Boom of Children’s Books in India
For many generations of middle-class Indians, works by Blyton and the popular American books about Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys were essential childhood reading. Barely a handful of Indians wrote stories for children in English. But that may be changing.
In the past decade, a publishing boom, rising middle-class affluence and creeping cultural guilt among parents have led to a steady growth of Indian books for children with distinctly local characters and stories.A recently published, racy young-adult novel called “Double Click,” part of the Foxy Four adventure series by Subhadra Sen Gupta, is replete with images of contemporary India. Four teenage girls drive around the bumpy, potholed roads of New Delhi, looking for clues to solve a mystery as they eat lentils for lunch, pray to the multitude of Hindu gods, haggle with auto-rickshaw drivers and listen to thumping Bollywood music.
“It’s the new, new thing in Indian publishing. We are trying to tell Indians that there is a world beyond Harry Potter, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton,” said Sudeshna Shome Ghosh, editorial director of Puffin India, a children’s publishing house. “It is a discovery that Indian children have just begun to make.”
Another major factor is the nonprofit Pratham Books, established five years ago to produce Indian children’s books in eight regional languages as well as English. Most of its titles cost 50 cents or less and are distributed through a network of 4,000 community libraries in urban slums, village schools and temples.
“There are good Indian writers, and their numbers are growing. But how do they compete with the kind of aggressive promotion that foreign authors get? The Indian books just sit on the shelves in the hope that they will get picked up and somehow sell magically,” said Basu, 29, after his reading at the Eureka. “You cannot make a living as a children’s writer here.”
But last year, India’s first children’s literature festival, called “Bookaroo,” attempted to bring about three dozen Indian authors face to face with children. More than 5,000 children and parents came to the two-day festival on the sprawling green lawns of the capital, under the balmy November sun. Authors conducted story-telling sessions about peacocks and ghosts, followed by finger puppets and theater.