The world of Children Books

2:44 PM

Now I mentioned in passing in the comment of the previous post that I wanted to talk a bit more about children books in India, so here we go.
First thing fits, there are books in 3 languages lying around in my home, the French ones are the one my mom brings with her with each visits as you won’t find any of them in other places than Flipkart. Then I have the obvious lot of English books which you will find everywhere in India, and last but not least a few in Hindi which DH tried to read to Ishita but generally get completely ignored.
I thought I would post pictures of how books look in each language before reflecting n the topic further:


These are the French language books, I have quite a few around, and this is typically what older toddlers are read by their parents, the others I have are obvious baby books, with more interactive features and less text, of which I didn’t take picture because we don’t read them much anymore.


This is what the English books look like, we are having a lot of them around because they are easy to find everywhere, beside since her school asked me to speak exclusively English with her, we had to get more and more reading material, these 3 are her favourite at the moment, with The Cat in the Hat being the absolute must read at least once a day.


These are the Hindi books, we have about 10 of them, but Ishita refuses to sit through one, they are surprisingly though to find in India and this is what brings me to this whole blog post.

Kids book in regional languages in India are few and though to find…there said it. It came even more obvious this first week of July we spent in Lucknow, which is in a purely Hindi speaking area of the country. We were for some reason at a bookstore there one day, the ground floor was dedicated to books in Hindi and the first floor to books in English. The Hindi section was big, but it was mostly adult books, the kid section was one miserable shelf tucked in a corner, most of the books were for older kids who could read on their own and a solid 70% of what was there was of religious tone or mythological, with a few books speaking of family values and kids daily activities. Out of the whole kid section there were only 2 toddler books made of cardboard, both about the Hindi alphabet illustrated in rather old fashioned almost academic looking pictures, not the things that really catch the eye of a young kid at all (pretty much like the pictures in the brochure type alphabet book I just share a photo of). We didn’t buy anything in Hindi for her, because she is already not sitting through one Hindi book with DH at home, so we headed to the first floor, where the kid section was about 4 times the size of what was below, crammed with books of all level, type, genre and sizes, there were even piles of kiddie books on the ground due to lack of space on the shelves.
And then it hit me, from the sight of the books in this shop and what we have at home, one thing is really clear: books aren’t supposed to be read to kids in India, kids learn to read in school and then read on their own. Books are not supposed to be fun, tactile and interactive, they are supposed to teach something. While both in the English and French culture books are a bonding activity, they are supposed to be attractive and fun to hold, feel, read and touch. It is accepted and even highly recommended by paediatricians and child development expert to start reading books to your kids as early as possible, to interact with your child while reading books, pointing at pictures, and asking questions as you read. 
All the books we have in English and French have toddler friendly pictures, appropriate length text, are easy to handle by a small child because they have hard cover and even cardboard pages for the early readers. They are books that triggers imagination, and curiosity in a 2-3 year old.
All the Hindi books we have or have very complex drawings and text more appropriate for a 5-6 year old, or simple text with unappealing pictures that do not catch Ishita’s fancy and would probably bore any regular toddler. They are all without exception stapled back brochure type books that are delicate to handle for a small child and have zero interaction features to engage the child into the reading of the book. All in all these books are designed only for kids who are learning to read on their own, not for toddler discovering the world and building language and communication skills.
And not surprisingly, all my friends who have kids only have toddler books in English and consider reading time an English language activity, they just don’t bother keeping Hindi books around until the child is much older and can read them on their own.
And if you ask me, How sad is this? Sad that once again in a country of such diverse cultural heritage there isn’t much more for kids in the realm of books. How sad it is to think a book should on be a tool of knowledge when it is so much more than that. How sad to once more realise that languages are here to divide instead of unite. Because here is another fact about books, a Hindi book cost about 30 rupees, the English ones about 150-200 if not more, to me the message is clear: You get access to English only if you can afford it, if you can’t then your language shall be Hindi…this is the same sad story as when DH had been asked by a 5 years old girl at the playground to stop speaking Hindi because that is a Maid’s language. So now it seems books also segregate rich and poor readers into distinct category! As I said this is SAD if not utterly disturbing.
Have we reached a point were science and academics in India has much more weight than literature and art? Judging by what is available in the children’s book world that seem very much like it. If that wasn’t so there would be more book illustrators and children books author and far more good publishing house tapping in this market.
And what is the long run consequence of this situation? Isn’t that telling parents and kids that reading books in other language than English is a waste, that Hindi and Indian culture is a waste? That they are above it and should not be bothered by it? So far the only thing that is toddler friendly and Indian is Chota Bheem on TV…this is a cartoon, but it is on TELEVISION, so is the message here that if you have to get your young kids interested in India it has to be done glued to the Idiot box rather than immersed into a book with bright pictures while sitting on mommy’s lap.
I sense trouble, don’t you?

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  1. From what I can tell it isn't possible for something to be both fun AND educational in the Indian mindset. Not sure why, I try to make learning fun for my sons & it seems they learn faster that way!
    I introduced 'story time' at my sons' school here in Nepal, where all the kids sit on the floor & an age appropriate book is read to them. This was a NEW concept!!! The Nepali & Tibetan kids were totally enthralled!!! As my sons have grown they now volunteer to read for 'story time' at their school for the younger kids & at 2 local orphanages.
    I actually have all my books from childhood- Dr Seuss, the Little Prince, the children's encyclopedia, the little golden book collection, the Nancy Drew series, etc. I had them shipped from the US, couldn't bear to part with them.
    I too am surprised at the lack of child appropriate books in India. Quite honestly I don't know any Indian parents that read to there children- certainly none of my in laws read to their kids. My husband is Muslim, I was also surprised to find hardly any children's books on Islamic manners or morals. What few books I have found are poorly illustrated & not very well written.

  2. Yeah to the best of my knowledge my in-law family doesn't read to their kids too, my two older nephews love reading, but it is something the school taught them. The youngest nephew who is 5 has no book lying around in my in-law's house where he lives with BIL and SIL, there are a few grown up books as my in-laws both like to read and so does BIL, but nothing for a 5 years old, he distract himself watching TV! Of course we travelled with a couple of books for Ishita and my nephew seemed completely puzzled by them, pretty much like he never saw a kid book before. but knowing that he is pretty much growing in an exclusively Hindi speaking world with English only being the school thing I can understand his not being into books since they are so poorly illustrated and young kid unfriendly.
    I sadly don't have any of my childhood books left, we were such bookworms that as I grew there was a serious space constraint and we had to donate my old books to make way for new ones, my mom was a pre-school and kindergarten teacher so she took a lot of the kiddie books to her school.
    I remember using my library card a lot as a kid, and most of the Nancy Drew (who is called Alice in French) I read them from the library. When I moved to India I left a lot of books in my mom's basement, and donated a lot more to a second hand bookstore, because my tiny studio appartment was crammed with books.

  3. Maybe you should look for certain publishers. Pratham Books has quite a lot of kids books in Hindi too. And publishing in regional languages is undergoing quite a boom thanks to e-commerce sites like Flipkart.

  4. I'm not saying there are no books, there are just no books that are specifically designed for babies and toddlers in mind, they all without exeption are poorly illustrated, not interactive, and that's for those having simple enough text. About 99% of all books in Hindi are for older kids that learned to read on their own. I went into a big bookstore in Lucknow where no discussion the Hindi books market is seeing a big boom...for ADULTS, not for very young kids. I know for a fact that for many reading their kids books is not something done, which explain the fact that there isn't ludic fun interactive reading material around. We have one tiny board book in Hindi, it has the exact same old fashioned not toddler friendly pictures the alphabet book I put a picture of has, needless to say that a 1.5 year old or 2 year old for who a thik cardboard book is designed not only do not care about the alphabet, but will not even appreciate the pictures as they are simply not drawn to catch their young eye...which makes it a total fail as far as books go, Ishita gave that book 5 minutes attention and is now ignoring it completely, while she still likes going to some of her other board books by herself

  5. Well, that's a pity for the Hindi speaking world. I come from Bengal where there is a vast and rich tradition of literature both for the old and young. And my mother always read to me -Abol Tabol when young and also lovely nursery rhymes, and then the Feluda series when I was older. Still remember the colorful pictures illustrating the books, although the publishing quality in the socialist days was not glossy. Of course we were also well-versed in English too. And explored that world on our own. And we were always encouraged to speak, read and write in Bengali. The assumption was that bi-lingualism was no big deal.

  6. Well, you can always design and make your own book and who knows, maybe a publisher will like it so much you become bestselling here book stores are becoming more and more toy stores, i favor shopping online and our library has really cool interacive books as well. Plus at the book fair i aleways take the catalogs and look which ones are interesting but again they are selling toys even at the book fair....

  7. Same here bookstores have toys, I'm fortunate that Ishita isn't too interested by toys if pointed in the direction of the book shelves :-) For that agreed online stores are better, but there is just something about leafing through books in a bookstore that is special and cannot be done online.
    I wish libraries in India were like the ones I grew up with in Switzerland, but there isn't fun children activities and reading time in the ones around here.
    I love books, grew up surrounded by them, and that was one thing my parents didn't shy from purchasing for us, books came with us on every trip, bed time story time was big when I was growing up, when we were holidaying without TV (very often since we went sailing and camping most of the time) there was reading time, even as we were old enough to read ourselves during holidays my mom would pack a big kid novel to read to us aloud at bed time and we looked forward to it as a family time.


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