Children of all ages go through a range of complex emotions. And very often neither do the kids nor the parents know how to manage them. Now a new indie publisher, AdiDev, has come up with a host of picture books for children—from toddlers to early readers—that help them make sense of this web of feelings. So, for instance, ‘Are Your Emotions Like Mine’, featuring a young girl and her lion friend, nudges toddlers (and their parents) to take a deep breath when faced with challenging situations, others like ‘Kindness with Mahavira’ and ‘Peace with Buddha’ take young readers through valuable messages—that each soul, be it an ant or a person, has equal value, and that the path to peace lies within oneself.
The books don’t pontificate over values, rather the beautiful illustrations and layered text drives home the message without being preachy. The bi-lingual books are often written in verse, and make for great bedtime reading. The roots of the publishing house were sown in 2015 when founder Chitwan Mittal moved from India to Singapore.
As an expat mom, her hunt for culturally relevant content for her two sons, Aditya and Dev, drove her from one bookstore to another. All this while, she kept recalling bedtime with her mother, who would offer a variety of storybooks (albeit of western origin). “I longed for picture books with stories and pictures native to south Asia. I decided to stop looking and start creating the very books that I wished to read to my children—ones that would connect them with their culture and values,” says Mittal. And, thus AdiDev Press was born—with the name derived from the names of her two sons, who continue to inspire her books.
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Often, parents resort to “teaching” cultural values and stories from myths and legends to their kids. However, that achieves the opposite effect of veering children off those stories. “This can never be done with books and materials that are uninspiring or dull, old-fashioned and outdated. If we want children to fall in love with our stories, then they need to be presented in an evocative, beautiful, and inspiring way. Children should feel excited and intrigued,” says Mittal. “When we are able to create this experience for our children, where we can explore and learn together, we can truly set them on a lifelong journey of discovery and celebration.”
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One fascinating title is ‘My First Hanuman Chalisa’, an illustrated book, which features the original text in Awadhi with English transliteration. It also comes with a QR code on the back cover that gives parents and kids access to verses and word meanings being read out loud. The reason I find the book interesting is that it is in no way religious in nature or promoting a faith. Through its illustrations and format, it simply seeks to get children to fall in love with Hanuman and stories from the Ramayana. “We took up the challenge of illustrating Hanuman in a completely original manner. Illustrator Aparajitha Vaasudev added elements of fantasy in a pop-culture style to create unforgettable imagery,” elaborates Mittal. “And we hope, through the pictures, to take children on a fantastical and wondrous journey, in which Hanuman is not just a god to be revered but a friend to be loved and held close to the heart.”
Meanwhile, the ‘Learning TO BE…’ series of board books have been inspired by a report by UNESCO on global education, which has named four pillars of learning: Learning to Know, Learning to Do, Learning to Live Together and Learning to Be. “Here, learning to Be, is associated with the essence of what it means to be human,” she says. Following the books on Guru Nanak, Mahavira and Gautam Buddha, the team is now working on new titles in the ‘Learning TO BE’ series on women in science and sportswomen, which have been written by poet Pervin Saket.
A series of bilingual books (Hindi and English) for early readers are also in the works, to be released later this year. Some of the titles include ‘A Pagdi for Sinh’, ‘One Elephant, Two Monkeys’ and ‘Animal Band’. “The purpose of this series is to introduce children to vocabulary related to south Asian clothing, musical instruments and Hindi numbers in a fun and playful manner. We also have another, much-awaited bilingual book, on colours called ‘Colours with Radha Krishna’,” says Mittal.