I met Dr. TanuShree Singh on Facebook when she mentioned my Bookaroo visit in Delhi. Then I found out she’s one of the biggest fan of books, especially children’s books and a super-mom. Tanu lives in Faridabad, India and teaches psychology and writes a wonderful blog at https://tanushreesingh.wordpress.com/.
When I started talking about Indian books on world stage, Tanu was an obvious expert I wanted to talk to. She has a front-seat view of children’s books in India and recommends a host of books to many friends via her Facebook Group The Reading Raccoons.
So I asked Tanu about Indian books and their place in today’s world publishing – in terms of the content.
1. Compared to when you were a child, do you think there are more interesting Indian books on offer? What do you like about today’s bookshops and what do you not like?
Oh, absolutely! When I was a child, my access to books was limited to the library at mum’s college and a rare visit to a bookstore in Delhi. The library visit meant that I read P G Wodehouse, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and the likes. The bookstore lead us mostly to Hardy Boys, Famous five, and Nancy Drew. Picture books were unheard of. The very first ones were the translated Russian books. And Indian books were unheard of barring Feluda. So we weren’t spoilt for choices like the children of today. You have books for all age/reading levels now.
I love visiting bookstores despite everything being cheaper online. The thing I love is the wider representation that children’s books are getting as compared to the past. There are even stores dedicated solely to children’s books!
The thing that saddens me, however, is the way Indian authors languish in a corner at most stores. Very few of them display them prominently or stock them.
2. Do you buy books from US and the UK for your kids? If so, what do you think are the big differences between a western book and Indian? Do we have books that engage as much as Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter?
We buy books from world over! The big difference is getting smaller by the day. Till even a few years back there was a certain amount of seriousness in whatever little children’s books that were being written here. Thankfully, there is a tremendous shift now. There is no conscious attempt to ‘preserve our culture’ via children’s books. And the experimentation in terms of genre is narrowing down the difference further. from historical fiction to horror to issues like homosexuality – everything is being tackled in children’s books here. So yes, we have books that engage.
To compare with big franchises like Harry Potter would be unfair!
3. On an average do you think Indian books have more of a moralistic attitude to children’s reading?
Not anymore. They did – yes. But with the newer age writers and publishers, that doesn’t seem to be true anymore. The books that we have read recently have broken away from that attitude. There are some wonderful books like Flat Track Bullies, and Talking of Muskaan, which can not be called moralistic though they do address issues of the times.
4. Do you think Indian kids want to read for pleasure? Do all parents allow their kids to read for pleasure?
Yes they do. A big YES. And no not all parents allow their kids to read for pleasure. Quite a few parents look for life-lessons in books.Kids do not – Indian or elsewhere. And then there is the worry over appropriateness of content. Ultimately all we end up doing is pushing the child away from books.
5. Can you recommend three Indian books that any child in any part of the world should read?
There are many good ones out there, but these three from recent times are bound tobe loved everywhere:
Talking of Muskaan touches upon Homosexuality, Stoob is our average exam-hating school child, and Big Bully and M-me centres around a boy who stammers and hence is bullied. These three books transcend cultural boundaries. Stoob could be sitting in any classroom across the continent. Muskaan is every person trying to form a clear sexual identity. And Little Krish from Big Bully and M-Me could be slinking away to the corner of a classroom in any country.
I feel that these three books distinctly break away from the constraints that make it difficult for a book to reach out to children from other countries.
Thank you Tanu, that gives a wonderful view into contemporary Indian books and as someone who grew up reading more western books than Indian I’m so happy that is changing fast now.
If you want to join us on a twitter chat about Indian books, join me on Twitter on 24th Apr 2015 (Friday) at 6 pm GMT with hashtag #storiesfromIndia. Find out more here.