Telling stories to children is a timeless tradition, reflecting values, myths and cultures that get passed on across generations.
Children’s literature kindles a love and passion for reading, and also adds to a child’s cognitive and social skills. Most importantly, it keeps the child in touch with her own cultural heritage as well as that of others. It helps to develop emotional intelligence and creativity and nurtures growth and development of the child’s personality.
Children’s stories have always been around in India, told both through family members and through gurus. Stories like the Panchatantra, the Jataka Tales, and many more popular folk stories and nursery rhymes have been well known and are available in book form. Writers like Rabindranath Tagore, R.K. Narayan, Ashokamitran, Ruskin Bond, Mulk Raj Anand and others have left an impression on the young minds of the nation in different ways. Unfortunately, literature for young Indian readers did not find much of a market in earlier days due to restricted literacy.
With better earning abilities, opportunities and an increased awareness of education, consumers have started spending money on books and recognize the idea of children reading simply for pleasure. As more and more children have learnt to read and write under the universal and compulsory education policy, they have sought out books, only to find that available literature is largely by non-Indian writers.
In an age of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Geronimo and DC Universe, one may question the demand for literature in Indian languages for children. But there is a growing category for children’s literature in India in many different languages familiar to children and these address all age groups.
Today, shifting from western authors such as Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, or R.L Stine, Indian children are looking for familiar content in line with their own surroundings with Indian settings, Indian characters and locations. Publishers like National Book Trust (NBT), Children’s Book Trust (CBT) and others have been promoting such books for years and continue to do so.
Started in 1957-58 by K Shankar Pillai, CBT has been promoting well-written, well-illustrated and well-designed books for children. Similarly, the government set up NBT to produce and encourage good literature in English, Hindi and other regional Indian languages, available at moderate prices.
In 1993, the National Centre for Children’s Literature (NCCL) was established by the NBT to monitor, coordinate and plan the publication of children’s literature in various Indian languages. The Government has also encouraged schools to set up libraries and regularly suggests relevant book titles that can be added. The intent is to make reading a fun activity that can lead to learning.
Many publishers are now producing very attractive books, including Tara Books, Tulika Publishers, Karadi Tales, Duckbill, Katha, Pratham Books and so on. These are bringing quality to children’s literature through contemporary stories that are both well written and colorfully illustrated by talented artists.
Social media and audio books are making their own mark in reaching out to reading populations. Digital formats, videos, and interactive games based on some of these books create an enhanced tactical experience for children.
Over the past two decades, children’s publishing in India has burgeoned, spanning a variety of genres, ranging from adventure stories, folktales, history, sci-fi and technology, mythology and even our favourite dadi-nani ki kahani, thereby building up an ecosystem of children’s publishing in the country. Authors today are not presenting just the sweet and innocent aspects of a child’s life, but are also venturing into sensitive topics such as death of loved ones, adoption, hurt and anger. By adding newer emotions, writers are tapping into the challenges faced by children in an ever-changing world and helping them to understand it.
Still a developing business, children’s literature in India is growing rapidly at 14-18%. India is the third largest English language publisher in the world and the children’s segment occupies a quarter of this. Local languages, a largely unorganized sector, are emerging as an important part of the sector. Indian publishers are bringing in more investments and are expanding their business by using new technology, which aids in production of more books in lesser time.
Children’s literature in India is set to expand greatly, giving children a wide choice for entertainment and learning.