Kids & Teens

opines Raghu Ram Aiyar, executive sr. vice president, Amity University Press, in conversation with Varsha Verma of All About Book Publishing.

When you pick up a new book, it is like picking up a new born baby…the joy is tremendous. The four skills of learning are reading, writing, speaking and listening. With reading you get a command at various words and you get confidence in speaking. When you speak with confidence, you know the correctness to write. When you listen, you understand. So, by reading you also develop all the other three skills of learning,” says Raghu Ram Aiyar, executive sr. vice president, Amity University Press.

“Reading is enjoyable and beneficial but today’s children are really missing out on the reading habits. They are missing the fun and the widening of their horizons which come with it,” he adds.

Why reading is declining?

Immediately, finger would be raised on the latest technology available. “But, all these technological upgradations like mobiles, tablets, search engines like Google, etc – are all enabling you to find more information. If you use them properly, they can help you read more. For example, when you see National Geographic channel, you get to know so many new things. Sometimes, you want to know more. And, you either go to Google to find more information or you pick up a book on the same. But, not many people are doing this. So, the reading habits are going down,” tells Aiyar.

The silver lining…

Mercifully, the latest report from USA says that students are spending 38-40% less time on electronic gadgets for knowledge. “It could be that they are going back to reading books,” he adds.

“Technology has come to stay but we can improve the reading habits. In United States, they have a DEAR programme, which means Drop Everything And Read. Every week, for two hours, the schools including the school authorities, teachers, principals, staff and students leave everything and read for two hours. These books are general books of their choice and not textbooks. Similarly, at the home front, parents sit with their children and do course books. This is to ensure that reading habits do not die. Similar thing can be emulated in India,” he says.

Inculcating the reading habits at home…

“Child must begin reading more at the home front. “I feel a child should start reading at the age of 5 or 6 years. Parents need to play a bigger role in it. In India, where mother tongue is mostly spoken at homes, children pick it up without any problem. But, since English is the link language for us, it can only be improved through reading,” tells Aiyar.

Aiyar feels that how much you read is more important than what you are reading. “For example, if children like to read comics, let them do that. They are atleast developing the habit of reading. Gradually, they can move on to other books. When a child reads, he might come across difficult words, which he can look for in the dictionary and improve his repertoire of words. Their vocabulary will improve and they will have more confidence in speaking,” he says.

Inculcating the reading habits at school…

“At the school level, schools have come up with numerous projects which are aimed to improve the reading habits of children. Project studies can be done in a combined way by reading a lot of information-oriented textbooks. Reading should become a natural habit like bathing or eating,” shares Aiyar. “In my opinion, reading habits can develop by a certain amount of co-ordination both at the home and institution front.”

On Amity schools…

“Amity has 14 schools in India, with a total strength of nearby 25,000. We are also planning to open a number of schools in Middle East. Next year, we can witness a huge spurt in Amity schools globally,” tells Aiyar.

So, what makes Amity schools special? “First, right from the time, the children get into the pre-primary segment, we try to inculcate the values in the child – whether it is the school song, dress, cultural activities, variety entertainment programmes, exchange programmes, etc. Amity is known for moral values that can be imbibed through music, sports, dance, etc,” he shares.

Further talking about the values taught to children, Aiyar shares that there are two important segments that play a major role – parents and the schools. “Home front is where a child gets his complete education and the school front is where the child gets the formal education,” he added.

“Another thing that sets Amity apart from other schools is that academics is not limited to the four walls of the classroom. It is much beyond that. It lays great emphasis on sports and india cialis click here games. I am myself witness to it as my son is an Amity student and he plays tennis at national level. When you are playing in the field, you stand to lose attendance and the course that is taught in class. But, Amity encourages budding sportsmen and holds special lessons, classes and tests for them at a later date. That is why children from Amity are doing very well in sports,” explains Aiyar.

Talking more about the value-added features at Amity schools, Aiyar points out that when a child passes from Amity school, he does not has just a certificate. “He has much more…he is fit to go to college and he is ready to meet the future challenges. We have various testimonial case studies which show that students passed from Amity Schools or college have done extremely well,” he shares.

Points to be kept in mind by schools for choosing the books for the curriculum:
1. The decision-maker should have the authority of the subject.

2. The book should be child-friendly, besides adhering to the curriculum.

3. A lot of information/activities have to be given.

4. Short stories with moral values should be there.

5. It should be an error-free book.

6. It should be high on production value.

Walt Disney rightly said, “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.” Aritra Ganguly of Harper Collins shares how books are helping shaping the future citizens. Over the last decade, we have been witness to huge changes in the publishing industry. Fueled by technological innovations that have enabled companies to produce more variety at lower costs and supported by the boom of Indian e-commerce, the consumer is pampered with a buffet of options. Self-publishing options have encouraged new authors to give it a shot, resulting in success of genres that were traditionally sold surreptitiously.

Aritra GangulyThe runaway success of Amish Tripathi and viagra mexico Chetan Bhagat supported the believed trends – that India is predominantly a fiction market. Nielsen's official entry into the Indian market (2011) threw up some startling statistics for a largely undocumented market, where authors hardly knew how many copies their books had sold. The Indian consumer's believed preference for Indian authors was now validated with statistics. In this market, children's books continue to buck the trend.

The India consumer has a clear preference for international authors when it comes to buying books for their kids. An overwhelming 80% of the total documented Nielsen value is derived from foreign authors in the kids' category which is about 50% for the adult categories. There is a case in point with Ruskin Bond being probably the only major Indian author who comes to mind when we think of domestic brands, but the age old myth that parents are dissuaded by high prices of international books has been destroyed. Parents are willing to pay for quality when it comes to their kids.

International quality at Indian prices

The HarperCollins UK children's range has been in the market since 2002, with famous brands like Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, C. S. Lewis & Michael Morpurgo among others. Following the addition of the HCUS range from 2013, we introduced the very impressive graded reading program – I CAN READ. It had international level content but at a very affordable price of INR 150 and was embraced by the Indian market with open arms. Today the range has expanded to include nearly 350 titles segregated into 5 reading levels and is an invaluable addition to the existing reading program of Dr. Seuss which exists in color coded levels and mini-libraries with focused titles on mammals, space etc. We found parents, teachers and librarians were very enthusiastic about introducing these books to their kids and helping them graduate from one reading level to another since it helped encompass the various reading levels of kids even in the same class. Characters like Amelia Bedelia, Biscuit, Marley & 'The Cat in the Hat' are becoming popular names in households. The I CAN READ (ICR) series also include characters like Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious & Flat Stanley which have individual adventures and activity books outside the ICR series. These reading programs continue to flourish in the market even in the face of stiff competition from more economical options available from dedicated children publishers in the market.

Picture & boardbooks: a big hit too!

The picture & board book segments in India has been a true revelation! Names like Eric Carle & Julia Donaldson competed with brands like Disney, Priddy & Hello Kitty and offerings from publishers like Tara Press & Parragon. It was into this market that we have carved out a niche with books like Paddington (movie was released last year), Laura Numeroff's board books about the party loving animals with a sweet tooth (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?) & Tana Hoban's high contrast books for infants. The highlight of this range is surely the range of colorful picture books from the very talented Oliver Jeffers. Whether it is his tale of How to Catch a Star or about The Incredible Book Eating Boy, or his recent book with Drew Daywalt – The Day the Crayons Quit, which was a story of passionate letters written by crayons to their owner, they WILL steal your heart. This has allowed us to re-introduce authors like Judith Kerr (Tiger Who Came to Tea & The Mog series). Although the hurried buyer is still content to pick the evergreen brands for their kids, there is a definite shift towards buying content rather than big names. Dedicated kids bookstores like Bahri Kids organize events for kids and parents and have witnessed them sitting and exploring the books together.

High value books: amazing gift options

There is also a definite affinity towards high value hardbacks & novelty books (imaginative formats and ordering propecia online editions) which was thrown open by those wonderful editions of Touch & Feel & Scratch & Sniff (by DK), carousel books, pop-out books, buggy books and box sets, despite being priced higher than standard picture books. Take the example of Shel Silverstein; his prose will have you in splits! These books are a ray of hope for publishers that it might pave the way for a reading habit similar to abroad which involves gifting of high value editions at festivals and celebrations.

Books for all!

HarperCollins is also the official distributor in India of the popular Usborne range which boasts a stellar Reading Program and a wide variety of interactive books in creative formats for every age group, to cater to the fastest growing segment in India book publishing (growth is estimated at a rate of 30% in terms of value each year).

On a concluding note…

Children's publishing is not only about colorful books at cheap prices, it is more about building credibility by selecting content keeping in mind both the parent and the child. Parents are more favorable to testing out a new author for their own reading pleasure, but the rites of passage are stricter when it comes to their kid. But the reward is definitely more gratifying and loyalty is absolute. As Anne Frank said, "parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands", so kids publishing will endure, and with it we have a chance to shape the thinking of the leaders of tomorrow.

Mr. Aritra Ganguly is currently assistant manager – Product, working with HarperCollinsPublishers India since 2011. A Chemical Engineer from MIT (Manipal), he chose to join the Publishing industry to follow his passion for books. He was entrusted with the development of the UK Children’s list that has seen the release of brands like Oliver Jeffers, David Walliams & Judith Kerr in India apart from extensions to their constellation of existing authors like Dr. Seuss, Michael Morpurgo, CS Lewis, Lincoln Peirce, Veronica Roth & many more.

The Beatles: All Our Yesterdays
(A graphic novel)

Authors: Jason Quinn with illustrator Lalit Kumar Sharma

Publisher: Campfire, New Delhi

ISBN: 9381182221

Pp: 150; Price: Rs 319

Crafted for teens and young adults, The Beatles: All Our Yesteryears is a new graphic novel from Campfire, which graphically narrates the history of the world’s most enduring English rock n’ roll group. Opening chapter of the novel unfolds with the birth of the four members of the rock group—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—subsequently followed by their struggle for success, taking the readers through the early days of rock n’ roll in the 1950s. The story stretches from their younger years in Liverpool and formation of the band, The Beatles, at Hamburg through grit and determination, which eventually gave birth to an amalgamated new musical genre.

Over a period of three years, The Beatles carved their popularity playing in clubs around Hamburg and Liverpool in the 1960s with Stuart Sutcliffe initially serving as bass player, which was finally handled by Paul after the entry of Ringo as the brand's new drummer. With their first hit Love Me Do released in late 1962, the group composed a number of hits, which made them acquire their ‘Fab Four’ fame as Beatlemania grew in Britain and the world over. End of the novel marks with the break-up of the group in 1970 and massacre of John Lennon. Ultimate crux in the novel is its rich illustrative narrative of The Beatles' musical career of varying lengths, even in their solo periods after the break-up.

Stories are a great medium for learning and when children read books in their mother tongue, that makes them read better and therefore make more sense of their education. Manisha Chaudhry, editorial head, Pratham Books, talks about the need for quality regional language books in India. My dadi told us stories on demand every night whenever she came to stay with us. One of my favourite stories was the one about Sheikhchilli. He came to his sasuraal and he loved the khichdi that they served him. Next day he left to go home but wanted to remember the name of the amazing dish laced with the goodness of desi ghee, the taste of which still lingered in his mouth. So being Sheikhchilli, he loudly repeated to himself khichdi, khichdi, khichdi that soon turned into kha chadi kha chidi… (bird eat, bird eat). As the farmers heard him say kha chidi kha chidi, they thought he was exhorting all the birds to eat up the crop that they were about to harvest! Needless to say, he was ticked off soundly and told to say Ud chidi ud chidi (bird fly, bird fly) instead. ..and so the story went on with equally interesting twists and turns until Sheikhchilli struck camp behind his mother’s hut because he had been told to halt at sundown. But that story is for another day.

Manisha ChaudhryEven allowing for the fact that my Dadi was a natural storyteller, the story opened up endless possibility of playing with my language as my cousins and I came up with endless variations starting with the word khichdi. As we played, we learnt to talk better and our games also grew in complexity. At the same time, we started eyeing all the Hindi magazines for children and adults that were there and before we knew it, we were trying to read, without anybody forcing us to do so.

You will hear similar accounts from many people who grew up listening to stories in their mother tongue. If they were lucky, they also got some interesting reading material in their language and this was a great accelerator to their becoming readers.

Current learning abilities of children…

We have to look at these stories against the backdrop of the current crisis in learning outcomes in primary schools across the country. Enrolment levels of children in the age band of 3-14 years in school are at an all time high at about 96%. However, survey after survey is revealing that learning levels are abysmally low.

It is heartbreaking to see that basic skills are eluding our children with as many as half the children in class 5 in government schools remain unable to read a class 2 text. The situation is not very different in private schools as reading with meaning poses a huge challenge. The C-A-T cat mane billi learning model is one that is robbing a generation of the language skills required for meaningful communication. Children are growing up without an adequate vocabulary in their first language or in English.

What is the big piece that is missing in the education jigsaw puzzle that is making up such a distorted picture? How do we progress from literacy towards meaningful education for the large mass of children coming to school for the first time?

Reading is learning…

Perhaps the answer lies in taking some simple first steps. Stories and texts in the mother tongues build on what the child knows already. They help her to expand her vocabulary as she begins to form opinions and express herself in a language that is familiar. If she further gets her first taste of simple books in her own language, she climbs over obstacles of reading with meaning with ease and a sense of autonomy and pleasure. Reading, like any other skill, improves with practice and what better way to do this than with colourful, age appropriate books in the first language?

Once a child is reading, then a most basic building block of education is in place. Bit by bit, thereafter, the school introduces her to the world beyond that of her immediate experience. She learns in her own way, at her own pace and is ready to learn other languages also.

Dearth of regional language books…

Unfortunately, most children do not get to read books in their mother tongues. A very large number have a home language that is different from the medium of instruction. They have little support at home for what the school system demands of them. They have to sit in classrooms where the teacher has to work under severe constraints. There is little by way of bridge material that will ease the transition into the ‘mainstream’ or official language that is usually the teaching medium.

Even in the more mainstream languages of the India, there are not enough books being published for young children. This is both perplexing and worrying. The stories in each language are what make up the core of the culture of its speakers. The little traditions, the food, the festivals and the fools such as Sheikhchilli are what ground the next generation into their own place called home. They also transmit the wisdom that helps children make sense of human relationships and develop resilience in the face of an ever-changing world.

The solution…

Publishing for children in Indian languages is a vital link that will make our children read better and therefore make more sense of their education. It will also connect them to their own languages and culture through the medium of stories. Just as we recognize that food is a basic requirement for children to grow well physically, we have to realize the value of mental and emotional nourishment that can be provided with the presence of good books in their lives. The first books in their own language are what will set them on the course of becoming readers and therefore autonomous learners.

With over 380 million children in the school going age group today, it is time the publishing industry stepped into the breach and took note of this nascent market. It is the future of our children that is at stake and everybody must weigh in at this crucial time to build up the demographic dividend.

Manisha Chaudhry is a writer, editor and translator, fluent in Hindi and English. She has many years of experience as a publishing professional and in the social development sector. She began working with India's first feminist publishing house 'Kali for Women' in 1986 and has been a consultant to a range of organizations in the development sector and the UN. Her work has been published by Kali for Women, Oxford University Press, Zubaan Books, Yatra Books among others.She is currently the editorial head at Pratham Books and adviser to the Kahani Festival and festival adviser to JUMPSTART 2016.She was the founder trustee of Bookaroo.She has been in the forefront of many new initiatives to democratize the joy of reading and improve access to holistic education.

Advises Shashank Sardana of DS Publishers India.

Books are children’s best friends, but it is very important to find the right friend (book) for your child. What makes a good children book and how are Indian children books placed with respect to international ones, shares Shashank Sardana of DS Publishers India, a well-known publisher of children books in India.

Talking about the children book publishing market in India, Shashank shared, “We know as per official data that the Indian book publishing industry is worth Rs 35000 crores and growing at the rate of 15–20% annually. The publishing segment is around 30% of the total value. As per our estimates, the trade children’s book market is at least worth 10% or 3500 crores and growing at the same pace or maybe even faster than the overall book publishing market. To keep up, publishers have made changes to their business model to allow for flexibility to target short-term and/or region specific requirements through local and global partnerships and collaborations. There is more emphasis on quality control now. The industry relies heavily on e-commerce platforms for visibility and sales. Production quality has increased and costs have come down due to availability of cutting edge production technologies. Publishers are now starting to develop richer content by combining digital media with traditional media.”

On languages…

“Around 25% of the total children’s books published are in the English language which makes it the highest for any individual language along with Hindi. As for us, all of our published titles are in the English language,” shares Shashank. Their average print run is 3000–5000 copies per title, while the average book price is around Rs 150–200.

Indian vs. international standards…

Shashank SardanaOn asking about the quality standards of Indian publications vs international ones, Shashank says, “When it comes to raw talent, our people and manufacturing are at par with the best in the world. This has been evident in the last few years by the growing exports to several countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. However, we are still way behind the global publishing industry. The main reason is that the Indian publishers tend to be reactive instead of proactive. By following a risk-averse follow-the-crowd strategy, Indian publishers are always playing catch-up with their foreign counterparts.”

Attributes of a children book…

“A good children’s book should have colourful and detailed characters, specially the protagonist. The story should be imaginative, should have a central theme and an issue for the protagonist to solve. But it shouldn’t come out to be preachy. The narrative should have flair, humour and dramatisation, although it should be simple to understand,” says Shashank.

So, what appeals most - Voice? Characterisation? Plot? “All of them with varying importance from one age group to another. In my opinion, characterisation is the single most important aspect for children’s books, followed by plot. Children tend to open books more frequently that have good characters. A good plot fuels their vivid imagination,” he adds.

What I love about my profession…

“I am overwhelmed with limitless possibilities, creative freedom and to get another chance to relive my childhood,” says Shashank.


“Developing the right content for the target age-group is the hardest aspect for publishing for children,” tells Shashank. “Besides, another major challenge is the follow-the-crowd strategy of the Indian publishers. This makes it difficult for indie publishers to make headway into a market which is already dominated by the Big Four. Publishers need to come out of their limbo and start innovating. Piracy and copyright violations are other major challenges that call for stricter laws and action.”

On digital media…

“Digital media is going to be the next big thing in this segment. It is going to literally “bring a book to life”. Traditional print media is simply not going to survive standalone. What we are going to see in the future is an amalgamation of both. We are currently investigating new ideas and exploring new partnerships to be ready for the transition,” he says.

On selecting the right book for children…

“Children’s books are significantly different from adult books. For parents, my advice is to never buy a book that you, as an adult, find interesting. Instead buy a book that brings out the child in you. Or better, let your child decide!” tells Shashank. While for educators, he feels that it is important to put the children’s development

first before anything. “A strong screening process is a must to identify the right books that can aid the education of young children,” he concludes.