“We like books by foreign authors better than those by Indian authors,” a teacher once told us. “Why?” we asked. “They just are better,” she said, very matter-of-fact, before adding, as an after-thought, “By the way, can you get Roald Dahl to visit our school?”
Time and again, we have encountered school teachers, leaders, and parents who believe that children’s books by foreign authors are better than those produced by Indian writers. There could be many different reasons for this; perhaps the most dominant being a post-colonial hangover— the idea that the cultures and products of a colonial power are better than our own.
Post-colonial hangover is the reason why India’s premium shirt brands are Peter England, John Players, and Louis Phillippe, and not Madura Fashions, or Arvind Mills.
The reality, however, is that there are a lot of great Indian contemporary children’s books out there. And yet, for the average Indian parent, buying an amazing Indian children’s book is difficult. Information and access are the main issues.
- Information about these books may not be immediately, intuitively accessible. Even if the information is there, it might be buried under a flood of information about foreign books.
- India is a big country, and the publisher may not have been able to make the book available at a bookstore near the parent, or even at an online store where the parent buys from.
In countries abroad, there are several awards, book lists, organisations, and initiatives that work to give children’s books and their makers more visibility; to create greater awareness among the public.
We are getting there in India with efforts like The Hindu-Young World Goodbooks Awards, the release of great content on Pratham Books’ Storyweaver platform, and the monthly listing of new releases by Goodbooks and the Duckbill blog.
At Multistory, we operate the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary award list. This is our contribution to create an infrastructure of information for parents to know about the best Indian children’s books. The BICW winners list seeks to present an age-wise selection of great books for children produced in India over the last 15 years.