Indian children’s books in English are burdened by their past.
For many, many years, barring a few exceptions, children’s books tended to be a bit puritanical and proselytizing. Good children suffered nobly, bad children sneered and jeered but ultimately suffered more, moral values were imparted, folktales and mythology–our glorious past which every child must must must know in order to fully learn about Indian culture (euk!)–abounded.
No wonder kids would rather read books published in other English-speaking countries where children faced genuine dilemmas, had adventures which went beyond a timorous talking mango in a tree, horror that went beyond a churail which spoke nasally.
So when we meet kids who look embarrassed when we ask them what Indian children’s books they like and mumble ‘Ruksin Bond’, we don’t really blame them. After all, entertaining Indian children’s books still tend to be not too many. And they are hard to find. Clearly, both shop-owners and publishers (when they are so lucky as to have an international list) know that they have more to gain out of shelves of Gossip Girl rather than unknown Indian children’s authors (unknown because it is a rare bookseller who reads his/her books. Or even the AI sheets!).
Which is why 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love is so wonderful. Divided by age group, with personal reviews, it cover a range of truly wonderful books–many of which I had not heard of. It is an essential read for those who work with children’s libraries, whether at school or elsewhere. All too often does one find that the finest books published in the last five years are not represented. Also, it is a valuable resource for any parent or adult-with-child-in-her-life—because there are truly wonderful books out there.
The selection of books was done by a large number of people, with the two editors juggling the many selections. Which is what adds so much value to the collection–there are diverse kinds of books, for different tastes and interests. This adds variety to the range of books, and gives the collection a kind of credibility which a more subjective selection might lack.
For me personally, I have so many more options when I am buying books for my offspring or his numerous friends. And (more importantly) for myself. And it also gives me much joy to see so many of the books I have worked on in the last twelve years adorning the pages.
The book is laid out with great style (which is sometimes neglected in Indian books for children, though I am sure in none of the books listed!). And the reviewers write with love and precision, making it fun to read from cover to cover. I like the diversity of reviewers’ voices, as each one brings his or her particular passions to bear on the book they are writing about.
This project took some four years to complete–and we do hope so much that there will be an annual reissue, or at least one every couple of years! Well done, Samina and Anita and the big happy band who worked with you. I am ordering several copies right away.