From Tulika to Karadi Tales, Tara Books to Red Turtle – these days we’re spoiled for choice in terms of Indian children’s publishers. Though just a generation ago, it was the National Book Trust and Children’s Book Trust which held the fort in terms of Indian children’s publishing. And while the websites can be tricky to navigate and the quality of books variable, there are still some wonderful gems to be found. We recently rediscovered a few old favourites and found some new offerings.
1 to 10 Procession, Mickey Patel, Rs 18
Count from one to ten by joining a wedding procession! This whimsically illustrated book only has a number per page in terms of the text, but there is so much to absorb in the illustrations. From the one white horse decked out in its finery, all the way through to the nine trumpeters and ten dancing children. The soft colour palette adds to the appeal.
My First Railway Journey, Mrinal Mitra, Rs 25
This one is completely wordless, but manages to perfectly capture the spirit of taking a journey on the Indian Railways. Join the train on the platform, jostling amongst the coolies and other passengers, take your seat in the carriage and have your ticket checked by the conductor. After all that you can enjoy the view from the window and of course get to know the other passengers sitting close by! This would also work as a good prompt for a creative writing exercise for older children.
Rahul and the Dream Bat, Ken Spillman and Suvidha Mistry, Rs 50
We’re big fans of Ken Spillman, and this one stands out for the quality of the story. Rahul can’t seem to stop hitting ducks when it’s his turn to bat, but it’s heartening to see him regain confidence in himself, and to discover that every match is a new chance to improve.
This is Rajasthan, S Sen Roy, Rs 25
Again, a wonderfully simple but beautifully conceived of book, which combines soft pencil sketches with rhyming couplets about different aspects of this Indian state. Facial expressions and details within the art make it possible to pore over again and again and find new elements.
Search, Jagdish Joshi, Rs 20
With just black etchings enlivened with splashes of green, this book takes you on a hide-and-seek trail through the jungle. On each page there’s a rhyming couplet, giving clues of what might be hiding in the illustrations for you to pick out. Spot birds, fish, deer and even an elephant … and there are answers at the back if you get stuck!
Mora, Mulk Raj Anand and Ruprecht Haller, Rs 25
Told from the perspective of a baby elephant, it’s the illustrations which stand out here. The elephants are sketched in pen and ink, while splashes of colour are saved for the environment around them, drawing you into a narration of everything an elephant calf must learn from its mother in order to become independent, including sobering lessons about the dangers posed by elephant hunters.
Long and Short Big and Small, Pulak Biswas, Rs 45
Pulak Biswas’ art is always a delight, and this is no exception. The concept of the book is also clever – rather than illustrating size through comparing large and small animals, Biswas makes things a bit more interesting by picking out features – for example comparing the long tail of a langur with a goat’s short tail, and the rabbit’s big ears with the mongoose’s small ears.
Rupa the Elephant, Mickey Patel, Rs 30
We couldn’t resist a second from Mickey Patel, which is equally delightful in terms of both story and art. Rupa the elephant is sad about being plain and grey, but the other zoo animals are happy to help out – lending her colourful stripes and spots. In the end, though, it seems that those around her loved Rupa just the way she was.
The Day the River Spoke, Kamala Nair and Shankar Sen, Rs 30
Suitable for children who are reading independently (though it could also be read together) this is a moving and important story about a young village girl who desperately wants to go to school along with her brothers, but is tied down by household responsibilities. The story is accompanied by dreamlike, two-colour watercolour drawings.
What’s also great about these books is how reasonably priced they are – it’ s possible to pick up three and still have change from Rs 100! Watch this space for a curated list of Children’s Book Trust (CBT) favourites, too.