Children’s books have taken off in a big way this last decade. Of course many accredit Harry Potter for its global influence and encouragement towards better literacy - but in addition to this, there have been a wave of children’s authors and reading groups surfacing in all corners of the globe. The reading demographic amongst the young is itself wide and varied - from the very young to early teens. This leads me to question what are the NRI children reading these days?
Growing up in London, one takes for granted the range of books available to children, from classics to new adventures - by exciting and popular authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl and Philip Pullman. However, for NRI children, though this is great, it often means that they don’t have a great deal of exposure to traditional and folk Indian literature. Of course, this will vary between the respective schools and libraries on offer - but with a great amount of attention turning to all things digital - it’s difficult to keep abreast of what the bucking trend is. How many children do you know that are being kept in the loop about the stories we grew up with?
In a recent meeting, I spoke to children’s author Bhavit Mehta to gauge his thoughts on the matter. We spoke about the competitive nature of publishing children’s literature - a significant challenge since the industry has grown in recent years. In particular, we discussed his first book, Laghu the Clever Crow (as told by Granny Geeta). As a featured title at this year’s inaugural Pop-Up Children's Festival - the book tells us of Laghu, the clever crow - a short story about his wit and kindness to save his fellow birds from capture. In this style - the story has a Aesop like quality and is in heart a simple allegorical tale about how appearances can be deceiving - and of course that we shouldn’t use them for the basis of judgement.
An added dimension to the story is the fact that it is told through the point of view of Granny Geeta, as she narrates to her grandson Ravi. Instantly we are presented with a modern day scenario - familiar to the young - where the elderly can reflect back on the stories and experiences they know well. Setting the story in this comfortable and familiar NRI outset - definitely gives it added impetus - enhanced of course by the vivid illustrations from Carol Liddiment.
Reading this story, I’m reminded of a few of the NRI targeted books I read as a child. These would have namely focused around tales of Hanuman or the Ramayan - yet their focus was always to remain child orientated. Where Indian-inspired children’s books were failing was when they attempted to be too dogmatic or they failed to write in the correct voice for their target audience. The newer generation of children’s stories retain a light-hearted quality - while retaining its sincerity. In his own words, Bhavit Mehta writes ‘Indian storytelling is filled with magical and mythical heroes; enchanting tales of talking birds and wish-fulfilling trees; romantic stories of young princes rescuing maidens from the clutches of demons; court jesters displaying their wit and wisdom to kings and ministers. It is my hope that, in the very near future, a certain wise old Indian grandmother, Granny Geeta, will be one of many helping to bring these inspiring stories to life for all children across the UK.’
What’s most inspiring about Bhavit’s tale is that the book was an entirely self created. It was published through Saadhak books - a company set up by Bhavit himself. Its mission to introduced Indian tales through picture books to new audiences. No doubt we’ll be hearing a little more from Granny Geeta. He added, ‘the best thing about making any children's book is the reaction of the children. I frequently visit schools and do storytelling of my book. It's incredibly rewarding to see the children listen with such intrigue and passion. I guess the other thing which I enjoyed about this book was over-seeing the entire printing and binding of the book in Calcutta. I learnt an incredible amount about the paper and print industries.’
Looking ahead, I asked Bhavit - what’s we can expect to see next: ‘I'm currently working on a further two titles in my 'Granny Geeta' Series, which are based on Bengali and Gujarati folktales. They should be out later this year. I'm also in early stages of putting together two books of Short stories for teens, based on darker tales from the sub-continent.’
Laghu the Clever Crow is available through Saadhak books.