Amid the publicity blaze of new novels by star authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Aravind Adiga, the quiet launch of a new book on Delhi went unnoticed. Written and illustrated by Premola Ghose, Tales of Historic Delhi is that rare children’s book that focuses on a city. It has been published by Amber Books in association with Young Zubaan.
“Besides textbooks, there have been almost no books in India that help children understand their cities,” says Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, a publishing consultant and critic who has been working on children’s and young adult literature since the 1990s. “It’s only in the past few years that such books are being produced and a market for them is being created.”
Tales of Historic Delhi: By Premola Ghose,Amber Books and Young Zubaan,64 pages, Rs 225.
In recent years, illustrated children’s books from publishing houses such as Puffin, Katha and Tulika, focusing on Indian mythological stories, have been selling well. There have also been books on cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore—indicative of an emerging trend of city-specific books for children. In further indication of how the market for young readers is growing, Bahrisons Booksellers in Delhi’s upscale Khan Market is opening a floor dedicated entirely to children’s books later this month.
Ghose’s stories engage the young reader in a tone descriptive of the city’s flavours, but not condescending or preachy, and come complete with paintings of colourful bazaars, kings, animals and tombs. “I wrote the way I always write, irrespective of whether the book is being targeted towards children or adults,” says Ghose, who works as head of programmes at the India International Centre, New Delhi. Her slim volume showcases Delhi as experienced by animals and birds, visiting the city from the forests of Ranthambore in Rajasthan. “Last year I’d made drawings on this theme for an exhibition. Later, I made up the stories around these images. I concentrated on what a tiger, a rabbit, a butterfly would think and say while loafing in Delhi.”
A few years ago, author Kim Narisetti wrote two Delhi-centric books. Published by Random House India, Urban Crayon Delhi (Rs199) was more like a family travel guide. It pulled in both children and parents to explain what they could gain from visiting a particular site or monument. I Saw Delhi, a drawing and sketch book, presented a few nuggets on monuments such as Humayun’s Tomb or India Gate, and showed how to draw each in three simple steps. “In a city like Delhi one should not study its history via a book, but experience the vibrancy on a daily basis through going out and about,” said Narisetti in an email exchange. “But as a writer, I think children love reading about the gardens, monuments and museums. It really is fascinating how they were built and why.”
Snapshots:An illustration from Toto and the Leopard in The Adventures of Toto the Auto.
In September 2008, the Indian subsidiary of Scholastic, the group that first published the Harry Potter novels, published a children’s book on Mumbai. Vivek Tandon’s A Blind Man’s Map of Mumbai is a thrilling adventure. Three major characters, including a schoolboy, grapple with a mystery involving such diverse people as an MLA and an astrologer. The novel has no illustrations and despite being a work of fiction, it gives a sense of the mad energy that makes up Mumbai. “For children to understand our cities better and in a fun way, we need more books like Tandon’s novel,” says Anushka Ravishankar, a children’s writer and the publishing director at Scholastic. “Besides being entertaining, it conveyed Mumbai’s character by making the city’s geographical and cultural specifics integral to the story.”
Book 2 ;a double-spread from 366 Words in Kolkata
The characters in these stories are not always humans and animals. The hero could even be…well, an autorickshaw! That’s what Toto is: a Mumbai-based autorickshaw. Published by Mumbai-based FunOKPlease, Toto’s adventures, targeted at children aged 3-6, are growing in popularity. Having made its debut in January, Toto became a beloved hero by rescuing schoolchildren from one of those ghastly Mumbai floods.
An illustration from Tales of Historic Delhi.
The second adventure, Toto and the Leopard (Rs80), was set in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, Mumbai. “I want to give children a flavour of our cities,” says Ruta Vyas, the author.
The same company has also published Deepti Belliappa Ganapathy’s 366 Words in Bengaluru (Rs125). In 40 pages, the colourful book gives children a sense of the city—and they also end up learning new words. Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi are also covered in the 366 Words... series.
There is no success formula for children’s writing, though, and there’s no guarantee that a book on, say, Chennai, will find buyers beyond that city. Ravishankar admits that Tandon’s book did better in Mumbai than in other cities. “It’s impossible to guess what children would like to read because each child is different,” she says. “Children are as different from each other as adults are, and we’d never presume to know what all adults like.”
But children in Delhi at least seem to be taking to Ghose’s guide on the Capital. Last month more than 25 copies of her book were sold within a week at Jor Bagh’s The Book Shop. “The book is well illustrated and mostly it is the parents who are buying it for their kids,” says K.D. Singh, the store owner. Narisetti’s Urban Crayon also did extremely well in this bookshop. “It was distributed to us by Prakash Books and we sold all the 30 copies. Unfortunately the publishers didn’t come out with a second print,” says Singh.
Meanwhile, Toto is coming to Delhi this month. His next adventure, Manku’s Escape, will start at India Gate.