PaperTigers’ Global Voices: Richa Jha (India)

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

As our 10th Anniversary celebrations have come to a conclusion we are now back to our regularly scheduled blog programming so to speak. First up we are pleased to welcome Richa Jha  as our new  Global Voices Guest Blogger. Richa will be joining us here on the blog  for three consecutive Wednesdays (today, Nov 28th and Dec. 5th) and has written a wonderful piece for us:

Reader-less Books ~ by Richa Jha

Part 1 of 3.

Roll of Honour, a recent novel by Amandeep Sandhu is a gripping, haunting, disturbing page-turner. In many ways, it is also India’s first boldly written brutally honest crossover fiction. Set against the prominent backdrop of the Sikh militancy in the 1980s, it is a gritty account of a troubled adolescence and split loyalties at a military boarding school. A couple of years ago, I read Siddharth Sarma’s The Grasshopper’s Run in five straight hours, transfixed, glued to the pages. It’s an outstanding read (little surprise that it was picked up by Bloomsbury for international publication), with all the elements of good YA read: it’s fast paced, there’s friendship, deceit, loyalties, war, trauma, revenge, retribution. The depth and detailing – geographical, political and emotional (like in Roll of Honour) – is of an exceptionally high order. Books like these get noticed and talked about in India, for sure; they get rave reviews. And they win awards.

But the copies don’t sell; not the way they should, not to the readers they ought to. The young adults don’t go looking for these titles. So, what’s up with the reading habits of teenagers in India?

The good news: Indian urban children are reading for pleasure, and reading more than ever before. There are dedicated book festivals for children’s books, schools hold their own book weeks with the primary intent of getting kids to develop a lifelong affair with reading, the libraries at schools look well stocked where reading is encouraged as part of the school curriculum even outside those designated book weeks, and parents don’t mind spending on books. Head to any large bookstore in a metro, and you’ll find children’s books and teen fiction occupying a substantial (and impressive) shelf space. Families walk in, browse at leisure over coffee and brownies in the store café and walk out with big shopping bags. So far so good.

And now, we look inside those shopping bags for the bad news. If you’re lucky, you may find a book by an Indian author among a bunch of Gerenimo Stiltons, Wimpy Kids, Percy Jacksons or the Twilights. If this is your day like it’s never been before, you’ll hear that the Indian book is meant for personal consumption, and not as a birthday gift for a friend. Third time lucky? The child grabbed the copy himself and not upon his parents’ insistence.

That, in a nutshell, is what happens with most of our own books. So, our kids are devouring books, but the bulk of it is pretty much the reigning fads from the West. Much as I would love to be proved wrong, I’ll be surprised if we find our teenagers buying and reading a brilliant book like Roll of Honour. Out of choice. {to be continued on Nov. 28th}


 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.


Week-end Book Review: Saraswati’s Way by Monica Schröder

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Monika Schröder,
Saraswati’s Way
Francis Foster Books, 2010.

Ages 10-14

What do you do when you have a dream that seems impossible? Twelve-year-old Akash loves numbers. He loves the way they fit together, form patterns, and make order in a world so often full of incomprehensible unfairness. After his Bapu, his father, passes away, Akash’s dreams of winning a scholarship to study math seem further away than ever. His family’s fields lie parched and barren. They cannot pay their rent. When Akash’s grandmother gives him to the man who owns their land, forcing him to leave school to chip rocks in the quarry, Akash decides to take fate into his own hands.

Praying to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, Akash runs away to Delhi, empty-handed but full of determination. In this raw, unsentimental, yet wholly empathetic novel, Akash faces harsh realities of poverty and street life in India, while negotiating universal struggles of temptation. Will he choose the faster, dishonorable route to his goal? Or the slower but honest option? Like all who encounter roadblocks, Akash struggles with challenges and temptations. But armed with a steady head and a true heart, he learns to trust that honest paths and loyal friends ultimately prove wiser ways to achieving one’s dreams.

Monica Schröder, a German native who has lived and taught in New Delhi since 2002, weaves a layered, nuanced story of longing, loss and coming-of-age in a country struggling with poverty, as told through one boy’s fierce determination to overcome its challenges. Her graceful, mellifluous writing seamlessly interweaves details of Indian life and Hindu religion into Akash’s story, making it a gripping, inspiring tale of perseverance, integrity and urban survival set in a landscape rich with details of Indian culture, cuisine and religion. A brief afterword and glossary give background on Vedic math, Hindu gods, street children in India, and words used in the book.

Schröder’s gentle tone makes this a stylistically light read for a teenager, but the complexity of the problems Akash faces – including drugs, child labor, and family death – may be heavy for some pre-teens. A wonderful choice for parents to put under the noses of reluctant teen readers, ready for mature plot lines narrated in accessible language, Saraswati’s Way also dialogues well with recent offerings about India and Indian Americans, including works by Mitali Perkins, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Uma Krishnaswami.

Sara Hudson
May 2011

October Literary Events in India: Voices from the North East and the Pushkar Literature Festival

Monday, October 5th, 2009

On October 13th and 14th, Siyahi, India’s leading literary agency, and India Habitat Centre are presenting Voices from the North East, a focused literary meet on the stories, tales and folk narratives of North East India. The event will take place at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.

The verdant Seven Sister States from the North East of India have a unique indigenous culture where myths, oral traditions, legends and folklore are commonplace and yet unique. Voices from the North East will take into account the quantum of diversity in art and culture in this region which is evident from the multitude of languages and ethnic groups. It will deal with the art of storytelling in context to the development of North Eastern culture and civilization. Authors, poets, storytellers and performers will engage audiences in a cultural dialogue and help them to understand the North Eastern literature in all its myriad forms and dimensions.

Siyahi is also hosting the Pushkar Literature Festival on October 31st during the International Pushkar Fair. For one day, writers, poets, book lovers, publishers, performers and storytellers will be brought together to add to the mesmerizing riot of colours, textures, hues and flavours that come alive during the International Pushkar Fair. This literary event will help explore and discover the meeting points between contemporary literature and folklore, oral traditions, legends, myths and languages, which precisely define the spirit of Pushkar.

For up-to-date information about these events including detailed programmes and photos, visit Siyahi’s Facebook page.

The Tiger’s Bookshelf: Room to Read and the Joy of Literacy

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Sometimes the simplest remark can be the most transforming. “Perhaps, sir, you will come back with books,” a Nepalese headmaster said to John Wood, a vacationing Microsoft employee, as they stood in a school library that had twenty books that “were all backpacker cast-offs.” Haunted by the thought of children who might never know the joy of reading, Wood returned home and spent a year gathering children’s books. He went back to the headmaster with 3,000 volumes and a new direction for his life. John Wood decided that bringing books to children who have none was his vocation and Room to Read was born, as he tells readers in Leaving Microsoft to Change the World.

Wood put together an organization with staff who share his dream and his passion, aided by a fundraising network of more than 3,000 people. The core programs of Room to Read are the Reading Room which has built 5,600 libraries,  Local Language Publishing which publishes and distributes books written both in English and the local language, the School Room which works with local communities to build schools with 444 in use, the Room to Grow Girls’ Scholarship that enables 4,000 girls to complete their secondary education, and the Computer and Language Room which builds computer and language labs.

Found in India, Sri Lanka, Zambia, South Africa, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, Room to Read is vitalized by donations and volunteers, who have discovered how they can help by going to All share a common goal—to have built 10,000 libraries by 2010.

Scheduled half-day visits to a Room to Read site are welcome with advance arrangement.

One man, one dream, 3,000 books– one optimistic remark changed a life and consequently thousands of lives are being changed through the power of reading and the joy of literacy, all over the world.

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A Conversation With Katia Novet Saint-Lot on her virtual book tour for Amadi’s Snowman

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008


PaperTigers: Your life has been a tapestry of living in many cultures—in France, Spain, England, the United States, Nigeria, India. How has this helped you as a writer?

Katia: This is an interesting question. How does life in general help and/or affect us as writers? I would say every experience shapes us, and what we are shows up inevitably in what we write. I could not have written Amadi’s story if I had not lived in Nigeria. On the other hand, it must be said that a life spent traveling or living in vastly different countries (even if I also find similarities from one to another) has made me slightly jaded. I’m so used to witnessing diverse ways of living, eating, dressing, even driving a car on the road (!) that it takes more and more to surprise me. I notice that particularly when we have guests. Some of the things that amaze them, I have come to view as part of my daily routine or panorama.

PaperTigers: It’s been said that writing a picture book is as demanding as writing a poem. Each word must be precise, the use of language must be economical, and the images evocative. Longer forms of fiction can be more forgiving. Why did you choose this difficult form for Amadi’s story? And would you choose it again?

Katia:I love the picture book format. I love the conversation between the art and the words on the page, how they are meant to complement each other. I think that writers who are also artists are very lucky to be able to experience this medium in its full beauty, and difficulty. Amadi came to me that way : it was a turning point in the life of a young boy, related to a particular instance, and something that needed to be resolved quickly. And yes, I have three other picture book manuscripts that I hope will find a home. Children love pictures. They love being able to suspend the flow of a story to examine an image, notice details, talk about the expression on the face of a character, the background, etc.

PaperTigers:As a mother of two girls, why did you decide to write about a boy? Is there a “real-life” Amadi? How did you manage to enter the heart and mind of a small “Igbo man of Nigeria” and give him such complete life on the page?

Katia:There is no “real-life” Amadi, but there are lots of boys just like him. The problem of these boys dropping out of school to earn quick money in the street is very real. As for entering the heart and mind of Amadi, I think it’s the reverse. Amadi entered my own mind and started telling me his story. I just had to write it down. (more…)

Hosting Amadi’s Snowman: A Stop on a Virtual Book Tour

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Today PaperTigers is thrilled to be part of Katia Novet Saint-Lot’s virtual book tour for her wonderful book, Amadi’s Snowman (Tilbury House). From her home in Hyderabad, India, Katia is spending this month visiting blogs around the world in interviews and photos, discussing her life as a writer and global nomad, and providing photos and drawings from children who have fallen in love with her irrepressible and insatiably curious creation, Amadi.

The drawings that preface our interview with Katia come from students in two fourth grade classes at the Vidyaranya School in Hyderabad, with whom Katia recently spent time reading and discussing her book.

These are children fluent in English, with Hindi and Telugu taught as second languages, who were quite interested when Katia told them that Amadi and his classmates are English speakers as well.

And as their delightful drawings plainly reveal, they became immersed in the Nigerian world of the small Igbo businessman and devoted reader in the making, Amadi!

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Books at Bedtime: “Mummy, what’s your favorite lagomorph?”

Friday, August 29th, 2008

The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales from Around the World, retold by Naomi Adler, illustrated by Amanda Halll…that’s the question that Little Brother prodded me awake with two mornings ago. I have to say that my response did not immediately live up to expectations… However, having ascertained from the child-who-swallowed-the-animal-encyclopaedia-whole that lagomorphs are “rabbits, hares and pikas”, I was eventually able to fudge an answer.

Later on, I returned to the question and said that I had chosen the rabbit in the moon, at which Little Brother laughed at me and told me, “That’s just a myth.”, but he was more than happy to curl up and listen again to the story, so beautifully retold by Naomi Adler in The Barefoot Book of Animal Tales from Around the World (Barefoot, 2006). We agreed afterwards that even though a heart of gold is not really made of gold, it is definitely worth striving for and is “much better than a heart of stone”. I felt reassured that he may be able to recognise the fantasy element in myths and legends, but his imagination is still caught up in the magic of a good retelling: and this collection is an excellent one for reading aloud. Naomi Adler is first and foremost a storyteller and her background in the oral tradition shines through. In fact, her narration on the accompanying CDs is a joy listen to. I also like the page at the end of the book where she describes her sources for each tale – all passed on through the oral tradition by someone first-hand from the country in question!

Amanda Hall’s illustrations also contribute to bringing the stories alive. She emphasises their cultural diversity, by incorporating subtle variations in style according to the country of origin. I love the different borders/motifs, which give each story its own space and identity within the collection.

This version of “The Rabbit in the Moon” comes from India and describes how Rabbit influences all the other animals to aspire to be kind and good. The “great heavenly spirit” disguises himself as a beggar and tests Rabbit’s vow to offer herself as food. Astonished that she attempts to sacrifice herself, he rescues her and sets her in the moon as a shining reminder that “if you give something precious away you may receive something back that is very special.”

This story of the Rabbit in the Moon appears in many different traditions – Cat Mallard at Darbling Wood Studios outlines a different version here, alongside her own whimsical watercolour. This is the version, featuring a fox and a monkey, that is included on the acclaimed Tell Me a Story: Timeless Folktales from Around the World CD, which proved to be an unexpected bedtime hit with The Lovely Mrs Davis’ young son… you can listen to extracts here. Looking Around the World pays a visit to the Tsuki or Moon God Shrine in Japan, where rabbits are particularly venerated – and Sarx has some beautiful photos of a rabbit wood-carving from there too.

Crackle Mountain relates this very different story from Japan of Hare making his way to the City on the Moon, after overcoming the wicked Tanuki (“a raccoon-like dog often mistakenly referred to as a badger”) – it’s a gruesome tale and reminds us of how some traditional stories have been sanitised over the years – but not this one.Bunny Lune by Kae Nishimura If you can’t stomach the story, though, I recommend looking at the accompanying artwork – the eighteenth century porcelain dish is exquisite.

And a story, which is definitely not traditional but requires a background awareness of being able to see a rabbit in the moon is Kae Nishimura’s delightfully witty Bunny Lune (Clarion, 2007). We read it again this evening and had a good giggle imagining what our different moons would be – not fields of carrots like Bunny Lune’s!

Books at Bedtime: The Merasi Counting Book

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

The Merasi Counting BookIn my recent Personal View, A Whole World of ABCs and 123s, for our current literacy focus, I included a wonderful new book called The Merasi Counting Book. This is what I wrote about it:

A beautifully produced bilingual (Hindi and English) counting book featuring traditional Rajasthani folk art. Young children will love the bright colors and enjoy counting the triangles, which seem to dance across the page for each number. Produced by the Merasi, a musician community with a long heritage, the book also provides some cultural background and a good table at the back with numbers and words up to twenty in both languages and the Hindi pronunciation.

… and I felt it was worth highlighting in Books at Bedtime since its background is just as colorful as the book itself. The book was published by Folk Arts Rajasthan “joyfully… as a learning tool to promote dignity and respect with Heart and Hope for all.” – Heart and Hope being the name of a recent, two-month tour in the US of Merasi musicians “to celebrate the Merasi’s 37 generations ancient yet intact musical legacy”, as Karen Lukas, the Director of Folk Arts Rajasthan told me. There are some photos from the tour here – and if you scroll down, you’ll find one of the opening pages of The Merasi Counting Book. You can also see a photo of the book’s illustrator, Indra Banu, here – alongside other women artists.

And it’s not just the adults who are talented artists: one of Folk Art Rajasthan’s projects is a school for Merasi children. Read the school’s homepage to get an idea of just how special it is – and take a look here and here to see how talented pupils transformed their school building.

The Merasi Counting Book, therefore, not only provides a colorful introduction to numbers, but it helps small people to look beyond their own experience – and maybe then use that perspective in their own creativity. Indeed, it is already being used “to introduce Merasi children and community to the concept of counting in their own language, as well as in English”. At the moment, though, I have to say I’m not quite sure where it can be obtained beyond the Merasi community but I will do my best to find out and let you know…

The Tiger's Choice: Closing the Book

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Naming Maya

When we began to think about creating an online book group that would appeal to readers of all ages, there were classic titles that came quickly to mind. Finding books that corresponded to the PaperTigers’ goal of understanding different cultures through children’s literature was a challenge and an opportunity for exploring new reading adventures.

I was lucky. The first book I found on my initial foray into this new world of books that would appeal to both adults and children was one that immediately captured my heart and mind—Naming Maya by Uma Krishnaswami.

I’ve worked in bookstores for decades but this novel was one that I hadn’t encountered before. I was eager to hear other people’s opinions of it and to have the chance to talk about it, the way we readers always feel when we find a book that we love.

The comments for Naming Maya have been as rich and as thoughtful as I had hoped they would be. Readers have agreed that this is a book for mothers and daughters to read together, that it evokes India in a way that could describe Hyderabad as well as it does Chennai, and that the theme of dualism is expressed quite beautifully in the idea of the “Two-Gift.” As Maya herself concludes about trust, in an observation that applies to many things in this novel–and in life–“You keep some, you give some away.”

What makes this book one that I can return to with pleasure for reading over and over is, above all, the way that three very strong women of different generations are portrayed, Maya, Kamala Mami, and Maya’s mother. Together they make a household that is both temporary and enduring, and Uma Krishnaswami makes each of them enduring figures in the reader’s imagination. It is no small feat to be able to give life to characters of varying background and chronological age, but it is accomplished so well in Naming Maya.

Not only is Chennai vividly evoked in this book, but so is its culture and values. Uma Krishnaswami delicately and without editorializing shows through Maya’s eyes different ways of accepting marriage, of being a teenager, of growing old. And she so wonderfully shows how food can be a common language when living in a place where three different languages are routinely used and in all of them words sometimes fail.

“I hear you need a cook,” Kamala Mami announces to Maya and her mother, the day after their arrival in India. They do indeed, more than they know. Kamala Mami’s food brings them slowly together–right up until a dish made from her recipe crashes to the floor and releases Maya’s torrent of hitherto unspoken emotion.

The one complaint I have about this novel is that it hasn’t yet been released in a paperback edition, which would make it accessible to many more readers than it already is. When I recently told a fellow-bookseller about Naming Maya, his response was that far too few books address the subject of bi-cultural children, a point that both Aline and Katia touched upon in our discussion. Uma Krishnaswami has found a universality in belonging to two different worlds. Through her art Maya’s duality becomes a new way for readers of all ages to look at their own lives, and that is an act accomplished by literature that is truly great.

If you haven’t yet read this book, I envy you the joy of experiencing it for the first time. If you know a young girl with whom you can share it, I envy you even more. If you’ve read it already, discover the joy of reading it again–and add your opinion to mine in the comments field if you agree that it should be reissued in a paperback edition, please!

Sangam House

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Take a look at Sandhya Nankani’s post on 30th April on her Literary Safari blog, where she highlights “Sangam House, a new international writers residency program in Pondicherry, India, a town in South India”.