, as to brilliant marketing. The point [for children] is to also move on, and discover the worlds that books open up in a wider sense.”
As we just came past another International Children’s Reading Day on April 2, Wolf says the market for children’s books has certainly expanded. “We are in a much more secure place now than when we started 20 years ago.”
“As much as famous publications like Tinkle or Amar Chitra Katha are known for their tales, the fact is that today’s millennials don’t really want to read about mythology or old Indian sagas. They grow up on a heavy dose of the internet and are exposed to influences from across the world. Hence it’s natural that they would expect the same from books, even when it is set in a local context. I’m a ‘90s kid and I grew up with all these inspirations – from Cartoon Network to Game of Thrones - around me, so I incorporated it in my book.” SK Arunachalam, a young writer of comic books for children, who says his series, Space Junkies, is inspired by the likes of Star Wars that he was brought up on.