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Bright prospects for children’s publishing in India

One of my highlights of visiting India as a kid was to buy an obscenely large number of Tinkles and Amar Chitra Kathas. I was so accustomed to reading Western children’s literature that to me these books with stories (and stereotypes as I later discovered) rooted in India and free of stuffy British aristocracy felt like kindling a broken cultural connection.

Thankfully, kids today don’t have to make the same choices. Over the last two decades, children’s publishing in India has burgeoned, moving away from quasi-encyclopaedic tomes to works that break with the industry’s earlier conservatism and span a variety of genres. Part of this has been driven by Tara Books, Karadi Tales and Tulika Publishers, which focus solely on children’s books and helped build up an ecosystem of children’s publishing in the country.

More recently, even other publishers have seen the green (if not storytelling possibilities) of the children’s book segment. Two recent children’s book imprints are Talking Cub and HarperCollins Children’s Books, both of which were officially launched on Children’s Day last year. Their initial bets are entertainment-driven, not a bad choice in a market where educators and parents still largely expect children’s books to edify.

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Selling rights into China: Interview with literary agent Jackie Huang

Established in 2002, Andrew Nurnberg Associates China is a go-to agency for a many looking to sell rights into the Chinese market. And on February 5 and 6, when Frankfurter Buchmesse stages its two-day Frankfurt Publishers Training Program at the Taipei International Book Exhibition, literary agent Jackie Huang will be a key speaker.

Focused on the rising rate of rights sales to Chinese publishing houses in the past few years, Huang’s talk is one of the most anticipated of the event, which is being led by Frankfurt international business development director Katharina Ewald.

In advance of her address, “Ways Into the Chinese Market,” Publishing Perspectives has had a chance to explore several issues and trends with Huang, who directs Andrew Nurnberg’s Beijing office. We open our exchange by asking about the scale of rights activity the agency is seeing now in its Chinese operations. And we have a chance to show you here some of the key titles the agency has sold recently.

Publishing Perspectives: Can you give us an idea of the pace of rights activity you’re seeing in the Beijing office today?

Jackie Huang: We mainly represent clients from Europe and North America, selling translation rights to Chinese publishers covering adult fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books.

On average, we’re selling rights to more than 1,000 titles per year.

Chinese editors generally have preferred buying rights in nonfiction, especially in history, psychology, popular culture and popular science, parenting, and self-help. But since last year, translated fiction has been having more and more rights attention from Chinese editors, especially for science fiction novels and inspiring coming-of-age stories.

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The Book of Wonder

Tara Books travels to Japan for an exhibition that celebrates the exhilarating work of the Chennai-based indie publisher.

In the summer of 2013, when Gita Wolf was invited to the Itabashi Museum in Tokyo to run atelier workshops for Japanese illustrators and designers, the publisher conceived a programme that would tie together the interest of the Japanese in paper art and the unique book-making journey of her Chennai-based independent publishing house,  . The theme — forms of books — yielded a prodigious crop: three of the projects became published books, with one more underway, but it also spread the word about Tara’s exhilarating work in publishing. Over the course of the last two years, Kiyoko Matsuoka, one of the chief curators of the Itabashi Museum, and her team travelled to Chennai to meet up with Wolf and V Geetha, editorial director, to plan an exhibition on their work. On November 25, last year, “Beautiful Books Can Change the World: The Universe of Tara Books”, opened at the Itabashi museum, featuring over 300 original artwork created by tribal and folk artists for Tara’s diverse range of publications, short films on the making of noteworthy titles and first editions.

The second phase of the exhibition will open in April in the city of Nagoya and then travel to other parts of Japan later in the year. “(Matsuoka) conceived of this in the form of an exhibition that would trace our book-making journey, both our experiments with the handmade book and our publishing across genres, from children’s picture books to visual essays for adult readers, art activity books to books on contemporary social concerns that bother children,” says Geetha.

One of the stalwarts of indie publishing in India, Tara’s work in its 23 years-long journey has been remarkable for the way it combines India’s indigenous art forms to tell enduring stories to a young, primarily urban, readership. Titles such as Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni and Patua artist Moyna Chitrakar, A Village is a Busy Place by V Geetha and Rohima Chitrakar, or The London Jungle Book by Gond artist Bhajju Shyam experiment as much with the form and art of the book as with the plurality of narrative voices. “Geetha and I were part of a feminist group in Chennai, Snehidi, and amongst other things, we tried to build a small feminist library. In the course of conversations, we would end up talking about what is available for children to read, and … I wondered if we could not have a different sort of children’s book, which spoke to our context, and with characters that Indian children could identify with. This is how the idea for [Tara Books] emerged…,” says Wolf.

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Call of freelance editors, cover designers, book designers and illustrators for Kitaab, Singapore

Kitaab is looking for experienced freelancers who are passionate about cover designing, book designing, or illustrations, for fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.

We are especially looking for illustrators for children’s literature. Illustrators should indicate their preferred style of illustrations while submitting their portfolio to us.

If you are interested to work with Kitaab, please send us your work samples along with your short bio and freelancing rates at kitaab.sg@gmail.com. Please indicate your area of interest/specialisation (such as illustration, cover design, etc) in the email’s subject line.
All are welcome to apply (geography/country no bar).


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Palestinian children’s book becomes target for boycott and censorship

By Radhika Sainath for Lithub

As a new parent, I’m now alert to a substratum of media that passed below the radar of my younger, less narcissistic, self. In the space of mild leftist parenting, this means acquiring board-book samizdat such as Click Clack Moo (cows striking for workplace benefits), and A Rule is to Break (inculcating anarchist principles in pre-literate children.)

Of course, the post-colonial space of this genre (Babar notwithstanding) is pretty unpopulated, so I was excited to spot P is for Palestine by Golbarg Bashi at my local Book Culture.

The book is fantastic on so many different levels: it features a little girl with curly black hair, big eyes and brown skin; the illustrations are gorgeous; and it teaches the alphabet through egalitarian and multi-cultural words from both Arabic and English like “C is for Christmas,” “E is for Eid,” and “M is for Miftah, Key of Return.”

But nothing Palestine-related, no matter how anodyne, can be consumed safely in America, let alone on the Upper West Side.

When I started chatting with the cashier when I bought the book a couple of weeks ago, I learned that the store was in the middle of a targeted boycott campaign.

“They haven’t even read it!” he said.

Googling the story, I learned that Bashi, the author, received death threats and needed police security at her storytime reading at Book Culture’s Upper West Side location. Book Culture received threats comparable to when it refused to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa. A local synagogue threatened to ban Book Culture from an upcoming book fair if the owners did not denounce the book, and anti-Palestinian activists called for a boycott of the store. The “Upper East Mamas” Facebook group was shut down after parents “went ballistic” over the book, as reported in Page Six, The Forward and The New York Post.

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And now, a dapper Ravana: Amar Chitra Katha undergoes makeover

Benevolent kings and their beauteous queens stroll in palace gardens or verdant forests while loyal servants eavesdrop and evil enemies plot. Meanwhile, marauding armies scale impossibly high walls and are beaten back by animals that can miraculously talk. A courtier outwits his king every single time and a poet brings strong men to their knees with his intelligence.

This complex cast of characters operating in a fantastical world held us in thrall every single issue of Amar Chitra Katha that we devoured eagerly. As the legendary comic brand reaches its 50th year of production, with over 450 titles to its credit and an astounding 100 million copies sold in over 35 languages, like any 50-year-old, it is emerging from its own version of a mid-life crisis.

Although adored by two generations of Indians, in the last 10 years, some of the adulation has been countered by scepticism bordering on outrage about what has been labelled Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘regressive’ content, both in its art and script.

A number of scholarly writings have come up, criticising and condemning the comics for reinforcing stereotypes: women characters are too subservient, caste hierarchy is established by skin colour, with upper caste characters invariably lighter toned, and its religious biases are clear. The controversy has been similar to what the Enid Blyton pantheon faced, forcing it to rethink its golliwogs and dwarves.

Beards and saris

If all this had happened in an Amar Chitra Katha, a single word from the superhero (placed in a spiky speech bubble) would have reduced the grumbling detractors to tiny, powerless creatures to be borne away on a tidal wave of nostalgia and affection. But real life is less forgiving. Thus, recently, when young artists in the comic house’s studios pointed out that there were no women in the crowd scene in a new title on Sardar Patel, Reena Ittyerah Puri, Executive Editor, immediately had it rectified by removing beards and adding saris for some of the crowd.

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Satyajit Ray’s Prof. Shonku is ready for the big screen

Satyajit Ray’s eccentric character is being turned into a film by his son Sandip.

When Sandip Ray read the first draft of his father’s stories based on fictional scientist Professor Shonku in 1961, he was not even 10 years old. The character appeared to him a “bit eccentric and over the top.”

Soon after the stories on the old scientist created by Satyajit Ray were published in a Bengali periodical, accolades in the form of letters and phone calls started coming in.

Five decades later, Professor Trilokeshwar Shonku retains undiminished appeal, prompting Sandip Ray to bring the character to life on the big screen.

The film, Professor Shonku O El Dorado, produced by SVF Entertainment, one of eastern India’s largest production houses, is likely to hit the screens by the end of 2018.

“I have been thinking about making a film on Professor Shonku for a long time. With so many developments in the visual effects field, I think this is the right time,” Mr. Ray said. The film is based on one of the spell-binding stories in the Professor Shonku series, called ‘Nakur Babu O El Dorado’.

The main character, Professor Shonku, is a scientist-inventor, and along with the visual effects, the plot takes the audience to the forests of South America. The bilingual production in Bengali and English will be shot in both West Bengal and Brazil.

The director has made a number of films on Feluda, the iconic detective, and another of Satyajit Ray’s creations. The new venture will be both a “challenge and a nice change of pace after so many Feluda films,” he says.

Ray created Feluda, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, giving the character a resemblance to everything about the muse: physical features, methods and the chronicling of his adventures. But Professor Shonku is different. He is inspired by George Edward Challenger, better known as Professor Challenger, also created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Professor Shonku is an eccentric inventor, living in Giridih with his servant Prahlad and cat Newton.

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Chasing cutlets: on the warmth of food in children’s literature

Rather than being weighed down by pedagogy, children’s literature must set you free — to imagine, to recall, to revel in the warmth of shared food

Many children’s books in English these days are full of pedagogy. They focus on teaching children how to wash their faces, brush their teeth and tie their shoelaces. This is not the job of literature. Literature should teach kids how to be, not what to do. The greatest children’s book writers, like Sukumar Ray, Lewis Carroll or Dr Seuss, provide us a sensibility, a way of being, by drawing us into a world of wonder. And, not surprisingly, many of their books centre around food. What could be more useless, frivolous and also wondrous, than a book devoted to green eggs and ham? Ruya is three years old. She can’t read more than a few letters or count beyond 10. Yet, she already knows her way to the local sweet shop and samosa shop. I believe it has to do with her close reading, or viewing, of Abol Tabol. Ray’s characters are always eating, chasing food or under the threat of being eaten. There’s Bombagor’s Raja, chhobir framey badhiye rakhe aamsotto bhaja, who keeps dried sweet mangoes in picture frames. Or the monster in Bhoe Peyo Na (don’t be scared), who feigns weakness and then threatens to devour the reader. And of course, there’s Khuror Kol, (which could be translated as chacha’s contraption), a rhyme about an invention intended to make you walk faster by dangling food in front of you that you can never reach.

Shamne tahar khaddo jhole, jar je rokom ruchi

Monda mithai chop cutlet khaja kimba luchi

mon bole tae ‘khabo khabo’, mukh chole tae khete

mukher shonge khabar chote palla diye mote.

(Food hangs in front, according to your tastes

Sweets, chops, cutlets and luchis

The mind says ‘yum yum’, the mouth goes to gulp

The food rushes away and the mouth gives chase.)

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‘Our grandchildren refuse to read in their mother tongue’

Dibyajyoti Sarma in conversation with renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen for Sakal Times.

Renowned Bengali author Nabaneeta Dev Sen and illustrator Proiti Roy were the winners of the second edition of the Big Little Book Awards 2017. Instituted by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts, the awards were announced on the closing day of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Lit Fest last Sunday.

A first-of-its-kind in India, the Big Little Book Awards seek to honour authors and illustrators who have contributed to the world of children’s literature. For authors, the focus is on one Indian language every year. The first edition of the awards focused on Marathi. This year, nominations were invited for authors writing for children in Bengali. The illustrators’ entries however were not limited to any language.

This year’s winner for children’s literature in Bengali, Nabaneeta Dev Sen has been writing for children since 1979. A feminist author, she has also written widely for adults spanning across several genres — novels, travelogues, short stories and plays.
Sakal Times spoke to Nabaneeta Dev Sen on the eve of her winning the award. Edited excerpts from the interview.

Bengali has a long history of children’s literature. How has it evolved?
Bengali children’s literature started with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar in the 19th century with tiny stories for children in his first Bengali wordbook for children, Varna Parichaya. Bangla children’s literature started with strong roots in Bengal. Upendrakishore Ray wrote Bangla children’s fables that we grew up on and my granddaughter also knows, although she does not read Bangla. Sayajit Ray, Upendrakishore’s grandson made his first classic children’s film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne based on his grandfather’s short story.

Our children’s literature developed on its own with local fables, fairy tales, funny stories, and ghost tales, etc from the villages. And with endless tales from Sanskrit classics, Bengali children grew up on our own literary imagination for a long time, but soon the adventure stories and detective stories began to appear, whose basic idea was Western, but the story materials hundred per cent Bangla. Our generation knew Western stories along with the Bangla ones not only because there were many English medium schools in the cities, but also because the standard of teaching English was high in the Bengali medium schools as well.

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Shanghai recognises UK translator Wang’s ‘special contribution’ to literature

Helen Wang, a London-based literary translator and British Museum curator has been recognised on the international stage for her “special contribution” to children’s literature at the 2017 Chen Bochui International Children’s Literature Awards in Shanghai.

Wang, who translates contemporary Chinese literature, including novels, picture books and graphic novels for children and young adults, was commended as “a tireless champion” for Chinese children’s literature at the event, which named her Special Contributor of the Year on the eve of the city’s fifth international children’s book fair.

Wang earlier this year took home the 2017 Marsh Christian Award for her translation of Cao Wenxuan’s Bronze and Sunflower, set in the Chinese countryside during the Cultural Revolution, that was originally published by Phoenix Publishing House and published in translation by Walker in the UK and Candlewick in the US.

In addition to her translations, Wang has also worked collaboratively with the China Fiction Book Club, Paper Republic and Global Literature in Libraries. In 2016, she co-founded Chinese Books for Young Readers, a resource collating scant reliable information about Chinese children’s books.

“Helen Wang is a tireless champion for Chinese children’s literature. And her advocacy is widely recognised and appreciated,” said Junko Tokota, one of the judging panel.

She added: “Although her name is synonymous with children’s translation, Helen Wang has raised the visibility and professionalism of children’s literature translation worldwide.”

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