Books, like plants, take a long time to germinate. The seed of this idea was planted about five years ago, when a bunch of publishers, booksellers, authors, librarians and illustrators got together at the German Book Office for a brainstorming session on what was needed in the world of Indian children’s books. A wishlist of five things emerged.
Firstly, a children’s book prize, a new category of children’s books was added to the Crossword Book Award in 2009. Secondly, a children’s literature festival, Bookaroo Literature Festival came into being and is now flourishing into its sixth year.
Thirdly, more training and workshops for professionals involved in children’s books were required, which lead to Jumpstart Festival that is going from strength to strength. Fourthly, a professional association for authors and illustrators, the Indian chapter of the Society of Children’s Writers and Book Illustrators has already taken off, headed by Anushka Ravishankar. Lastly, a guidebook to help parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers find their way to some of the best work in this field: and we’re delighted that this book is out there on the bookshelves.
It’s been a long process, and an intensively collaborative one. We initially wanted to come up with a ‘definitive’ guide to the ‘the best’ books, but soon realised that rather than having a panel of experts decide what was ‘best’, what we wanted was a list of books that people loved. Rather than critical assessments, what we wanted were enthusiastic recommendations, reviews that said, ‘oh, I just loved this book: you’ve got to read it too’.
From the small seed of an idea, it has taken over 60 reviewers and contributors, and 23 publishers to help grow this into the sturdy little plant that we have today. And it’s far from finished growing. We want to hear from people about which books they want to see in the guide, and to make this guide a regularly updated list that reflects our many, varied tastes. We would love to see spin-offs — perhaps similar guidebooks for other Indian languages, or ones for specific age groups, or genres (101 Indian Vampire Stories for Teens We Love, anyone?).
For the moment, this is a good beginning — and a must-have guide for anyone wanting to explore the wonderful world of Indian children’s books.
Anita Roy is senior editor for Young Zubaan. She and Samina Mishra are the editors of 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love!