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

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

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.

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.


Happy Anniversary to Saffron Tree!

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Here at PaperTigers we are in the midst of celebrating our 10th Anniversary with Top 10 book lists, new gallery features (including a focus on John Parra who created our 10th Anniversary poster), a newly launched Facebook page, and special birthday articles (Marjorie Coughlan’s Looking Forward to the Next Ten Years of PaperTigers, and Beyond and Aline Pereira’s Celebrating  PaperTigers 10th Anniversary: What a Smilestone!).

Today however we are not only celebrating our own anniversary but also that of our friend and fellow  non-profit organization: Saffron Tree.   Six years ago Praba Ram established Saffron Tree and embarked on a journey to “showcase the best of Indian, Indian American and other children’s books focusing on diversity, nature and other eclectic themes that we passionately care about in reading to our own children.”  Saffron Tree has grown and flourished (there are now 18 blog contributors!)  and we highly recommend it as one of the kidlit blogs to visit.  To celebrate their birthday Saffron Tree has two major events planned: CROCUS – a five day book blog festival to “Celebrate Reading of Culturally Unique Stories” , and a book drive  for Kranti India, a non-profit organization that helps support and educate socially marginalized girls and women. It will be a busy, fun-filled week over at Saffron Tree Head so head on over, join in the party and do see if you are able to help them in their mission to send books to an organization that desperately needs our collective help.

Krishnav’s Bookshelf: Gurgaon, India

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Bookshelf #25:
4 years old
Gurgaon, India

Krishnav loves listening to stories. He is a South Indian living in North India, so he knows three languages fluently English, Hindi and Telugu. Which is triple the fun because he gets to hear a variety of stories in different languages.

Some of his favorite books and authors are:

Julia Donaldson‘s books
Eric Carle
Anushka Ravishankar
Roald Dahl
Tiki tiki tembo
Funny Little Women – Arlene Mosel
A Story,  A Story
Gudugudugudu gadagadagada
My Mother’s Sari
Katha, Pratham and Tulika are our source for good Indian books.

Submitted by: Prasannitha

For details on how to submit a photo of your child’s bookshelf to our Around the World in 100 Bookshelves, click here.

Poetry Friday: Anything But A Grabooberry by Anushka Ravishankar and Rathna Ramanathan

Friday, November 18th, 2011

If you want something for young children that’s full of zing and just a little bit different on the poetry front, then Anything But A Grabooberry is exactly what you’re looking for! First published by the wonderful Tara Books in 1998, it still feels as innovative as it was then.

Anushka Ravishankar’s nonsense poem that fills the book is based on the premise that I’d rather be anything else apart from a Grabooberry… The examples that make up that “anything else” will have young readers laughing aloud, as well as letting imaginations fly with what the dreadful grabooberry might be. And Rathna Ramanathan has incorporated the words into the book’s design, creating a visual treat in red and green through her exuberant combination of the words’ meanings and physical appearance.

As you read, you find yourself having to slow down over each page to savour the design. This in turn encourages deeper pondering of the meaning – thereby intensifying the enjoyment of reading nonsense! Choosing favorite bits is difficult, but here goes:

i want to be an elephant or a packing trunk

– I love the juxtaposition of elephant and trunk, and you can see these pages on this post from a Japanese blog, which also reproduces the book’s blurb in English;

i think i’d like to be sneeze
flying through the sky

– where “sneeze” and “flying” fizz across the pages and some of the letters are spun at angles – the “i” in “flying” becoming, appropriately enough, an exclamation mark; and

the sun, the moon or sixteen stars
any planet, even ours

Anything But A Grabooberry is perfect for getting children chuckling aloud, and both they and the adults they share it with will appreciate the book’s visual wit and sophistication. Do read this article by Rathna Ramanathan for some fascinating insight into the book’s creation – I especially liked what she said about children’s feedback on early drafts, and Gita Wolf’s comments:

I tested the pages out on several friends’ kids – their reading aloud of the typographic text on the page was an invaluable input. It gave the bee many more ‘e’s, and the grabooberry more ‘ooo’s… […] As Gita Wolf, publisher at Tara Books explains, ‘We found that children enjoy figuring out words like puzzles, since they have no pre-conceptions about this. Adults are not necessarily faster at comprehending it.’

This week’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Tabitha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference – head on over…

Celebrate Saffron Tree’s 5th Anniversary During Crocus 2011

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Back in 2006, when book blogging was just starting to take hold and before we had started our PaperTigers blog,  Praba Ram created the blog Saffron Tree. She said in her initial blog post “I know there are lots of book blogs that focus on mainstream American children’s books, but I haven’t been able to find any that focus primarily on children’s books by Indian, Indian American and South East Asian authors. The goal for this blog, to start with, is to provide book reviews and recommendations of titles with a South Asian, particularly Indian flavor”.  Saffron Tree has grown and flourished over the years (there are now 15 contributors!)  and we highly recommend it as one of the kidlit blogs to visit.

Next week is a very special time for Saffron Tree as it celebrates it’s 5th anniversary and hosts it’s  annual book festival celebration Crocus.  Lots of great offerings are in store so head on over and join in (and don’t forget to wish them a very happy 5th birthday!).  Here’s the invitation:

Saffron Tree turns five this year. Five. It has a nice ring to it. Mainly because five is an important number in many traditions. There is of course the ancient pentagram or the five pointed star, incidentally, dating back to the Vedas too, as a symbol of man, the five wounds of Christ, the five times a devout Muslim is called to prayer, the five symbols of Sikhism and not so sacred but oh so important, the five fingers on a hand. We at Saffron Tree however, decided to narrow our focus to Aristotle’s five classical elements, namely, water, fire, earth, air and ether.

As is usual, we bring you a veritable bonanza. Reviews, art and craft, our very popular Crocusword and interviews galore, of arborists, archeologists, environmentalists and more. Even as I type this I wonder if I’ve given you too much of a peek. Perhaps I have. So I’m going to stop here and leave you thirsting for more. What I will share with you, is our lovely banner, designed by the very talented Lavanya Karthik. Feast your eyes on it, folks and brace yourself for the smorgasbord ahead. As ever, spread the joy, share the beauty of the written word and tell the world that CROCUS 2011, is almost here.

Week-end Book Review: The Burmese Box by Lila Majumdar, translated by Srilata Banerjee

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Lila Majumdar, translated by Srilata Banerjee and with an introduction by Subhadra Sen Gupta,
The Burmese Box: Two Novellas
Puffin Classics (India), 2010.

Ages 9-12

Lila Majumdar is one of India’s best loved children’s authors, and it is clear from reading the glowing introduction by accomplished writer Subhadra Sen Gupta that she has shaped the imaginations of Bengali-speaking children for generations. Translations of her exciting stories are long overdue, and fortunately, her granddaughter and translator Srilata Bannerjee agrees.

Reading The Burmese Box and Goopy’s Secret Diary (the other novella contained in the collection) as an adult is like rediscovering a long lost childhood friend that I never actually met. The stories are fast-paced and exciting with little time wasted on set-up and exposition for, as Banerjee states in a translator’s note, “no child appreciates long-term planning.” These stories take place over no more than a day or two (despite harking back, in the case of The Burmese Box, to a family legend more than a hundred years old) and are filled with plot twists, remarkably eccentric relatives, bungling grown-ups, and the accompanying confusion so natural to childhood.

In both stories, a boy protagonist of about 11 gets pulled into the intrigue of missing jewels and family legends. At first the boys are excited for adventure, but doubt settles in once it is too late to back out and the possibility of real danger looms. What will become of the treasure? Who are the thieves? Why don’t the adults see the obvious? And what exactly is going on here anyway?

The protagonists encounter dream advice from long dead ancestors, secret tunnels in dilapidated mansions, carnivorous cows, and plenty of shifty characters, but everything turns out okay in the end. It would seem that disaster is averted thanks to the innocence and integrity the young heroes retain. Grown-ups who might have mucked up the situation never receive the necessary knowledge to carry out their plans, and justice—no, not justice but something even more important, fairness—prevails.

There will be some challenges for children not familiar with Bengali culture and family relationships as the terms for different relatives are very complicated to those of us used to the English system. Nonetheless, the book kept my eight-year-old son (who preferred Goopy’s Secret Diary) enthralled. I had to wrest it back from him in order to write this review! Fortunately, explanatory notes are included at the end of the book along with biographical data, “Things to Think About”, and a translator’s note that is particularly special considering the translator’s relationship to the author. The Burmese Box is destined to become a classic once again, this time in English.

Abigail Sawyer
August 2011

Week-end Book Review: Dorje’s Stripes by Anshumani Ruddra, illustrated by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Anshumani Ruddra, illustrated by Gwangjo and Jung-a Park,
Dorje’s Stripes
Kane Miller, 2010/2011.

Ages 5-9

A small Buddhist monastery nestled in the mighty Himalayas is surrounded by a vast forest. “Everything about the place spoke of quiet beauty,” reads the first page of Dorje’s Stripes. Perhaps the most quietly beautiful aspect of the monastery is its most unusual resident: a Royal Bengal Tiger named Dorje.

When Dorje arrived, Master Wu explains, he was weak and had not eaten for days. Upon regaining his strength under the monks’ care, Dorje began hunting for himself again, but every time he returned from the jungle, he had one less stripe. Eventually, he was left with nothing but two little dark spots above his eyes, but this evening Cheekoo, the youngest monk, notices that a new stripe has appeared on Dorje’s shoulders! What could it mean?

Master Wu tells the monks that he entered Dorje’s dreams shortly after his arrival and learned that the tiger’s clan was disappearing as a result of greedy hunters attacking tigers for sport and also hunting their prey. The mighty cats who escaped slaughter were left to starve. Every time one of his clan died, Dorje lost a stripe. Dorje’s new stripe fills the monks with great hope as Master Wu reveals that he and Dorje discovered a female tiger that morning as they walked in the forest.

A note that follows this story, beautifully illustrated in lush watercolors by the Korean team of Gwungjo and Jung-a Park, explains the plight of the Royal Bengal Tiger, India’s national animal. Less than 1,500 wild tigers live in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans in Bengal today, having been hunted from a population of more than 40,000 at the beginning of the twentieth century. This powerful and majestic animal is now one of the Earth’s most threatened species, but the story of Dorje is one of hope. “Dorje only knew cruel men before he met us,” explains Master Wu, but just as the tiger – and perhaps eventually his clan – recovers under the monks’ care, so can future generations work to change the fate of this beautiful animal.

Abigail Sawyer
August 2011

Week-end Book Review: The Dog Who Loved Red by Anitha Balachandran

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Anitha Balachandran,
The Dog Who Loved Red
Kane Miller, 2011.

Ages 4-8

When Raja’s chewing habit puts him out of favor with her parents, Tanvi decides to take her frisky, red-loving dog to the park. There the pair meets Raja’s Dalmatian buddy, Champ, but the canines’ favorite (red) ball is nowhere to be found.

This second book by talented young illustrator and animator Anitha Balachandran (Mr. Jeejeebhoy and the Birds) tells of Raja the dog’s colorful adventure to rescue his favorite ball from the back yard of mean Mr. Mehta, the neighbor with yellow shorts, a violet gate, a silver car, brown flowerpots, a white sheet hanging on the line, and a blue garden hose he turns on dogs to chase them out of his yard.

Balachandran’s bright illustrations live up to her previous work in this book about color in which each color-word is printed in ink of that color and made to stand out so that children soon recognize not only the colors but the words for those colors as well.  Though it is a simple story that could take place anywhere, Raja and Tanvi’s world is distinctly Indian: Raja’s first chewing casualty is Mrs. Lal’s red sari shawl, for instance.

The Dog Who Loved Red is an inviting book for young children who will relate to the plight of naughty, messy, playful dogs and the kids who love them.  The characters and setting reflect diversity, though diversity itself is not a theme of the book, making it a fun story for learning about color and a wonderful addition to library shelves.

Abigail Sawyer
July 2011

Conference on Indian Children’s Books ~ January 15th, Mumbai, India

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

Children’s author Shyamala Shanmugasundaram is co-organizing a one day conference on Indian children’s books to be held January 15th in Mumbai, India. Under the Kahani Tree: a place to promote reading and children books will start at 9:15 am and speakers will include Sampurna Murti (Pratham Books), Shamim Padamsee (Young India Books), author Chandrika, and Priya Srinivasan  (The Pomegranate Workshop) Click here to read the flyer and get all the details.

Anyone connected to Indian children’s literature is welcome to attend but please confirm your attendance before January 12th by emailing shyamshaan(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in with the words ‘reg 4 kahani tree’ in the subject line to confirm your seat.