Starting local: Indian reads

For our first blog post, it seemed appropriate to pull together some of our favourite children’s books from Indian publishers. We’ve included fiction and non-fiction, and gone from picture books up to teen reads. What was a very long list has been whittled down with great difficulty to just fourteen, but we’d love to hear what you would have done differently …

photo 1

A Pair of Twins (Karadi Tales, Rs 195)
Picture Book/ Author: Kavitha Mandana / Illustrator: Nayantara Surendranath

These are not the kind of twins you might expect from the title, being as one is an elephant, and the other a little girl. Born on the same day in the stables of the Mysore palace, their unusual bond enables them to rise above what is expected of them. We love books that challenge gender and societal norms without being preachy, so this one ticks all the boxes.

A Children’s History of India (Red Turtle, Rs 295)
Non-fiction/ Author: Subhadra Sen Gupta/ Illustrator: Priyankar Gupta

A chronological history of India from the beginning of Indian civilization circa 2600 BCE till the India we know today, this well-researched, well-written and very readable book deserves a special mention because it makes history feel approachable and easy!

photo 2

The Honey Hunter (Young Zubaan, Rs 395)
Picture Book/ Author: Karthika Naïr/ Illustrator: Joëlle Jolivet

Books don’t get much more beautiful than this. This large-format treasure will transport you to the Sundarbans, a land of eighteen tides ruled by the goddess of the forest. Karthika Naïr narrates a poignant fable about the delicate balance between man and nature, while Joëlle Jolivet brings the story to life with illustrations which have the power to take your breath away as you turn the pages.

Timmi in Tangles (Duckbill, Rs 125)
Chapter Book/ Author: Shals Mahajan/ Illustrator: Shreya Sen

A very worthy winner of the Crossword Book Award earlier this year, this one is a stand-out, above all for the character Timmi. She is a heroine who likes to go against the grain, has an imagination which soars, plus heaps of spunk. It works particularly well as a chapter book for children just starting to read alone, because it’s so wonderfully child-centric in terms of its perspective.

Catch that Crocodile! (Tara Books, Rs 200)
Picture Book/ Author: Anushka Ravishankar/ Illustrator: Pulak Biswas/ Designer: Rathna Ramanathan

Starring another favourite female protagonist, this time the young fish seller’s daughter Meena, who outsmarts the rest of her village by finding a solution to the crocodile menace! It’s hard to choose which element we like best: Anushka Ravishankar’s rhyming verse, Rathna Ramanathan’s typography which leaps off the page, or the arresting two-colour illustrations by Pulak Biswas.

The Battle for Number 19 (Puffin, Rs 250)
YA/ Author: Ranjit Lal

A book which shows that morality is not black and white, the story is set against the backdrop of the 1984 riots in Delhi, following the death of Indira Gandhi. Fast-paced and full of action, we particularly loved Puja (and her archery skills, but we’re saying no more), and the fact that Ranjit Lal doesn’t shy away from writing about difficult and disturbing events. A real page turner.

photo 4

The Alphabet of Animals and Birds (Red Turtle, Rs 295)
Picture Book/ Author & Illustrator: Prabha Mallya

Who knew collective nouns could be so much fun? You may have heard of a Murder of Crows and a Pride of Lions, but what about an Ostentation of Peacocks, or a Conspiracy of Lemurs? Gorgeously illustrated and incredibly reasonable, this is one of our favourite books published last year. Rhyme can be difficult to pull off flawlessly, but Prabha Mallya gets it spot on.

photo 3

Captain Coconut & the Case of the Missing Bananas (Tara Books, Rs 400)
Graphic Novel/ Author: Anushka Ravishankar/ Illustrator: Priya Sundram

Something of a graphic novel for younger readers, Captain Coconut is a genre unto itself. The witty, collage illustrations are full of incredible details – spot the Chennai road sign on the opening page! Anushkha Ravishankar is at her witty best in the irreverent text, and the design fuses the two elements into an undeniably special book.

Talking of Muskaan (Duckbill, Rs 225)
YA/ Author: Himanjali Sankar

Inevitably labelled as a book about sexuality and gender (because there are so few of them), Talking of Muskaan is that, but also so much more. Unpicking the events that led a teenage girl to attempt to end her life, the story is narrated by several characters, which allows Himanjali Sankar to bring out a rich variety of perspectives. A story that stays with you long after putting the book down.

The Princess with the Longest Hair (Katha, Rs 145)
Picture Book/ Author: Komilla Raote/ Illustrator: Vandana Bist

Published by Katha in the year it was founded (1998) this remains a classic title. The illustrations by Vandana Bist are gorgeously intricate, with the black of the princess’s hair contrasting with splashes of colour across the page. An empowering story about free will, coming of age and sharing what you have with others.

A Silly Story of Bondapalli (Tulika, Rs 135)
Picture Book/ Author: Shamim Padamsee/ Illustrator: Ashok Rajagopalan

This really is a gloriously nonsensical story, in which you find out that bondas were actually invented by a stressed chef trying to cater to the whims of a fussy young Prince. The illustrations are bright, bold and wacky, and the story is sure to appeal to your silly side. Sound words and punchy dialogue make it good for reading aloud.

Ouch and Moo Books (Daily Dump, Rs 250)
Picture & Activity Book/ Authors: Trupti Godbole, Govind Mukundan, Poonam Bir Kasturi/ Illustrators: Girish T.S, Ishan Ghosh

Talking about sustainability and the environment is all very well and good, but these Daily Dump books actually make the issues relevant to children’s everyday lives. Apart from two fun stories, there are well-thought through activities, and talking points on every page.

Dear Mrs Naidu (Young Zubaan, Rs 295)
YA/ Author: Mathangi Subramanian

Twelve year old Sarojini decides to use the Right to Education Act, a law that might allow her and her friends have access to better education. We see the transformation of a girl who goes from being someone who never questions anything to one who wants to change her world and will not allow little things to come in her way. The impressively researched plot unravels through Sarojini’s letters to her namesake, freedom fighter and poet, Sarojini Naidu.

photo 5

Adventures with Hanuman (Rupa, Rs 195)
Chapter Book/ Author: Arshia Sattar/ Illustrator: Sunaina Coelho

Last but definitely not least is a fun ride through the annals of mythology! A boy finds himself having the adventure of his life when Hanuman suddenly appears in his room and takes him along to rescue Sita from Lanka. This charming and funny retelling of Hanuman is accompanied by wonderful illustrations by Sunaina Coelho.