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The State of Tamil Kid Lit
A look at publishing in Tamil for children – March 2019
The State of Tamil Kid Lit
Interview with Radhika Menon, Publishing Director, Tulika Publishers
by Eli Puli, a Singapore based initiative that helps familiarise Tamil with kids through bilingual home-learning resources – March 2019
EP: Compared to other vernacular languages, how is the uptake of Tamil books? Is readership going up or down?
RM: In fact the sales of Tamil books have been disappointing compared to other languages. Especially as Tulika is based in Chennai. It has been improving over the last couple of years.
EP: Are Tamil books doing better within India or internationally? Will this trend continue?
RM: Till recently the Tamil books did better internationally – the trend is changing and more books are selling here now. Let’s hope it continues.
EP: When it comes to Tamil picture books, is there a demand for a particular genre or are some kinds of stories doing better than others?
RM: Not really. There is no noticeable trend. The Gajapati Kulapati series has done well, as it has done in all languages. But not the other books that are popular. Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why and My Gandhi Story have done better than other books.
EP: Are there more of certain types of stories you hope to publish in Tamil?
RM: We translate all books across all eight languages, mostly from English. The idea is to do different books from different regions in translation. So it is not just about reading in your own language but also offering a multicultural reading experience.
EP: Original writing vs translations: How often do you get submissions that are written in Tamil? How do you find the quality of such original writing?
RM: We don’t get too many original stories in Tamil. Very few. We’ve got maybe just 7 or 8, mostly from Jeeva Raghunath, the well known storyteller who also translates for us.
EP: What are your views on the growth of vernacular Kid Lit in India over the last 5 years? Where is it heading from here?
RM: It is getting better compared to even 7 or 8 years back. Though the demand is more from NGOs mainly who work on reading literacy at grass root levels. And from customers overseas. Schools are slowly showing more interest which is a good sign. There are also government initiatives in a couple of states which require both English and the regional language books.
EP: Bilingual books are useful in raising effectively bilingual children. They allow parents and teachers to offer varied words that mean the same. Why do you feel that it is important to preserve one's mother tongue, and how would you describe Tulika's efforts towards that goal?
RM: There is enough research done to prove the advantages of being bilingual. And of learning in your own language. Bilingual books offer those opportunities which have become the only option for children to learn their own language increasingly. So many of them grow up learning English because that’s what they hear both at home and in school. As for children who know only their own language then bilingual books is a way of learning English.
EP: Illustrations play an important role in a picture book. In our opinion, illustrations in Tamil Kid Lit have been a big reason towards staggering readership. The illustrations in Tulika books are of a high quality. Why do you think illustrations are important, and how would you describe Tulika's style?
RM: While picture books in Tamil, for that matter in any of the Indian languages, is a new genre of books for young children, they are also expensive – one of the reasons regional language publishers don’t publish picture books. The regional markets are price sensitive markets – and the main reason for our Tamil picture books, as well as other language books not doing well.
Tulika’s focus is multilingual picture books and we work with a wide range of illustrators with different styles – from contemporary to traditional. The effort is to evolve a rooted style that is distinctly Indian in style and palette. Picture books is a relatively new genre in children’s publishing in India and what we have seen and read are books from the west. So to move away from those influences and publish books that are culturally rooted in content, both for text and visuals, is our focus.
EP: What advice do you have for our readers when it comes to engaging children in vernacular languages? Beyond just simple reading, what more can they do (perhaps even using picture books creatively) to enrich the child?
RM: Just let them grow with books in their own language, especially in schools. At home there is a problem when parents themselves can’t read in their own languages. But we have had feedback about parents learning their language with the bilingual books!
It is important that school libraries build a good collection of books in different languages. Reading them should be part of language learning in the classroom. There should be activities like drama, music, art and craft done around these books so that they are not seen as books meant only for learning a language.