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What’s new in the vibrant world of children’s picture books?

With new publishers and authors infusing fresh energy in this space, one can now find a picture or board book on any theme and in any language—there are even wordless ones

Today you can find a board or picture book on any theme that your child fancies, be it food, environment, ecology, adventure, folk tales, or STEM, and history
Today you can find a board or picture book on any theme that your child fancies, be it food, environment, ecology, adventure, folk tales, or STEM, and history

Want to add some great picture books by Indian authors to your child’s home library in 2024? Over the last few years, you can find a picture or board book on any theme your child fancies, be it food, environment, ecology, adventure, folk tales, or STEM, and history. Today, you will also find wordless board books. 

What’s more, new publishers and authors have entered the space with unique offerings. Zhagaram Books, based in Chennai, recently published Kurinji by Monisha Monikantarajan, an interactive Tamil Montessori nature board book about the mountain ecosystem. T4Tales is another independent publisher that brings out board books in Hindi, Tamil, and Gujarati. In their interactive board book, Kahaani Puraani, a child can rotate cardboard chariot wheels and use flaps, making the story interactive and perfect to build fine motor skills. 

AdiDev Press has emerged as a major player with popular board books like Service with Guru Nanak, J is for Jalebi, Women in Science. Founded by expat mom Chitwan Mittal, AdiDev publishes representative and bilingual board books that are also beautifully crafted. “Our two simple translations of Tulsidas’ prayers—My first Hanuman Chalisa and My first Prayer to Lord Ram—have been extremely popular,” says Mittal. “We want our books to be handed down from the elder sibling to the younger, and enjoyed with the whole family.” 

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AdiDev’s upcoming board book, You’ve Got This, Arjuna by Lisa Coffey, and illustrated by Rajesh Nagulakonda, is based on a modern-day version of the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna from the Bhagavad Gita. Far from being preachy or didactic, these books are written in an engaging and meaningful manner, with stories that connect instantly with children. 

In the last ten years, publishers like Tota Books, Duckbill, Little Dipper, Daffodil Lane, Pickle Yolk Books, Big Beetle Books, and Yug have revitalised the picture book space in India. NGOs like Eklavya and Kalpavriksh bring out books on the environment and social issues in many Indian languages. One of my daughter’s favorite books this year was Who Clicked that Pic?, written by Nandita Da Cunha, illustrated by Priya Kuriyan, and published by Ekalavya. This is a picture book biography about India’s first woman photojournalist, Homi Vyarawalla, and  is anything but linear and predictable. The author depicts Vyarawalla’s life and craft in an inventive way. Organizations like Art1st publish picture and activity books on Indian art like Raza’s Bindu and Eye Spy Indian Art.

Knowing where to look for the right book

In 2022, a small and independent Hyderabad-based publisher, Little Dipper, brought out two English picture books, Where is Mr. Thookam?, and Maari: A Gift from the Skies, both written by the founder Anusha Veluswamy. Where is Mr. Thookam? is a picture book based on a bedtime story. Maari: A Gift from the Skies takes place during the harvest festival of Pongal in a village in Tamil Nadu, when little Kanmani wonders how they will celebrate the harvest now that they are plunged into drought. 

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When Veluswamy approached mainstream bookstores to stock her picture books, many stated that the Tamil words in her books could limit their popularity. She found other ways to distribute her books and the response was overwhelming.

“The inclusion of Tamil names hasn't been a barrier; instead, it has encouraged a broader and more inclusive readership,” she says. “Our audience has been incredibly supportive. Word-of-mouth sales have played a substantial role in our success.”

While mainstream bookstores mostly stock books by Sudha Murthy and Ruskin Bond, parents and children are looking for something more. Many of them seek out booksellers like Vidya Mani, co-founder of Funky Rainbow, a much-loved independent bookshop based in Bengaluru that specialises in Indian children’s literature. Together with co-founders, Muthamma B. Devaya and Shyam Madhavan Sarada, Mani started Funky Rainbow in 2003 as a traveling bookstore.

During the pandemic, Mani and her team began a series of live interactive online events called Book Buzzaar, which led to a surge of interest on social media and an increase in sales. Added to this, parent bloggers, Instagram influencers, readers, and publishers talked more about Indian children’s literature. Librarians from schools across the country wanted to source more books by Indian children’s writers.

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Mani varies her catalogue, and apart from the usual titles, looks for great books that one simply cannot find elsewhere. She cites the example of Our Tigers Return, a children’s book about the revival of tigers in the Panna reserve, co-authored by architect and geographer Peeyush Sekhsaria and Rangaiah Sreenivasa Murthy, who was the director of the reserve during the tiger revival. “We felt children do need to know the story of the revival of the tigers at Panna, and added it to our shelves,” says Mani. “We then featured its co-author, Peeyush Sekhsaria, in one of our live shows. He was full of exciting stories and the copies we had just flew off our shelves. As word about the book spread via book reviewers, mommy bloggers and book clubs, more and more people wanted the book, which led to it being reprinted." 

To meet the demand from readers, Funky Rainbow started a physical bookstore and a children’s event space in Bengaluru in 2023. The bookstore’s inauguration saw hundreds of people turn up from all over India. The bookstore also doubles as a literary event space. Recently, the team even conducted a successful day-long workshop with children’s author Devika Cariapa, based on her new book, Children’s History of the World in 100 Objects. 

While the demand has been heartwarming, Mani finds that many publishers bring out books with an eye on children’s book awards. “Our market needs a wide range of books, those that are funny, simple, serious, and happy,” she says.

Shweta Sharan is a freelance writer based in Mumbai.

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