What better way to herald Children’s Day than to talk about books for children? And what better topic to discuss than the Top Indian Children’s Books and their Authors? Priya Narayanan, author of a children's book The Moon Wants to be Spotless White, tells us all about the children's books she has loved.
In Priya Narayanan's own words
Writing for children is no mean task. To hold the attention of a 4 year old through 8-10 pages of a picture book, or that of a 12 year old through 100 pages of a novella, is amongst the most underestimated tasks I’ve known. Moreover, writing for children involves stepping into their world on the one hand and looking at our world through their eyes, on the other; all the while remembering not to talk down to them or be preachy.
So, I am only too glad to recommend some Indian authors and their books, which in my opinion, have hit the jackpot.
Books for 3-5 year old children:
Younger children adore colourful and vibrant pictures, and Indian publishers have started catering to this segment in a big way. Lets explore books by the famous authors who have big names in Children books writing.
1) Geeta Dharmarajan is the Founder of Katha and has been awarded the Padma Shri for her distinguished service in the field of Literature and Education. Some of her books for children are:
2) Nandini Nayar has written eight story books for young children and another five books for older children. See the list of her stories below:
What Shall I Make : A ball of chapati dough can turn into almost anything! The endearing illustrations follow the quirks of a child’s imagination. "This book is so adorable, I even read it in my son's Montessori class – after which we all did some "chapati art" and had a chapati snack!" – says a reader. Buy this book.
Pranav’s Picture : Pranav says he is drawing a picture. But his mother sees nothing on the page! What is Pranav drawing? The narrative and freewheeling illustrations follow the simple, spontaneous logic of a child’s mind. Story by Nandini Nayar and colour pictures by Vishwajyoti Ghosh. Buy this book.
3) Sanjiv Jaiswal fondly called 'Sanjay', has received the Bhartendu Harishchandra award for children's literature twice. Some of his children's books are:
Playtime : Golu and Chhotu sure make a funny pair. Read about their antics in this funny story.
4) Kuntie Ramdat Balkaran is a graduate of the University of Guyana and has published two picture books.
5) Rohini Nilekani writes under the pen name Noni; as a child, Noni is what she called herself. Her children's books are:
Too Many Bananas : "Too many bananas" is a heartwarming and simple story. It is the story of Sringeri Srinivas, who grows so many bananas on his farm, that he distributes them generously to everyone around him. Then comes a day when people get so fed up of the bananas that they say "No" to him when he offers! Poor Srinivas…what would he do with his rich harvest of bananas? Read the story to find out more. Read the book here
Books for 5-8 year old children:
Now, this is an age group where children are all raring to go with their newly acquired reading skills. While they are hungry for interesting stories and want to explore every book on the shelf, their parents are on the lookout for books that can help inculcate good ideals and general knowledge in them. It is a challenge to write for this group, since an overtly moralistic book or one that underestimates the intellect of children could only discourage them from reading more. Some authors, who according to me have written stories that whet the appetite and leave children asking for more are:
1) Anushka Ravishankar was looking for books to read to her then-6-year-old daughter, and felt she could write better stuff than the market offered. Judge for yourself after reading these:
The Rumour : Join the villagers of Baddbaddpur in this charming folktale retold by Anushka Ravishankar with illustrations by Kanyika Kini in inks and color pencils that will make you laugh out loud. Here is a review you should read.
Moin & the Monster : The book is story of Moin and a monster. The special monster does nothing but eat bananas, sing silly songs and try out new hairstyles. Read this story to know how Moin send the monster back where it came from. Also read what The Guardian has to say about this book.
Excuses, Excuses : "Youngsters will delight in Neel’s fantastic excuses… The illustrations, a collage of tinted photographs and art, provide an appropriately surreal backdrop" – a review by Kirkus. Read more reviews at Goodreads.
2) Sudha Murty is an Indian social worker and is the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. She writes for adults as well as children.
Magic Drum & Other Stories : It's good book for parents who want to read their children a stories. There are many good stories with a good lesson to learn – a reviewer mentioned. Read review at Young India Books.
3) Asha Nehemiah has written hilarious stories for children that are full of fantasy and adventure. She writes for children of all ages. Check out some of her books:
Zigzag and other Stories : The book is a collection of ten stories, from the hilarious story about the weird bird that talks and sings in twenty-one languages, to the singer whose voice makes plants grow faster.
Trouble with Magic : Nine-year-old Veena is brimming with ideas that send her and her beloved Aunt Malu careening on adventures. These well-intentioned enterprises often end in disaster, but that hasn’t deterred Veena yet. She’s always back with another brilliant idea – this time to help Aunt Malu get rich…read more review at theswaddle.
4) Devdutt Pattanaik needs no introduction; he has gained the reputation of being the Mythology Man of India. Few know that he writes for children as well, under the 'Fun in Devlok' banner.
Kama vs Yama : A little girl learns how to balance work and play when she meets Yama, the god of Dharma (duty) and Kama, the god of play. A fabulous way to introduce mythology to your child, without boring him or her! For more insight, read this review.
Saraswati's Secret River : Mrs. Sivakami, principal of Madame Mira High School, is astonished when she finds Goddess Saraswati wandering the corridors of her school. Guess what…the goddess is in search of a missing river! Here's a review at kidsworldfun
Indra Finds Happiness : A child learns about happiness : is it related to material possessions, or does it go beyond having all the things you want?
Books for 8-10 year old children
Well settled with their reading abilities, 8-10 year olds are ready for adventure, humor, drama, mythology, classics, fantasy ….almost any kind of book that would challenge their vocabulary and general knowledge. They are also ready for the emotional roller coaster that such books usually have in store for them. Although there are many books by contemporary authors in this category, for me, they are yet to match up to the masters of storytelling:
1) Salman Rushdie, famous for his award-winning books for adults, has written two books for children. Each was written keeping in mind his own sons. Brimming with enchantment and lyricism, as well as Rushdie's forte, magic realism, these are must-reads for kids and will help introduce them to his works aimed at adults.
Luka and the Fire of Life : Luka, the boy with the power to turn back time, finds himself in the middle of a hair-raising adventure when he curses a cruel circus leader, gets himself befriended by a circus dog and circus bear, and sets out into the World of Magic to save his father's life. The richness of this story should come as no surprise to adult fans of Salman Rushdie – but kids are sure to be struck by wonder!
Haroun and the Sea of Stories : Haroun, the young hero of the stories, lives in a sad, sad city which has forgotten it's name. The adventures he undertakes are an allegory for several problems existing in the Indian subcontinent. Check out the NY Times review for the book.
2) Ruskin Bond will remain an eternal favourite for Indian children. Kids will find his descriptions of life in the mountains enchanting. Many of his short stories are familiar reads for schoolchildren, as they have been part of the syllabus for decades.
Tigers for Dinner : A cook, who boasts of having been 'Jim Corbett's khansama' tells his starry-eyed young listener (the author himself) stories of the man-eating jungle cats and near-fatal escapades he experienced during his earlier employment. But are the stories true? Read the book to find out!
3) R.K. Narayan is synonymous with Malgudi, the quintessential small South Indian town. Who can forget Swami and his friends? These stories pave the way for children to read his literature written for adults, such as Waiting for the Mahatma and The Dark Room
Malgudi Schooldays: Western children's literature is littered with the 'mischievous boy' character – Dennis the Menace, Calvin, William Brown etc. The Indian version – Swami – is a much deeper exploration of childhood, particularly a childhood spent in rural India. Children will empathise with Swami and his schooldays in sleepy little Malgudi town, and adults will be filled with nostalgia. For a detailed review, here you go.
Although Indian authors have been writing meaningful and important books for children since long, they have by far been neglected by a publishing industry that has mostly preferred to play it safe. Other than a few exceptions, most shelves of bookstores were chock-a-block with titles by Enid Blyton, Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm Brothers for the younger kids, and Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys for older ones. Although I did enjoy all these offerings and more, the characters in these books were not me; their context – either geographical or social – was not mine.
Today, however, it is sheer pleasure to see books by Indian authors displayed at books stores. So, here’s hoping that you decide to be more adventurous on your next trip to the bookstore and pick up at least one children’s book by an Indian author, whether or not you have a child to gift it to. After all, we are all still children at heart…