World Kid Lit: 10 Innovative Books that Bring India’s Vibrant Art and Poetry to Children
This brief tour of the literature for young people from India is part of a month-long series celebrating world literature for children as part of WorldKidLit Month, on twitter at #WorldKidLit.
India’s modern children’s literature industry has deep and varied traditions. Across the country of more than one billion people, almost two dozen languages are in current official use. Nine have more than 50 million speakers: Hindi, English, Bangla, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Kannada, and Gujarati.
There have long been stories written for children. Rabindranath Tagore, the 1913 Nobel Literature laureate from Calcutta, wrote books for children, some of which have been translated from Bangla.
Although English-language children’s books from India get the most attention abroad, there are thriving industries in Hindi, Bangla, and other languages. According to New Delhi-based publishing consultant and Bookwitty contributor Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, children’s literature in India’s regional languages flourished first “due to the robustness of the oral tradition of storytelling and later with self-publishing.”
Books in India’s regional languages, Rose says, usually are sold at low prices, “sometimes as low as 50 cents to a $1 a book.” This means, she said, translators are usually not well compensated. Many books go untranslated, and those that are, are generally not available outside the subcontinent.
English doesn’t have a lot of first-language speakers in India. But there is still a very large population of second and third-language speakers, enough to create a thriving, globally recognized community of English-focused publishers. In 2014, India’s Chennai-based Tara Books won the first-ever London Book Fair industry award in the children’s and young-adult publishing category.
The next year, fellow Chennai-based publisher Duckbill Books made the fair’s 2015 shortlist.
There are a few children’s books by Indian authors, such as Salman Rushdie’s delightful middle-grade novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories, that are widely known. Yet many of the books published in India are hard to get outside the country. Even books that win the Crossword Book Award, the country’s most important prize recognizing literature for children, are often not distributed beyond the country’s borders.
Here, we take a trip around India with 10 books you can find outside its borders, starting with picture books and moving up to graphic novels and novels for young adults.
Top image from Monkey Photo courtesy Tara Books