PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 3 of 3

It’s been our privilege to have Indian writer, editor and blogger Richa Jha as our guest blogger for the past two weeks. Today we present the final part in her three part series:

Reader-less Books: Reading Habits of Indian Children ~ by Richa Jha

If  you haven’t read the previous entries, you can get caught up by reading  Part 1 here  and Part 2 here. In today’s post Richa addresses some of the reasons on why Indian youth may not be reading books written by Indian authors.

We can’t see them

Our books get lost in the sea of international books on the bookshelves at the stores, especially when there are tens of series vying for attention. A single spine in the middle of it is no show. Some of the bookstores do have dedicated shelves or sections for Indian authors, but the traffic is thin there. Children’s books continue to figure low on most publishing houses’ agenda. The lack of the necessary promotional push for these books from their side affects their visibility. So does the media’s cool shrug at most of these books. The bookstores aren’t too enthusiastic either to back the Indian authors as they don’t see them moving off the shelf much. This chicken-egg situation only compounds the general feeling of apathy that the Indian authors sense towards their work, in general, from all sides.

Let’s blame it on our parents!

My generation of parents grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton and Edward Stratemeyer (creator of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew), and for most, that fodder lies frozen in time. An essential rites of passage, we expect to see our children reading these. Most parents shy away from even exploring the Indian-Author shelves at bookstores.

At the same time, we do have a new (but small) breed of parents who are keen to introduce their children to the growing world of Indian YA fiction. But while the parents take care to buy these books, most children are reluctant to explore them. Buying, therefore, isn’t always enough. A possible way to get our kids interested in them would be to explore the book together. I remember sitting with my son a couple of years ago and reading aloud a relatively unknown gem by Ranjit Lal, The Red Jaguar on the Mountain. By the end of the first chapter, he was hooked and came back later to say, ‘The book is so cool!’

Things can only get better from here. Last month, India’s first zombie fiction for young adults, Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar hit the shelves (the second one by him is due for a release soon). Payal Dhar’s There’s a Ghost in My PC, Oops the Mighty Gurgle by RamG Vallath and The Deadly Royal Recipe by Ranjit Lal – all for middle schoolers slated for release soon – promise to be a hell of an adventure-and-fun packed reads. There’s visible promotion around them and the publishers and the authors seem to be having fun talking about their books. Don’t stop me from turning up that bubbly voice inside me that’s humming now-these-are-what-our-children-will-go-grab. Out of choice. Ahem! Amen.

Richa Jha is a writer and editor and, like many of us, nurtures an intense love for picture books. In her words:

I love picture books, and want the world to fall in love with them as well. My blog Snuggle With Picture Books is a natural extension of this madness. The Indian parents, teachers and kids are warming up to loads and loads of Indian picture books beginning to fill up the shelves in bookshops. It’s about time we had a dedicated platform to it. The idea behind the website is to try and feature every picture book (in English) out there in the Indian market. Usually, only a few titles end up getting talked about everywhere, be it because of their true merit, or some very good promotion, or some well-known names associated with them. There are many other deserving titles that get left out in the visibility-race. This website views every single book out there as being deserving of being ‘seen’ and celebrated.

2 Responses to “PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India) ~ Part 3 of 3”

  1. Marjorie Says:

    I think your anecdote of reading The Red Jaguar on the Mountain (sounds as though I’ll have to seek it out!) to your son highlights a universal issue – I find with my two, if they read a book they love they want to read every book by that author – but the challenge is introducing them to those new authors in the first place and I do think that’s where adult influence can be important, whether at home or through school and the library… the best way would be peer recommendation – but the books have to get into those circles in the first place…

  2. Richa Jha Says:

    Feeling terribly sheepish at having missed your comment so many many months ago, Marjorie; stumbled upon it just this minute during an online search! I see what you mentioned happening with my children too. The series, or the same author get lapped up like a softie that threatens to melt along the cone in minutes! And getting them to look at much else is a futile exercise nearly each time. The truth is, even with my kids, this attempt doesn’t always work. The school certainly is a big influence on children, but as you point out, the books have to get in those circles first. With most Indian books, that itself is the greatest challenge. I just read a publisher share her experience the other day that one school refused to stock a book by them because it contained the word ‘fart’.