Fancy something new to read?

SCOOP Cover

 

How delicious it is to sit down with a magazine and not be entirely sure what you are going to find between its page, to have a sense of excitement and curiosity about what will be there.  That is the feeling we are hoping to engender and encourage when people subscribe to Scoop.

Scoop is a new magazine for children between the ages of 8 and 12.  It will be jam packed full of wonderful content by a fantastic range of writers and illustrators offering all sorts of different children something to tickle their reading fancy.

From Catherine Johnson to Gareth Jones, Emerald Fennell to Piers Torday, Chris Priestley to Lucy Coats the fiction will be a rich mix of voices and perspectives.  From a look at the fun of cycling to how to paint a flower like Georgia O’Keefe we will have a range of activities.  From writing a play to writing a poem we will encourage interaction.  There will be graphic novel fiction and non-fiction, quizzes, competitions, reviews of exhibitions around the country as well as  reviews of books.  There won’t be a moments boredom and all this and so much more from the likes of Tom Stoppard, Neil Gaiman, Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin ….

So, who are we?  We are Clementine Macmillan-Scott the founder of the magazine.  She has worked as Coordinator of the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka and the Galle Children’s Festival. And me.  Editor-in-Chief, commisioning content and working with contributors.  Our Marketing Director Joanne Owen, a children’s and YA author and reviewer, who has worked for Bloomsbury Children’s, Macmillan Children’s, Walker Books and Nosy Crow.  We all love reading, care about what children read and want that to be fun, quality, accessible and challenging.

Our aim is to enthuse children about the written word in as many ways as possible and publishing monthly at £3.99 per issue it is an irresistible purchase.  The website goes live in the 1st September with lots of exciting content until then you can visit the site to register for a subscription http://scoopthemag.co.uk/.  We are on twitter and instagram @scoop_the_mag and the first issue will publish on the 23rd September.

Why not subscribe  http://scoopthemag.co.uk/ for someone you know.  At £39.99 what a perfect year round birthday, Christmas or any-day present.

Calling all authors … open submission details

In my new role as Editor-at-Large at Pushkin Press I am delighted to be working on an initiative to encourage authors to send me their unpublished works of fiction.  I will consider the first 20 pages and a synopsis and there is a twenty four hour period from 00.01am  in the early hours to 23.59pm on the 20th June 2016.   I am looking for originality, strong characters, emotional impact and compellingly readable books for young readers 8+.  Please see the Press Release that went out this week.  If you are looking for tips on how to write a great synopsis this is a good place to start https://janefriedman.com/novel-synopsis/

Pushkin Press Announces Open Submission Initiative

Following the appointment of Sarah Odedina as Editor-at-Large for their children’s imprint, Pushkin Press is thrilled to announce the Pushkin Press Open Submission Initiative. Both Pushkin and Odedina believe whole-heartedly in encouraging new talent and this initiative will provide unpublished writers with a golden opportunity to have their work seen by a leading figure in the literary world.

Authors are invited to submit the first 20 pages and a synopsis of their novel, which will then be read by Odedina. Submissions will be open for full length novels for readers 8+.

Odedina previously launched and ran Bonnier imprint Hot Key Books, and before that she was Editor-in-Chief for children’s books at Bloomsbury, where she oversaw publication of the Harry Potter series as well as publishing Neil Gaiman, Louis Sachar, Celia Rees and Chris Priestley.

She said: ‘It takes a lot of energy and courage to finish a book and authors must find the process of getting published daunting. Pushkin Press are very positive about talking directly with authors and we hope that our Open Submissions Initiative will help us build bridges with the writing community and lead to some exciting books being published.’

Adam Freudenheim, Publisher at Pushkin Press, said: ‘Until now, Pushkin Children’s has focussed on previously published books, contemporary and classic, from all over the world. Sarah’s appointment is part of building and extending the Children’s list, and this open submissions initiative is one innovative way we hope to reach out to and discover up-and-coming writers.’

The 24 hour submission period will take place on the 20th June from 00.00 to 23.59, to coincide with the announcement of the 2016 Carnegie Medal, the UK’s most prestigious book prize for fiction for young readers.

Submissions should be sent to books@pushkinpress.com with the subject line ‘SARAH ODEDINA OPEN SUBMISSION MATERIAL’.

The Enchanting Enchanted Lion

We all have publishing houses around the world that are our go-to lists for quality, beauty, wonderful content and sheer charm.  One of my absolute favourites is Enchanted Lion, the Brooklyn based publishing house with a list of picture books that are simply delightful.  Follow this link to read a profile of the company from Publishers Weekly

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/64017-enchanted-lion-a-visit-with-the-brooklyn-based-indie-publisher.html

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time in Singapore: Local Spin-offs to Foreign Fairy Tales by Rhoda Myra Garces-Bacsal and Sarinajit Kaur

…fairy tales come in many versions and are in turn interpreted in varied ways that speak to specific social concerns, struggles, and dreams.

Bacchilega, 2013, p. 3

 

Modern fairy tale adaptations for a digitally-savvy generation are not uncommon, as well-loved tales of grand balls and royalty, glass slippers and happily-ever-afters are re-imagined to provide more contextualized meanings and give space to varying realities beyond the original Eurocentric stories. This is a testament to the timelessness of fairy tales that lend itself to hybridization and transformation allowing readers to not only be passive consumers to the enchantment it provides, but active agents of societal change. The localized permutations may serve as subtle acts of subversion or a more innocuous turning over of beloved characters on their heads, infusing them with culturally-relevant sensibilities with the stories transfigured to include socially-approved norms and moral values. Singapore, a country which has just celebrated its 50th year of Independence in 2015, has its own spin-offs to foreign fairy tales as evident in award-winning Singaporean author Cyril Wong’s Strange Tales: Let Me Tell You Something About that Night in 2009. These are fairy tales for adults told with moribund twists, surreal trans-figurations of characters (male elf turned woman), dark places that defy (or even scoff at) happy endings – all the while challenging gendered expectations of heteronormativity, womanity, and masculinity. Singlish (Colloquial Singaporean English) versions of fairy tales have likewise been written by local designer Casey Chen in 2013: The Three Little Pigs Lah and The Red Riding Hood Lah, providing a delightful parody of well- known fairy tales suffused with familiar colloquialisms such as leh, lah, lor, hor, die die. However, the author himself admitted that while based on a child’s fairy tale, he claims that it is “not very suitable for children” with its use of Singlish and graphic language that is frowned upon by some ultra modern and conservative parents (Ang, 2013).

In 2014, modern retellings of foreign fairy tales specifically aimed for a childrens audience have been tackled by a few of Singapore’s luminaries in various fields (theatre, drama, food) in three Singaporean permutations of well-known foreign fairy tales. The sale of the books which carry a social enterprise mode will have part of the sales proceeds go to the Society for the Promotion of ADHD Research and Knowledge (SPARK). All three books make use of relocation (Bacchilega, 2013) as their primary adaptive strategy by situating the stories in places such as an HDB (Housing Development Board) flat in Ang Mo Kio in Hansel and Girl Girl, Upper Thomson in Goh Bee Lock and the Three Boars, and Katong Community Centre and HDB flat in Pek Kio in Little Red in the Hood.

 

Hansel and Girl Girl is written by Adrian Pang, a well known TV celebrity and the artistic director of Pangdemonium, a Theatre Company; and illustrated by Cultural Medallion recipient Serbian-Singaporean artist, Milenko Prvacki, a Senior Fellow at Lasalle College of the Arts.

Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore
Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore

While there are certain elements that are retained (evil and rejecting stepmother, passive and largely ineffectual father, a house of candy owned by a witch-like woman, brother-sister who had each other’s backs), there are a considerable number of modifications. Instead of a gingerbread house (which is not an item in Singaporean culture), the reader sees The Sweety Sweet Shoppe managed by a scary Auntie (a term used to describe older females in Singapore) with a beehive for hair and wearing a sarong (a kind of wrap around skirt worn mainly by the Malays). In this version, it is Girl Girl who is locked up as the Auntie plans to fatten her up as an entry to the Plump Girl Contest (a satirical reference to the element of competition in Singaporean society) in the hopes of winning a cash prize of SGD $100,000, a car and a condo (affectionately known as the 3Cs that mark financial success in Singapore). Hansel, then, needed to come up with a strategy to free his sister, tapping into the locals’ love of freebies and giveaways (an allegory to typical local penchants), allowing the siblings to escape unnoticed and take the MRT ride back home (the Mass Rapid Transit rail system of Singapore). Similar to most Asian folktales, the didactic elements are as compact as the nonya kueh chang (glutinous rice dumpling – that the siblings were asked to purchase by their stepmother), with the story ending with an injunction “A little candy is nice, but too much candy is too much! I will never, ever, be greedy again!”

 

Image used with permission of Epigram Books, Singapore
Image used with permission of Epigram Books, Singapore

In Goh Bee Lock and the Three Boars, there is still a discernible moral evident from the first page of the story: “She had to study hard and could only play educational computer games, but only after she had finished her homework.” There is also reference to her mummy’s shoe collection and her daddy’s golf sets – constant allegories that provide an insight into generalized local behaviours of the pursuit of academic success, love for shopping and golf as favourite adult pastimes. While there remains a consistent ‘moral’ vein running through the story, this was ingeniously underplayed by the infusion of a wide range of culinary elements. This may be attributed to the fact that the author, J F Seetoh is known as Singapore’s foremost food guru and champion for hawker food. Naughty Goh Bee Lock, despite the parents’ well-meaning advice, snuck out to the nearby Pierce Reservoir where she discovered a small house in the middle of the forest. Instead of three bears (which are not naturally existent in Singapore), this is home to a family of three boars, also quite common in what-passes-for-Singapore’s-jungles. Here, the author allows readers with ample contextual knowledge to make reference to a recent national concern of over population of wild boars as well. Goh Bee Lock is no simpering, golden-haired girl either as her mere presence caused the three boars to faint on the spot, giving her the brilliant opportunity to transform this unconscious family of boars into a delectable meal of “wild boar satay with a dip made from sambal and crushed peanuts,” and Singapore’s famous “bak kut teh” with garlic and pepper cooked over low fire, and the delectable kong bak ba (steamed buns filled with wild boar meat). There are commendable attempts at subtlety in the interplay between text and art, with visual elements added by artist Gavin Goo that are not articulated in the text. The overall design and layout provide a more dynamic feel which may also be attributed to Goo’s being an art director. The presence of the big bad wolf in the end added a layer of intertextuality, reminding readers of other fairy tales with the wolf as villain. The story ends with Goh Bee Lock promising to never be naughty again and the father holding up a plastic takeaway container of her favourite braised pig’s trotters.

 

 

Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore
Image used with the permission of Epigram Books, Singapore

Little Red in the Hood raises the bar in these three stories with the presence of a loud, muscled, kickboxing Grandmother named Rambo outfitted in white singlet and sweat pants; and a cute granddaughter named Little Red who likes drawing bright red wolves and making fluffy red bags (an apt reference to red as a colour of auspiciousness in Singapore culture). The story makes reference to the typical local lifestyle of most young parents and common childcare arrangements – “Little Red’s parents were property agents. They worked all day, leaving Little Red in the care of her grandmother” – providing an apt insight into Singaporean life and practices. Unlike the first two adaptations which aimed to close the stories neatly with a clearly- defined lesson, there are no such attempts here with leading film and theatre director Glen Goei turned children’s book author, eschewing such moralistic expectations and simply having unapologetic fun in twisting the narrative. Instead of Grandmother falling ill, it is Little Red who gets sick with a high fever. Rather than a basket filled with home-made goodies, Rambo “made a frantic trip to NTUC Fair Price” (a popular local grocery store frequented by many in Singapore) to buy ingredients to make chicken soup. The sinister undertones (that will make for a thrilling read-aloud) are retained as Rambo slowly finds her way to Little Red’s metal gate (a typical feature of HDB flats) “on the seventh floor of the oldest block in the estate. It was run-down and shabby, and home to an odd mix of people.” Instead of finding Little Red, Rambo encounters a tall woman with a red hooded sweater and a long skirt admiring her loud and acerbic voice: “My, what a sharp tongue you have” to which Rambo replied “All the better for me to scold people with.” This ‘scolding’ by Aunties and old folks are fairly common in Singapore where filial piety and respect for elders are valued highly: with the Auntie here representing the more experienced and wise elder whose advice/scolding is actually revered. It turns out Rambo is in the wrong flat and Little Red chided her apparently-poor-sighted Grandmother for screaming at Auntie Devi: “And why are you shouting like that? So garang to her for what?” The infusion of local colloquialisms (garang meaning fierce) and sound effects that tap into local people’s sensibilities (Hiiyaa! and Pak! as Rambo attacks Auntie Devi) render even greater authenticity and further sealed the Singaporean ownership to this tale. The story ends with no moral injunctions but with Little Red accompanying Rambo to an optometrist to buy prescription glasses. The dynamism of the story is heightened with Eisner-nominated-artist Andrew Tan’s (also known as Drewscape) rendering the illustrations with a comic book feel to it with storyboard panels and localised sound effects. Through subtle permutations and hybridization from the original fairy tales, the content which is infused with a myriad of local references and allusions, provides a cultural insight into the peculiarities and essence of Singaporean lives. The Singaporean authors successfully provide a sneak peek punctuated with items, behaviours and places close to the Singaporean heart. This is authenticated further with each book bringing in an angled lens specific to the respective author’s area of expertise coming quite clearly through each depiction. While these three stories would have benefited from a Glossary of Terms for those who are unfamiliar with local delicacies and unique linguistic expressions, this may serve as a post-reading activity that teachers can consider asking their young students to do in the classroom.

Jack Zipes (2012, p. 17) noted: “All tales want to be relevant, in the same way that we seek to make ourselves relevant through storytelling. Tales do not have agency. They are not alive, but they breathe and are vigorous, and as they are passed on to us through traditions of storytelling, they almost assume a life of their own.” In these three Singaporean fairy tales, readers get to see beloved tales transformed and given new life with a distinct “gula melaka flavour puddled under the tongue.”

 

About the authors:

Rhoda Myra Garces-Bacsal is an Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.  She is the Programme Leader of the Masters Program in High Ability Studies and Gifted Education. She serves as the Chairperson of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content held annually in Singapore. As a passionate reading advocate, she has also edited three books on the rediscovery of children’s literature in Asia. She has three book clubs in Singapore with children and adults, and shares her passion for reading and book hunting in her website gatheringbooks.org.

Ms Sarinajit Kaur, MEd (Special Education) joined the Early Childhood and Special Education Academic Group as a Teaching Fellow since 2011. She currently teaches and coordinates a myriad of courses across various cohorts in initial teacher preparation as well as in service courses. She serves as in service coordinator for courses which equip mainstream teachers in inclusive practices and in supporting diverse learners. She is also engaged actively in supporting trainee teachers and allied educators during their school experience and practicum periods. Her interests include teacher training, mentoring and on how these impact positively on the inclusive mainstream educational landscape.

References:
Ang, B. (2013). ‘My Singlish is not very good.’ The New Paper; December 10,
2013. Retrieved from online publication:

http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/my-singlish-not-very good?page=0%2C0

Bacchilega, C. (2013). Fairy tales transformed? Twenty-first century adaptations and the politics of wonder.Detroit, US: Wayne State University Press.

Zipes, J. (2012). The irresistible fairy tale: The cultural and social history of a genre. Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press.

 

 

 

 

Kalimat Group – Producing Innovative Arabic Literature in an Increasingly Globalised World

Contemporary Arabic story telling for children is based on a rich and ancient literary tradition.  Here Kalimat Publishing look at their place in the new Arabic publishing reality.

 

Throughout the world and across different continents, storytelling has long existed among various communities, and in a multitude of languages. Verbal communication came long before the written word, and with it began a primitive culture of sharing tales – to forewarn of dangers, help children to fall asleep, or simply serve as entertainment.

The Arab world has a strong culture of storytelling that stems from a variety of subjects (namely religious, informational and educational) and these stories are often based on local culture, heritage and history – all of which remain ingrained in the Arab conscious.

With roots dating back to more than 1,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, Arab storytelling has inspired some of the world’s most famous collections of Arabic literature, such as the 9th century epic fictional tale, One Thousand and One Nights, which has had a major literary influence on the Arab and Western world alike.

More expansively, the Quran is the first book written in the Arabic language of notable length and intricate structure, consisting of 114 suras (chapters) that comprise 6,236 ayat (verses). The holy book, which contains narratives delivered directly from God, has been revered by Muslim societies for centuries, but is also admired by people from different religions and backgrounds for its eloquent and beautifully written stories, and these tales have had a significant impact on the themes of Arabic literature over time.

Whilst religious Islamic principles have been taught to children since the early 7th century, in recent decades it has become widely agreed upon that educating younger generations is the key to spreading an appreciation of literature, reading and the arts. The Emirates Publishers Association, the Arab Publishers Association, the International Publishers Association and individual publishing associations from a number of Arab nations, frequently coordinate with one another and with prominent literary figures from around the world, to discuss the latest innovations in publishing and the effects of the digital realm, school curriculums, and specific content on readership and education.

The regional Arab publishing scene is also expanding at a remarkable rate, and it continues to find ways with which to revolutionise the way Arab society perceives literature, whilst also encouraging youths to embrace reading, whether electronically or traditionally.

20150602_093147The United Arab Emirates publishing group, Kalimat Group (which now comprises of three imprints) started with Kalimat – a children’s publishing house that has produced over 160 titles. It is a prime example of an organisation within the Arab world that fully dedicates itself to publishing unique Arabic children’s books with the purpose of sparking an interest in learning and reading. Kalimat was established by Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi in 2007, with the aim of encouraging a love of books among Arab children, who, not long ago, found it nearly impossible to find literature that applied both to their lives within an increasingly modern world, and to their cultural surroundings.

 

book 1-(1)The award-winning organisation goes to great lengths to make reading a priority amongst youths in the Arab region. It welcomes Arabic authors and illustrators from all walks of life to contribute to its wide range of publications, which are aimed at children up to the age of eleven. It also participates in regional and international book fairs in order to promote its books, as well as sharing industry knowledge and expertise with members of the global publishing community.

Kalimat Group has also launched two other imprints over the years, with each of which focusing on a different age bracket. Horouf, established in 2013, supports the teaching of Arabic in a fresh, new way to preschool and primary school students, by helping them develop their physical and intellectual skills, and by creating a successful learning relationship between their peers, their teachers and society as a whole. The aim of this imprint is to help students cope with the requirements of their future growth, and provide them with unique learning solutions when being taught Arabic at school.

Horouf has published eighteen books under ‘The Big Book project’ – a scheme which provides clear, colourful books for teachers to read and share with their young students – as well as publishing twenty titles in its Imrah Series, which encourages a love of reading in children via a range of fun, exciting and diverse topics.

Its third project, ‘Concepts’, focuses on matters that children experience at home and at school, based on their surroundings, daily activities and family life. It aims to teach children using simple and interesting techniques, such as 3D animation and songs. Horouf’s fourth concept, ‘Family Letters’, helps young children learn the alphabet in an easy manner, also with the use of music and 3D animation, and its products consist of CDs, flash-cards and workbooks.

Meanwhile, Kalimat’s latest imprint, Rewayat, publishes contemporary young adult fiction and short stories written by award-winning Arab and international authors.

Kalimat continues to grow, innovate and succeed, and it has received numerous international awards (such as the Kitabi 21 award from the Arabic Thoughts Foundation, both in 2012 and 2015) as well as being shortlisted for Best Publisher of the Year for the Asia region at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

It goes beyond typical subjects of children’s books, and brings Arab children storylines that are culturally relevant, fun and useful in their day-to-day lives. With continuously evolving imprints, Kalimat Group is creating an impactful culture of reading among children in the region. The Arab children’s publishing sector is noticeably paving the way for fresh talent to produce rich content for young people so that they can find joy in books. A combination of Arab tradition and modern innovation makes this publishing house a unique, powerful force in the Middle Eastern as well as global literary spheres.

baeaalahlamCover

Kalimat, Horouf and Rewayat allow the art of storytelling to reach a variety of young audiences, and they keep them captivated and absorbed in reading and learning. The result: the children’s imaginations have space to grow, and they are provided with the inspiration to pursue their dreams and mould a positive, exciting future for themselves and their peers. Storytelling is a vital component of Arab culture, and the books Kalimat publish ensure that it will remain so for new generations of Arab children in an increasingly globalised Arab world.

 

Follow kalimat on twitter @kalimat_books and on facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/29772794757/?fref=ts

Tara Books: The Making of a Publishing House by Gita Wolf

I am delighted that our blog post this week is by Gita Wolf.  She is talking about Tara Books, the company she founded 20 years ago and which has worked to produced high quality, innovative and content rich books for young readers ever since.  Tara Books is a truly inclusive organisation, having its books manufactured by a local printing collective, working with folk artists from around the country and concentrating on creating content that abides to its core values of respecting individuals and their cultures.  It is a unique publishing house, based in Chennai and with an impressive international reach.

Sarah Odedina, The Read Quarterly.

 

Tara Books turns twenty years old this year. When I started the publishing house two decades ago, I had neither a concrete business plan nor a definite programme. The project was tentative and exploratory, with only this overarching idea: to widen the scope of what we think of as children’s literature, particularly in India. I was also keen on exploring visual narratives, and the dialogue between words and pictures. So with the help of a few creative friends, that is what Tara set out to do.

From the very beginning, we felt that the entrenched form and content of children’s books needed to be challenged. Particularly in India, a limited range of themes, styles and renderings had to stand in for ‘what children like’ – and therefore, what they will be offered. But, in our understanding, it all came down to what children were exposed to. We also doubted whether all children (even within a particular age group) were alike in their tastes and preferences. Like adults, children are individuals – some like humour, others love a good mystery, some are serious, others more light hearted. So a genuine variety of perspectives was much needed.

That is what we have tried to create, over these twenty years, and it remains the basic direction that we continue to take. Meanwhile, Tara has grown into a collective of writers, designers and book makers, and it is owned by the people who run it. There are eleven of us in the office, and after years of working out of small rented houses, we’ve now built our own space, called Book Building. Our offices are on the first floor, and on the ground floor there is a bookstore and gallery where we hold exhibitions, events and workshops. Visiting artists have painted murals on the walls, and on the top floor, we have a studio apartment for the artists, authors and designers who come to work with us on projects. Book Building’s reputation as a destination for lovers of books and the arts is growing, and we’re pleased at the number of visitors who come by.1 Book Building_a

 

We generate most of our titles in-house, but we also collaborate with other adventurous professionals both from within India and abroad. It is these dialogues and interactions, between ourselves, but also with others, which allows Tara to grow – each creative individual sets us off in a new direction.

For instance, a serendipitous meeting with a wonderful silk-screen printer gave rise to the first book we made entirely by hand, from the paper to the printing and binding. That printer is now part of the core group at Tara, taking care of our entire production. Meanwhile his screen-printing workshop, which Tara helped to set up, has grown into an artisanal fair trade collective of twenty-five bookmakers. The unit is located a couple of kilometers away from our office, and is run as an independent entity, producing books exclusively for us.

tara-edited6

The work of these printers and binders has ensured that over the years, Tara has come to be known for a range of handmade books, where the art, paper, printing and binding offer a supremely tactile experience to the reader. Because of our unique set up, we’re able to offer what are really limited editions of artists’ books, but at an affordable price to the average book lover.Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 15.39.58

Creation by Bhajju Shyam, with Gita Wolf.  A collection of origin myths from the Gond tribe in central India.

3 Gobble You Up!_cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gobble You Up  by Gita Wolf, Sunita

A cumulative rhyming story of a jackal that swallows all the other animals. Illustrated in the Meena tribal art style. One of the favourite motifs of Meena women artists is pregnant animals ‑ which led to the idea for this book.

When we started publishing in 1995, there were hardly any interesting picture books for children in India. Ours has been a largely oral tradition, and the notion of children’s literature came from abroad, so Indian children’s books tended to be derivative. They were also very didactic. One of our aims was – and still is – to celebrate the sheer pleasure of reading for fun. All of us who love books first began to read because we enjoyed it. At Tara, we find it particularly vital to foster this enjoyment, as in India, most parents tend to be competitive and ambitious for their children, and are therefore disinterested in books which provide too little ‘information’. Our flouting of this received market wisdom certainly was (and continues to be) a risk, but it’s one we’re willing to invest in.  Two examples of the light-hearted and fun books that we publish are Alphabets Are Amazing Animals and Captain Coconut and the case of the Missing Bananas.

Alphabets Are Amazing Animals

4 Alphabets_CoverAlphabets are Amazing Animals by Anushka Ravishankar and Christiane Pieper

Captain Coconut

Captain Coconut and the Case of the Missing Bananas by Anushka Ravishankar and Priya Sundram

Ace Detective Captain Coconut, who can solve any mystery, is called in to investigate the case of the missing bananas. He soon finds himself on a slippery trail of peels and missing numbers.  This is Anushka Ravishankar at her absurd best. British-Indian artist Priya Sundram’s collage art brings together elements of popular Indian imagery.

At the same time we have always been interested in pedagogy ‑ not in terms of traditional ‘information’ books, but in exploring a more complex yet accessible approach to learning, which does not shy away from difficult social issues. We’d like our books to reflect our own ethical positions on gender equality, environmental engagement and human rights. So, our approach to pedagogy is to frame the theme around a story or an argument, and offer the reader ideas to ponder, as well as practical activities which lead to a more nuanced understanding.

5 Trash!_cover

Trash!  by Anushka Ravishankar, Gita Wolf and Orjit Sen

A combination of fact and fiction Trash! tells the story of a runaway village child who ends up as a ragpicker in a big Indian city. Along the way, it explores a range of issues—from child labour and child rights to waste and recycling.

An area of learning that we’re particularly interested in exploring is art and craft education. For a country as colourful and visually exciting as India, the state of our visual literacy is dismaying. There are barely any art classes in schools, and what there is available tends to be stodgy and unimaginative.

1 Book Building_c

An art class in action in the Book Building

 

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8 Ways to Draw an Elephant by Paola Ferrarotti with various artists. An unusual art activity book featuring the Indian elephant that introduces children to a variety of Indian art traditions. The elephant is imagined and rendered in eight different folk and tribal styles, put together by Italian designer Paola Ferrarotti

Of all the art on offer in India, we’ve always been particularly drawn to the incredible wealth of folk and tribal forms. Unlike in most parts of the world, these traditions are not confined to history, and artists who practice them are very much our contemporaries, with a lot to offer us. They often come from rural or remote communities, and their images keep to certain traditional themes and styles of rendering. Originally painted on floors and walls, most of this art arose from common everyday practice: the decorating of homes, community spaces or places of worship. Over the course of time, these artists began to paint on paper, and also to sell their work.

Many of our artists come from poor and marginalized communities, and before they met us, hardly any of them had ever read a book, let alone made one. Some of them could barely read and write. But we found that they had an astonishing wealth of talent, imagination and intelligence – and, equally importantly, they came from a world completely unfamiliar to the middle class urban Indian child. This, to us, was one of their greatest strengths, for along with their skill, they also effortlessly brought in an entirely new way of looking at the world.

Women of the Warli tribe from Maharashtra depict the busy activities of their village on the walls, with special paintings done on ritual occasions. The iconic simplicity and dynamism of the form can translate into a wonderful children’s book as in our book Do!  which was inspired by traditional paintings on walls.  This is a set of action pictures, rendered in the Warli style of tribal art from Maharashtra, western India.

8 Do!_cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women of the Bhil tribe in central lndia draw in a typically colourful, joyous style of painting which uniformly dots all things and all beings and we worked with Bhil artists on both Visit the Bhil Carnival and Tree Matters

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9 Visit the Bhil Carnival_spread

 

Sample spread from Visit the Bhil Carnival.  Subhash Amaliyar with designers Catriona Maciver and Oliver Mayes.

Before we began working with these artists, Indian children’s publishing had not drawn on these traditions in any significant way. At that time in India, a form of Disney-inspired cartoony style of illustration was considered ideal children’s fare. So our work was quite pioneering, and at the outset we faced a lot of skepticism about how children would respond to such radically different visual languages. We ourselves never seriously considered this a problem as to us taste seemed largely formed by what was available and ubiquitous – how could we pronounce on what children liked, when they hadn’t been given enough choice to decide for themselves?

We are interested in Children’s Books with Folk and Tribal Artists

 8 Alone in the forest_cover

Alone in the Forest  by Gita Wolf, Andrea Anastasio and Bhajju Shyam.           A powerful exploration of the psychology of fear, this is the story of how a boy slowly overcomes what he is afraid of. Illustrated by the well-known Gond tribal artist Bhajju Shyam, the inspiration for this book came from Bhajju’s stories of his own childhood.

 Over a period of twenty years, we have created a set of children’s books with folk and tribal artists that, through stories and images, offer very different perspectives on the world. The themes are quite varied, ranging from the artists telling their own stories to collaborations with authors from other background. If there is one basic premise on which this list is based, it is that when the artist is not painting her own tale, she has freedom to interpret a different story or theme in the light of her own visual tradition. In this sense, she is also an ‘author’ of the text, and actively creating meaning. And this in turn means that she actually reverses the usual anthropological gaze. Folk and tribal communities are usually described by others, we rarely find them speaking for themselves. In making this possible, we imply that their skills and experiences are valuable, and worth preserving and passing on.

What do such voices bring to children’s literature? Exposing children to a variety of perspectives sounds simple, but is in fact one of the hardest things to achieve, particularly nowadays. Today, it feels like we have more choice than ever before but in reality much of it is really homogenous – popular books are marketed worldwide, television programmes are beamed across the globe, internet content is available everywhere…This gives us an illusion of unlimited choice, yet all these things often originate from quite similar – and fairly limited – sources. Seen another way, it is the market and the media which largely decides on what is put out and what is worth taking notice of. There are a handful of independent publishers around the world who dare to take the risk of publishing truly unconventional books, but it is a struggle to survive.

One way for us to bring in radically different worldviews is through working with folk and tribal artists. Their perspective is unlike anything any of us normally get to hear or see, so it is not just a question of replacing a white figure with a brown one. Indeed the challenge here is not to set them up as exotic outsiders, or as a niche. We’d like them to be seen as our contemporaries and equals, and that what they have to say is as relevant as all the other voices we listen to every day. When a book is successful, the reader actually identifies with the protagonist, and if that protagonist happens to be an individual who is normally ‘invisible’, or not part of the reader’s everyday experience, then the book has the potential to be transformative. In this case, universality need not be a global sameness, but more an empathy with those who are not like us. We think this realisation is as valuable to an urban middle class Indian child as it is to a youngster from an entirely different background.

And in a larger publishing sense, this mirrors the way we see ourselves: our content may have arisen mostly from within an Indian context, but we think a sizeable number of our books transcend their location to become accessible to readers everywhere. This is obviously not the case with every title – and we do need books that have a purely local flavour and relevance. But by and large, our success with selling rights to our books (we’ve collaborated with about eighty-seven publishers around the world to date) bears out the fact that we are not niche; but rather we are actively a part of international publishing. This is quite unusual in the history of Indian children’s literature as India has always tended to buy in more books than we send out.

What enables so many of Tara’s books to travel so widely? Apart from the universal values which inform them, an important factor would have to be the focus we place on contemporary design and careful production. Clearly, good design plays an important role in re-framing tradition for the modern reader. But there is another reason why design is fundamental to how we conceptualize our books. From the very beginning, one of our core members (who is a designer) has emphasized the idea that the function of design is not merely to embellish a book, but also to contribute to the way that meaning is created.

Exploring the idea of ‘designer as author’ has been an ongoing project for us, not only in order to render traditional art into a more contemporary idiom, but also as an undertaking in its own right. We’re keen on experimenting with typography and layout, and also on exploring radically different forms of the book, to push the boundaries of book design as we know it. This is also where we see ourselves as part of an international conversation.

9 Visit the Bhil Carnival_spread

Sample spread from Visit the Bhil Carnival.  Subhash Amaliyar with designers Catriona Maciver and Oliver Mayes showing innovative novelty elementsCombining the elements of a map, a puzzle, a pop-up, and a storybook, this interactive title is about a wonderful carnival called Bhagoria, celebrated by the Bhil people of central India every year

 

9 Enduring Ark_Cover

 

The Enduring Ark

Joydeb Chitrakar, Gita Wolf.  This Indian version of the Biblical tale of the great flood is illustrated in the Bengal Patua style of scroll painting. Each flowing fold of the accordion takes the reader from a deluge of water to a rainbow of hope.

From the beginning, our publishing vision has always relied on dialogue. The process continues to be a very collaborative, and through the course of all our successes and failures, what we’ve always enjoyed are the scores of enriching conversations that we’ve had with people. We’ve learnt a lot along the way. Next season, we’re looking forward to a number of books in collaboration with young Japanese illustrators, and along with them, our quest continues to be an old one: what possibilities can we uncover in a world that is increasingly dominated by big business, much hype and the safety of homogeneity? We’re proud to be part of a small group of independent publishers across the world who continue to take the risk of this challenge.

 

Gita Wolf is a writer and publisher. She founded Tara Books in 1994.  Follow Tara Books on instagram @tara_books and on twitter @TaraBooks.  Their wonderful books are available from bookshops and amazon worldwide.

 

Tara Books

Michael Rosen said, when asked if he thought there was a future for small independent houses in this age of super conglomerates, that ‘heterodoxy will exist alongside orthodoxy’. This inspired us to create a regular feature in The Read celebrating the artisan, bespoke and boutique publishers of wonderful children’s books from around the world.

In the first issue we introduce you to Tara Books, an independent publisher of picture books for adults and children, based in Chennai, south India. Founded in 1994, it remains a collective of dedicated writers, designers and artists who strive for a union of fine form and rich content. Fiercely independent, they publish a select list that encompasses diverse genres, offering their readers unusual and rare voices in art and literature.