Creating an impact on children’s lives through picture books

“One of the most valuable functions of a picture book is to open up spaces ... where children are encouraged to express their deepest fears or anxieties or even to just ask questions...” – August 2019

 Creating an impact on children’s lives through picture books

Interview with Radhika Menon, Publishing Director, Tulika Publishers

by Nandini Varma for the article ‘How Tulika Books is creating impact on children’s lives through picture books’ for, August 2019


NV: I've noticed a diverse range of books that you publish. It's wonderful to see that! I'd love to know what your curation process is like and what is the thought behind selecting which books should be published, which not? Do you have one thing on your checklist that must absolutely be there in the stories that make it?

RM: Ideally the picture book manuscripts we select have to tick several boxes –

  •        A well written manuscript
  •        An imaginative or unusual storyline
  •        A theme we haven’t published before
  •        Visual possibilities if it is a picture book

While we cover a range of genres we focus on multilingual picture books for children – in English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali – which makes more books accessible to more children. We have a very diverse readership in mind while selecting manuscripts – stories that offer a range of experiences that are inclusive and representative: of different childhoods, social milieus, cultures and contexts.

Not all manuscripts fit all criteria. Sometimes we select a story because of its unusual theme, or if it is about a community which is under-represented in children’s books. We then work with the writer to hone the text. In some cases the editorial inputs are extensive if the author is open to it.

NV: I'm very curious about the lovely collaborations between the story and the artwork. They always go so well together. Considering each artist has their own style, how do you go about this? Is there an in-house team of artists? How do you make that match? 

 RM: Having published more than 350 picture books we have worked with many illustrators with a range of styles – from first-time illustrators to very senior ones. Along the way, we have developed a strong instinct for picking the right illustrator for a story. We look for an illustration style we think would suit the story best and choose the illustrator accordingly. In our experience not all illustrators can illustrate all books. Depending on the kind of story it is, we visualise a style that would complement and enrich the story – it could be a light, humorous style, a painterly style, stylised contemporary illustrations or folk or ethnic styles.

NV: I love that a story like Guthli's exists today for children. We didn't have that in our time. Thank you for bringing the book out! Why Children's Literature? Was this idea of expanding the scope one of the reasons behind it?

 RM: It is not always that we get a sensitively written and illustrated story like Guthli. We know it is not a book that is going to fly off the shelves but it is an important book. The issue that it gently explores is something that most adults feel inadequate and even helpless about discussing with children. Books like Guthli facilitate that greatly. And that is one of the most valuable functions of a picture book – to open up spaces for discussion and dialogue where children are encouraged to express their deepest fears or anxieties or even to just ask questions about the world around them. And discover the joy of reading in the process.

 NV: What excites you about this genre/area of literature?

 RM: The belief that children’s books can make a difference to the lives of children is what fuels our work. In the 23 years we have been publishing, we have got so much feedback that has reinforced this belief and that has been most gratifying. As our books are in nine languages including English, the reach is very wide and to very different groups of children. We have gained valuable insights from all this feedback.

NV: In terms of the books that are published, are you open to considering books in any language? Or are there very specific languages that you're prioritising? What does that depend on and has that changed over the years?

RM: In fact, we encourage manuscripts in other languages as we think they will have a very different sensibility enriching the diversity of books.

NV: Finally, do you have personal favourites from the books published? :)

RM: That is very difficult to answer. Different books are favourites for different reasons!