Children’s Books from India – A Picture-Book Publisher’s View

14cm_Shobha_Viswan_2201570gShobha Viswanath is my publisher at Karadi Tales in India. She is also my senior editor and a writer herself. Shobha is also Farmer Falgu’s big fan.

As a writer it is a great thing if your publisher loves your character as much as you do. She is the main reason why Farmer Falgu has packed his bags and prepared his bullock cart and is now off to Japan and France to meet the children there.

Here she is enjoying the story along with the audience…

I met Shobha 2-3 years ago when I visited Chennai before Farmer Falgu when came out. Then I met her again when we were preparing for the launch of Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip. She is everything you’d want your editor and publisher to be – funny, encouraging, determined and absolutely positive. I’m proud and ever so grateful that Farmer Falgu and I found a great home at Karadi Tales, which is an independent publisher in India, making forays into the world market.

Karadi Tales is primarily a picture-book and audio-book publisher – I love their songs and readings – my nephew has a stack of them and we listen to some so often that we know the words by-heart. Having said that, KT has just published a Middle-grade book too.

Shobha is passionate about contemporary books for children, that are not just traditional tales and also stories for the pleasure of reading – not just textbooks, assessment books and books with morals – which does confuse many parents in India. Read one of her candid interviews with the national daily in India.

As the final instalment of the discussion on children’s book for this week’s twitter chat, I asked Shobha the same questions I asked Sayoni Basu. And this is what she said.

1) What are the major challenges for an Indian children’s book publisher on the world stage and within India?

– India lacks crossover books – books that can travel. Most of the books that are published by Indian publishers are too contextual to India. If the books have to travel, they have to have a universal appeal.

For example, Farmer Falgu may be a farmer from India but the central crux of each story in the series reveals his resourcefulness which in turn is universal.

 The language too is quite important. Colloquial words and phrases may limit potential readership.  

– Indian publishers lag behind the international publishers in terms of sourcing high-quality and diverse illustrators who have a repertoire of varied styles.

– Distribution in the foreign markets has been a challenge. Several things are required of a publisher, including a strong backlist of books.  

2) When you go to Bologna, what are your impressions of the market compared to Indian books? 

The books that are produced abroad are higher in quality – production and illustrations.

Do we have more variety?

– No. India does not have that kind of variety.

Are Indian books lacking in any aspect?

– Indian books lack in several aspects. The Indian market is heterogeneous –  books are produced to cater to people from all walks of life. In terms of quality, unfortunately, it leaves us neither here nor there.

Until about 15 years ago, folktales and mythology based stories were regurgitated, but things are turning around now.

3) What is your experience in selling rights to world markets? Does the west want to buy very traditional content? Do they want to fit inside the multicultural box or are they willing to look at contemporary stuff too?

If a book is well produced, well illustrated and the story is well told then there are takers for the book in the market.  They do not want to buy only traditional content. They are willing to look at contemporary stuff as well.

4) Do you get support from international and Indian bodies to help with the costs of attending world book fairs? Is your presence imperative?

Yes, we do. Bologna supports publishers and helps them attend the fair, as does Frankfurt through their fellowships and invitational programmes.  However, this support is not meant to be continuous – it is only meant to give the publisher a platform. In India, Capexil provides the publisher with the necessary support.  

If the goal of a publisher is to make the book travel then their presence is imperative. Agents may not know the books as thoroughly as the publisher does.

5) Should India carve its own space in the book market and not worry about whether US and UK buy rights? What other markets are more welcoming to Indian books?  

Of course, we should carve our own space in the market and not worry about the UK or the US – as long as we do not compromise on the quality of the story, illustrations or production standards.  

6) Can you recommend three Indian books that any child in any part of the world should read?

rumourThe Rumour | Written by Anushka Ravishankar and Illustrated by Kanyika Kini

image descriptionFalgu_2 Cover

Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip / Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market | Written by Chitra Soundar and Illustrated by Kanika Nair

monkeyMonkeys on a Fast – Audiobook | Written by Kaushik Viswanath, Illustrated by Shilpa Ranade and Narrated by Sanjay Dutt

Thank you Shobha – for recommending my book and also giving candid answers to my questions. It is clear that we have a long way to go to bring Indian books to world stage but it is not hard as we think it is. 

We are chatting about Indian books and their place in the world stage at 6 pm GMT today, 24th April 2015, with hashtag #storiesfromindia – Don’t miss it!!!! 

Bookaroo – Day 1 – Launch Day

Header-logo-unit-DELHI2Bookaroo had begun. It was the 29th of November 2014. The launch of Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market was scheduled for 3 pm. I had a nice lie-in and then decided to go to the pool to write and prepare for the event.


But it was  not to be. The lovely pool manager decided that I might enjoy some blaring music at 10 am and switched on the loudspeakers. I retreated to the safety of my room which was a good thing because I decided to tell the story and practice the song.

The cleaners were on the corridor and must have been terribly confused by the noise coming out of my room with nursery rhymes and sounds from the story.

I reached Bookaroo venue quite early and met up with my editor Nithya who had come all the way from Chennai for the event. We took charge of The Stage 30 minutes before the event and started getting ready.


The crowd was building up and we started at three with a massive countdown with the support of the audience. Then we sang Farmer Falgu Had a Farm – a remastered version of the Old MacDonald had a Farm with AiyaaahyayyyaYo! Then we told the story from the first book Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip.


Each child in the audience was given a raffle ticket and we put the tickets in a hat and pulled out a number. The lucky winner was the receiver of the first book of Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market.


After the official launch, we counted down in Hindi this time and then I told the story of the second book ending with a fantastic recipe for an omelette – we chopped, we broke eggs and we sizzled under the warmth of the winter sun in Delhi. Then we sang  a new song that I had written for the second book.


A very big crowd, a very participative audience of children and parents and a good queue for signing – what else does an author want for a launch?


7th Delhi Bookaroo – Day 0 at the Schools Day

I’m new to Bookaroo! But I felt right at home the minute I walked in through the gates. I was a bit early – you can tell when I am over-enthusiastic that I couldn’t sleep longer and couldn’t hang around the hotel more. Header-logo-unit-DELHI2

The grounds were getting ready, volunteers were arriving and soon bus-loads of school kids were brought in and let loose amongst authors.



I had met some of the authors the previous evening at a SCBWI India event organised by Anushka Ravishankar of Duckbill books. And I met more on my first Bookaroo event day.  IMG_0394I met with Anita, the wonderful editor and publisher at Young Zubaan and met with one of the most wonderful illustrator Priya Kurian – the illustrator of Where is Gola’s Home?

I met writers and illustrators from India, Sweden, Australia, Germany, Singapore and of course UK too. A lot of names to connect with on Social Media and meet in future festivals.

I was thrilled and honoured to meet Eileen Brown and Jamila Gavin. I am proud to say Jamila even bought Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip and I signed it for her grandkids.

My session was in an open space on the grounds and apart from the kids and teachers from the German school, I also had a visitor with feathers – an eagle. I had two wonderful volunteers who were so excited, they joined in eagerly.


We talked about long python like stories and tall giraffe like stories. We made up tall tales and every student and teacher in the audience was able to participate. We had loads of fun because we were all good at making up stories and tall tales.

The session was filled with stories too. I told them the story of “catching the hound” from Mississippi and the Counting Story from India and of course Farmer Falgu paid a visit too and told them about his trip to find silence.

After a great lunch we all were packed into three cars and taken to see Old Delhi. We went through narrow streets, walked into old buildings, shamelessly took pictures of selling beads and old doors and brightly painted windows. IMG_0420The street was filled with so many tiny shops and each shop was filled with millions of beads in hundreds of bags. Then we walked through a tiny street selling food where they deep-fried bread with fillings twice – and then went to the spice street. IMG_0410 IMG_0445

After inhaling a lot of smoke and spice filled air, we left the streets to the safety and comfort of our air-conditioned hotel rooms.

Day 0 ended with a wonderful party organised for all attending writers, illustrators, editors, publishers and sponsors.

Tomorrow is a special day. Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market will be launched at Bookaroo. I received my first set of copies on Thursday of the new bookIMG_0396. More tomorrow after the launch itself.




Frequently Asked Falgu Facts

  1. Why Farmer Falgu? Why that name?

Firstly why not? falgucloseupI wanted an Indian farmer going on a journey meeting lots of Indian characters in the story. That was the start of it. In picture booksI cannot set the scene with a lot of text. So giving him to the title Farmer would be a shorthand to explaining who he is.

Falgu I made up originally – close to Falgun, but not that word. And then closer to when the book was coming out I realized Falgu was a river in Central India and has significance to Sita in Ramayana. What a wonderful coincidence.

And then when Kanika Nair did the pictures, she made him a farmer from Rajasthan – perhaps because she was living there at that time. We love Farmer Falgu with his turban and on his bullock cart. We would be introducing his wife too in the later books.

  1. Isn’t the concept of a farmer story more western? Is it because you are British?

This is the second most frequent thing I’m asked about, in India. Especially by other people in the publishing trade.

I grew up in India and left India only when I was 28. My grandparents came from small villages and their families still have land in those villages. I have lived near a small village and have visited farms. I am not a farmer myself, but I know a little about them. I am city girl myself. So I am fascinated with farms.

India is a bigger agricultural country than Britain. So why can’t we portray a farmer in children’s books in India? Don’t we have even urban farmers with chickens? We have farmers who have cows and bulls and bullock carts?

I wanted to bring the joy of Farmer Duck and Mr. Gumpy’s Outing to Indian readers in my own way.

  1. Aren’t farmers in India suffering in poverty and are not as joyful and happy as your Farmer Falgu?

In today’s world – we have suffering everywhere.  Do we always have to focus on the suffering? Or rather when we write for children, should we tell them, not to try harder because the world is full of suffering anyway?

There are farmers and potters and artists and so many other professions struggling to rise above a certain economic level. But who is to say they are not happy and brave and resourceful? If we are suffering, should we all be in despair as well?

Farmer Falgu is not rich. Neither does he live in a big house. Farmer Falgu is happy; he is resourceful and he has the spirit of seeing the best in all situations. He is a glass-half-full kind of guy. He doesn’t let the situation of subsidies, the water problems in Rajasthan or the local panchayat elections get in his way of being happy.

Like me, Falgu too, believes in the following words of William Henley.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.



  1. Farmer Falgu Goes on a Trip is about finding silence. Why did you write a book about silence? Isn’t this too complicated for children to understand? Why that ending?

The theme of the book originated in my own experience that the world, this earth, this universe even, is never silent. Silence in a vacuum is not real and not good. Silence is absolute and Quiet is not. Joyous things are loud – like a baby being born would cry. Even a giraffe makes sounds that humans can’t hear but its own family can.image description

There is a time to be quiet and there is a time to reflect. But that is not silence. That is just quiet. Like the morning quiet that is filled with bird noises. Like the night quiet that has lizard sounds and a distant sound of a bark from a street dog.

I like both. I like the laughter and noise of a busy and happy family. Like a big Indian wedding and I like the quiet of sitting in a corner reading a book. I wanted children to understand that.

Children get it. When I perform in schools and libraries, we all make a lot of noise and we all stay quiet. Children are quick to point out sounds that they hear in the night when everything is supposedly quiet. Some don’t. Some sleep deep and do not hear anything. That’s fine – everyone’s different.

The book is about Farmer Falgu having a moment of busyness in his head and he escapes from it. But not for long because the old man plays his drums and the snake charmer plays the pungi and the dancers tap their feet. The bullocks are trotting noisily too. What Farmer Falgu realizes is that his farm is not a difficult place to live – just joyous. Sometimes you just have to get away from everything to realize what you miss.

Children don’t just enjoy the words and sounds. They get the theme. Granted 2 year olds might not understand it rightaway. But this will emerge later on when they could grasp it. My little nephew Isaac loves the book and he loves the ssssh part of it and the noisy part of it. Those adults who listen to the story and listen to the inner theme like children do, also get it.

But it is okay not to get it too. You don’t have to understand, relate to, enjoy or even feel good about every book you read. Reading a book is like meeting someone. Maybe Farmer Falgu is not someone you love. That’s okay. Maybe you like Mr. Magnolia. Maybe you love both of them in different ways. Art is subjective, stories are personal and books are therefore what you  make of them.

  1. Why isn’t there a moral in the story? Is the moral – you have to make noise? Is it a moral for the parents?

Moral is different from theme. Do we need moralistic tales all the time? I know much of Indian publishing has an educational focus.

But many books are being published especially by publishers like Karadi Tales that are for the joy of reading.

Books are meant to enrich your life. They show you different aspects of life – be it a small topic like silence and quiet of the natural world or about looking at a situation positively. But that enrichment and theme is after the joy of the story. The story, the words, the sounds, the pictures should bring joy first. Then the underlying theme (not moral) would emerge slowly like a seed that is planted.

This book doesn’t have a moral. It has a theme that I intended when I started. It has interesting characters, words, sounds and beautiful pictures by Kanika Nair. It is a joy to look, read and listen to. That’s what matters.

  1. Is Farmer Falgu a series?

Yes, the second book Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market is out on 29th November at Bookaroo Literature Festival in New Delhi.

Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market - Book Launch at Bookaroo

Again this book is about Farmer Falgu being resourceful, looking positively at life and dealing with a situation that most of us worry about.

Falgu_2 CoverWe are hoping there would be more stories about Farmer Falgu from this team. In the same spirit of Falgu, I think positively about the future and what it might bring.


Children’s Day in India

It is children’s Day in India today and I thought I should ponder over it and share my thoughts with you all.

What constitutes Children’s Day – I think many countries celebrate this and perhaps for different reasons and with a different focus. nehru1Children’s Day in India is celebrated to honour Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime-minister who was born on 14th November because he liked spending time with children and he always had kids over to his office to talk to them.

The Universal Children’s Day is celebrated quite close to the Indian one – on 20th November since the mid-50s. Almost every country has a date dedicated for this.

It is not a public holiday obviously – there used to be performances, competitions, more relaxed timetable at school and having events like debates and speech competitions at school. eggshellpaintingI think one such event I participated was in the Egg-Shell painting competition. That was adventurous for me because I had never touched an egg before that in my life.


For me though this day was a bit more special– both my mum and sister celebrated their birthdays on 14th November. P1000199We always had sweets and special prayers at home and we used to tease my sister saying the whole country was celebrating her birthday.

For me Children’s Day should inspire people to do better for their children. For India, that means – providing education and food to so many children who do not have a childhood. This year India and Pakistan won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly by two people in their own ways has furthered this cause. We should support and help Kailash and Malala to do more – the collective strength is greater than the sum of its parts.

I love the flags, the roses and the sweets that politicians distribute on this day.


But I want them to stop doing token celebrations and do something in their own circle of influence. Even teach for a day, find out which kids amongst their party followers don’t go to school and provide free schools for the people who work in their parties. I want politicians to stop making gestures and get stuck in, get hands dirty.

Today I am a writer and I write for children. I love spending time in schools and enjoy telling them stories and listening to their stories. As an author of children’s books, as a writer who wants to connect with children and inspire them –what is children’s day to me and what should it be?

I want to be a role-model. I want to teach children to read, write and listen to stories. Every child is creative, imaginative and capable and I want in a small way to be part of that process.roomtorread

I have been pondering about the charity Room to Read – I want to do a bit more than fund-raising or donating money. They too won accolades this year for bringing books, schools and education to girls across the world. Perhaps it is time to join them and get stuck in myself.

I’m not doing enough yet. Children’s Day has turned into more of a family celebration time given the two birthdays we celebrate. One of my math teachers is also born on this day. But I think it is time I celebrate Children’s Day in a more meaningful way – and I am going to spend the next 12 months until the next Children’s Day putting some ideas into action.

Do you have ideas? What do you think we should do for Children’s Day wherever you live?