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Response by Radhika Menon, Publishing Director, Tulika Publishers
to Lokesh Yadav for a story on ‘Literature for Children’, HT Edge, Hindustan Times, January 2013
LOKESH YADAV: I found your article 'An Overview of Indian Children's Literature in English', published more than a decade ago, fairly enlightening. It was mentioned that "children's publishing in India finds itself in exactly this situation even when publishing in English is far from well-established. The market is fragmented, the school and/or public library network that is the mainstay of children's publishing in the developed countries is non-existent, children's books are completely marginalised in the media and the book market . . . how will we cope? Can we cope?"
Ten years later, how satisfactory has the development been in this genre, according to you?
RADHIKA: There have been some significant changes with more and more children's books being published each year. NGOs running reading literacy programmes have created alternate distribution networks for books and also a demand for books in Indian languages. There is also a greater awareness of good children's books being published.
The RTE Act making school libraries mandatory and the CBSE and NCERT putting out recommended lists of books are welcome and much needed initiatives by the government. These lists have become very useful for librarians and teachers to start the process of building libraries in schools where it was non-existent. While the large bookstores are not an option any more for small and medium publishing houses (non-payment being the major issue), smaller, independent bookstores are doing well with the sale of children's books. Online sales have opened up and there are schools and even booksellers ordering online.
Children's book festivals, book events and author readings in schools are creating a constant buzz around children's books like never before. The spin-off of this is a lot more media coverage. Apart from this, general articles on children’s books and interviews of writers and illustrators appear more frequently in newspapers and magazines.
While all this has brought about a sea change both in the attitude to children's books from ten years ago, the market still remains fragmented. The divide between the English language book market and the Indian language book market is as wide as ever. While online bookstores and specialised children's bookstores are new trends that we are seeing, accessibility of books is still a problem to large sections of the market. Traditional distribution is still the route to these markets and that remains fraught with the same problems as ten years ago.