Kids & Teens

says Nita Berry, well-known author in conversation with Smita Dwivedi Nita BerryBetter books make better human beings” – this universal truth was recognised a long, long time ago in India. Long before there were even any books! 3000 years ago, we had no books but our ancestors recognised story as an ideal tool to impart knowledge and wisdom and to shape ideas and attitudes in accordance with certain social values. The storyteller had a special place in Indian society. With these initial views about children literature, Nita initiated candid talk about books with Smita Dwivedi.

A born author!

On asking about how love for books actually started, she shared, “I think I was always a writer! I scored well in school essays and wrote for the school magazine. We had a Young Journalist’s Club at Springdales School where Rosalind Wilson, my English literature teacher was the editor, and I was made the student editor in my final years. So my love for writing was honed in those far off days! Later, I wrote short stories and features for the popular Target Magazine where Rosalind had moved to become the editor. There was so much I learnt from her! In college at LSR, where I did English Honours, I wrote articles of literary interest for every issue of the college magazine, on topics like Virginia Woolf and The Stream of Consciousness, Anita Desai, etc….”

To be a good author, one has to be a good reader first, on asking about her favourites, she added, “Always a bookworm, I loved reading Enid Blyton, Jennings and link for you Nancy Drew in my school days. Later I had a lot of favourite authors like Somerset Maugham, Lawrence Durrell, Ayn Rand and many others, and loved their literary style and ideas.”

Spinning a tale!

Nita has written over 20 books for kids - picture books, fiction, non fiction, even a Crossword Crazy series on thematic crossword puzzles where she did the illustrations! She also co-authored a play called Children of the Magic Pen which was directed by Feisal Alkazi and performed to packed halls in Delhi and Gurgaon. So, what was her tale of becoming a kids author and she shared,” I lived on a ship for over 5 years after I got married into the merchant navy, crisscrossing the oceans. My son didn’t go to school till he was 5. It was a rather alarming situation and I carried along several KG textbooks. To my horror I found that little kids were expected to remember a lot of facts from text books that were uniformly drab and dull. So sitting in the midst of nowhere I began to create little stories – of Heera the fat caterpillar who ate so much that his skin burst, of Chintu the tiny tadpole who grew into a handsome frog, of the little seed that grew into a flowering plant and many others. These characters were all taken from the school syllabus. Learning became fun!”

When she started writing children books, it was not easy to get published. She had her share of refusals and rejections, before she got acclaimed as an author. She narrated, “I sent a set of ten of these stories to a few publishers in Delhi. In those days it was difficult to find anyone interested in children’s books and it needed much persistence. A few years later Frank Educational Aids turned some of these stories into delightfully illustrated picture books and I became an author! The Fat Caterpillar, still in print after 25 years, remains one of my favourites!”

Writing today!

Nita still feels that India is a breeding ground for stories; we have great folktales and literature, which can be retold in number of different ways, this is the reason she prefers Indian touch in all her stories, “I always prefer Indian names for my characters but many publishers, with an eye on global markets, change the names to western ones. For instance, Heera the caterpillar became Furry,” she shared.

Sharing further about children books, she added, “My writing has mainly been non fiction to make learning fun. Children are expected to know so much these days! The most challenging part is to present facts in a fun-filled way. If you remember, the story was traditionally the vehicle of instruction for our illiterate masses centuries ago. Our ancient oral tradition of storytelling handed down stories that were moral, religious, mythological, didactic and entertaining. That is how lessons were taught. The hardest part of writing non fiction is the research work involved. Years ago there was no internet or Google and one had to write copious notes in musty libraries. Of course that is all a thing of the past now. I wrote a lot of full length non fiction for Children’s Book Trust like The Story of Time which won the Shankar’s Medal for ‘Excellence in Writing’, The Wonder of Water and The Story of Writing etc. Each of these books took about 6 months to write – 4 months to research and about 2 months to actually write. Of course writer’s block is all too common and writing and rewriting is all part of the process.”

Reader’s instinct!

On asking about what she prefers to read now, she disclosed, “I’m fond of reading historical fiction and I’ve just finished ‘The Twentieth Wife’ by Indu Sundaresan on Nur Jahan. I found it awesomely written, well researched and most engrossing. Indian writing today has really come of age and we have a lot of talented young writers in different genres. It’s been an interesting journey since those faraway days on a ship!”

Sci-fi by a 12-year-old author!

Sapna Book House organised the release of ‘Jaka in Kakoon’, a book by 12-year-old author J Manaswini from Coimbatore. She is a Class 8 student of BVM Global School @ Karpagam campus. The book talks about how the world would be in the next century. Talking about the book, chief guest of the event, Dr. Manivannan, writer and professor, Tamil Department, Govt. Arts College, Ooty said, “Reading and writing are taking a backstage in this era of technology. It is interesting to see how a young author has managed to create an interesting story in just 35 pages.”

Dr. Eric Miller, founder and director, World Storytelling Institute, who was also present on the occasion said, “I found Manaswini’s book to be a science fiction as it involves a time machine. While at the same time, it also presents a viewpoint about today’s education.” He also added that writing is a very heavy responsibility.

Speaking on the occasion, Manaswini revealed that she has been writing from the age of seven. “I mainly did so to present my point of view. But now I don’t want to merely write books. I would like to inspire people to write too.” ‘Jaka in Kakoon’ is published by Sapna Ink. -Janani Rajeswari

7th reprint for a novel by a debut author!

I Am Dead But My Heart Beats, debut novel by Priyank, a 23-year-old author from Jamshedpur, and published by Teenage Publishers (Delhi) in June 2014 witnessed its 7th re-print in January 2016. The amazing response of this book can be analysed from its sales figures, which has already crossed 15,000 copies in just one and half years.

The seventh edition of I Am Dead But My Heart Beats was unveiled by popular TV celebrities, Dilip Joshi & Amit Grover, from the SAB TV show ‘Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma Fame’ on their sets at Film City, Mumbai. Based on inter-community love & marriages, issues of communalism in India, Muzzafarnagar Communal riot & with a love story in the core, inspired from real life incidents, this book has struck the chord with the readers.

Priyank is all set to come up with his second novel this year.

- says Vibha Batra in conversation with Varsha Verma of All About Book Publishing (ABP).

Vibha Batra is an upcoming wri t e r of books for young adults (YA). Her published books include The Activist and The Capitalist, Sweet Sixteen (Yeah, Right!), Seventeen and Done (You Bet!), Eighteen and Wiser (Not Quite!) - a YA trilogy published by Penguin. She has also authored Ishaavaasya Upanishad (a translation published by Rupa, Tongue-in-cheek (a collection of poetry), and A Twist of Lime (a collection of short stories). Another collection of short stories, Family Crossword, will be out later this year. Here, she shares her views on YA fiction and more.

ABP: Tell us something about your YA trilogy and the response it has received so far?

Vibha: It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Rinki Tripathi, who moves from Delhi to Chennai and how she adapts to the change, how she makes peace with her new life, how she finally falls in love with her new home and new friends. The YA trilogy was very well received. Sweet Sixteen (Yeah, Right) was a bestseller. The response was so positive and encouraging, I bravely set out to write the next two instalments: Seventeen and Done (You Bet) and Eighteen and Wiser (Not Quite).

ABP: How were the characters and storyline created, is it inspired from the real life?

Vibha: Many moons ago, I moved from Kolkata to Chennai. I was a teenager, it was a crazy time. I always thought there was a story there. A funny one at that. It was playing in my head for quite a while. So I just decided to sit down and write it. Having said that, it’s a work of fiction. No family, friends or teachers were harmed in the making of the trilogy!

ABP: When did you "know" you wanted to write professionally?

Vibha: Very early in life. I blame it on my genes! My late grandfather, Vishnu Kant Shastri, was an academic, scholar, and prolific writer. I grew up reading his memoirs, travelogues, and poetry.

ABP: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a book? Why?

Vibha: I think the writing part is comparatively easy. Marketing the book – that’s the real toughie!

ABP: What factors are kept in mind while writing for young adults?

Vibha: Well, I consider myself a young adult. So I write about things that appeal to the target audience – me! Right from acne eruptions to stubborn kilos, from academic pressures to lasting friendships, from romance to humour.

Interestingly, while I was writing the first part of my Young Adult trilogy, my editor pointed out my affinity to cuss words. So I had to replace them with less offensive alternatives like ‘Shut the Front Door’, Flying Fudge’, ‘Dang Rabbit’, ‘Bull Spit’, ‘What the Fish’ and so on.

ABP: What writing/ publishing advice do you give to aspiring writers of any age?

Vibha: Unsolicited advice makes me want to run the other way. So all I’m going to say is: Keep writing and never ever give up.

ABP: What are you reading right now? Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?

Vibha: I’m (proof) reading my manuscript at the moment (she laughs!!!). The biggest influence is my grandfather, the late Vishnu Kant Shastri. My list of favourite authors is pretty long and includes Ruskin Bond, Saki, Maupassant , Rabindranath Tagore, JK Rowling, Bill Bryson. As for poets, I love Ogden Nash, Nissim Ezekiel, Ghalib, Rumi, Jagdish Gupt, and Harivansh Rai Bachchan.

ABP: What was the book that most influenced your life – and why? Vibha: When my grandfather passed away, I decided to translate his book Ishaavaasya Upanishad: Gyaan Aur Karm into English. It was published by Rupa in 2007. So you could say it influenced my life the most. Because until then, I was perfectly content being a copywriter!

ABP: What are your favorite books to give and get as gifts?

Vibha: I can’t choose, I like them all. The sole exception - horror. Hats off to people who love the genre and can make solo trips to the loo in the middle of the night!

ABP: We live in a time when young people have numerous choices for entertainment. What would you like to say to young adult who may be hesitant about reading a book for "fun?

Vibha: I’d say give it a shot, amigos and amigas, you won’t be disappointed!

ABP: Which is the next book that readers can look forward to?

Vibha: My second collection of short stories ‘Family Crossword’ is just released and my next novel (Rom-com) will be released in 2016.

says Raghu Ram Aiyar, executive sr. vice president, Amity University Press in conversation with Varsha Verma.

The K-12 publishing segment is growing at a rate of 16 percent per annum. With the rise of e-textbooks, the content has become the king and the publishers are considering taking more interactive approach to data provision. But, with stiff competition and discount wars, the industry is reeling under pressure. Here, Raghu Ram Aiyar, executive sr. vice president, Amity University Press, discusses the trends and future prospects of the K-12 publishing industry.

Varsha: You are a veteran in the academic publishing industry; describe your journey so far?

Aiyar: I began my career in the year 1990 as the senior vice president at Macmillan. During those days, Kolkata used to be the south-east headquarters of the company’s worldwide operations. It was baptism by fire, as it were. The company was going through a rough patch as it was marred by labour problems and was toying with the idea of closing down its operations. But, the company moved on this time around concentrating on publishing books catering to the Indian market. Those were the days when the decision makers and influencing factors spent quality time with publishers reviewing the content of the titles religiously and with deep keenness.

Unfortunately, this trend seems to be on the wane in the present day. The trade has taken over in helping the institutions in deciding the prescriptions. Maybe this is because choosing the right book is important but not a prioritised area. Publishers hardly get any time at the school level.

From Macmillan to Amity University Press (AUP) in 2003: The visionary chancellor Atul Chauhan had laid the foundation and then the company sprang into action with my joining them. It was a start from the scratch, yet again. Mornings and nights were spent by us in formalising a publishing programme that has caught the imagination of a discerning school audience, today. Amity University Press (AUP) has carved a niche for itself and has become a name to reckon with in the publishing industry. I take extreme pride in the fact that our books are considered benchmark by schools that do not even use our books. AUP has grown from strength to strength from 2003 to 2016. The future augurs well for a company that does not believe in compromising on quality and believes that content is king.

Varsha: What have been the major trends in the publishing industry and where does it stand now?

Aiyar: The publishing industry has been undergoing a major evolution and with digital media gaining popularity, it has become relatively easier for more and more non-publishing media companies to join the business of creating and distributing content. With the rise of e-textbooks the content has become the king and the publishers are considering taking more interactive approach to data provision. They are trying to go down the enriched content route and provide the end users videos and interactive graphical content. The publishers are viewing Massive Open Online Courses (MCOC) as a lucrative business opportunity to market textbooks and e-textbooks.

Varsha: The Indian publishing industry is still disorganised. What are your views on K-12 segment, which has become a little organised?

Aiyar: The discount war is forcing many institutions to prescribe books not on the basis of merit but on the basis of the discounts being offered by the publishers. However, institutions belonging to old school of thought, who don’t want to compromise on quality still opt for publishers with a proven track record. The rising competition is forcing publishers to add value to content and make it available online if they want to sustain their legacy and do good business.

I strongly feel there is a need for a forum where academic publishers can sit across the table with institutional heads and develop online version of their texts and also load them with interactive features that are going to be beneficial to students.

Varsha: What are the limitations and challenges that publishers face today?

Aiyar: I feel the publishing industry has witnessed a major metamorphosis since its inception. The publishing industry today is at a crossroad as the conventional publishing industry is facing an eminent threat from e-books. E-books today are ready to phase out or edge out the printed ones. The trend seems to be picking up because publishers don’t need to invest in paper or arrange for transportation of the consignments. Moreover, more and more middle class Indians are choosing kindle edition over the physical book because low cost editions are available at the click of the mouse.

The publishing industry is yet to acquire an official industry status; it still continues to be an unorganised sector. The other factors which pose challenge to the industry are rampant piracy and discount war. The pirated copies sold at busy traffic intersections lead to corporate infringement and all the publishers need to join hands to curb the problem from assuming mammoth proportion.

One eminent threat that I can foresee in the future comes from the government. If the government decides to hike the cost of paper by a large percentage, the cost of the books will go up, whereas the government has been building pressure on the publishers to cut down on the prices of the books. Isn’t it ironical?

Varsha: How is digital affecting the K-12 industry and how is it expected to transform the publishing industry in the next 10 years?

Aiyar: I think e-books can never replace physical books, they will continue to be around for a longer time in India as compared to other countries. Internet is yet to penetrate fully in the country and many remote areas still continue to be out of bounds. Moreover, a large section of the society still finds kindle and e-books unaffordable and inaccessible. However, in the coming years it would become imperative for the publishers that every new book is simultaneously released as an e-book.

In future publishers should be ready to dole out extra money on scanning, proofing, preparing the PDF and turning the physical book into an e-book. They have to be prepared to change the format of the book to meet the requirement of different e-retailers. Another important thing that they need to keep in mind is that marketing through e-vendors does not eliminate the distribution cost completely.

Though, e-retailers are not charging a fortune right now, but will not think twice before milking publishers like distributors in future.

Children books become all the more interesting when they have attractive illustrations. Infact, illustrations breathe life into children’s books. Here, Manisha Chaudhry, editorial head, Pratham Books, shares her views on the role of illustrations in children books and the quality of illustrators in India, in conversation with Varsha Verma.

What is the role of illustrations in children books, what their major attributes are and how the work of Indian illustrators is evolving, shares Manisha Chaudhry, editorial head, Pratham Books.

ABP: What is the role of illustrations in children books?

Manisha: Illustrations breathe life into children's books. When a child first encounters a book, (whether she can read or not!) she begins by 'reading' the pictures. It is by looking at the pictures again and again and perhaps talking about them and asking questions or imagining things around them that she becomes ready to read in the formal sense of the word. At that stage, the illustrations support her own individualistic way of reading the book. Sometimes the illustrations provide direct visual support to the story and help her connect to characters and situations. For some children, they provide a take off point to add to the story using their own imagination. Children like books where the story and illustrations perfectly complement each other.

ABP: Is the story more important or the illustrations, considering the fact that when a child picks up the book, it is probably the illustrations that attract him?

Manisha: That is a bit like asking whether water is more important or food! Both are needed for a memorable reading experience for the child. It depends on the age and print readiness of the child and cannot remain constant. Since we use the word 'children' for anybody between the ages of 3-14 years, we cannot make such generalisations. Even in developmental stages of childhood, the ability of a child to read visuals and language capabilities grow simultaneously.

When children experiment with language, they also narrate experiences, real or imagined, which is probably their first taste of a story. Even if a child is first attracted towards a book because of the illustrations, she looks at them to make up her own personal story.

As publishers of children's books, we all work on both aspects so that the book gives joy to the child and trigger a positive interest in the act of reading.

ABP: How do you rate the quality of Indian illustrators vis-a-vis foreign ones?

Manisha: Indian illustration is a very broad and varied category. Quality also depends on the publishing house. There has to be a willingness to allocate a good illustration and book design budget and invest in good production. India has very fine illustrators who do excellent and imaginative work if they get the required support from publishing houses.

Usually, when people refer to 'foreign' illustrators, they mean illustrators working in western countries. Many western countries have had a longer track record of children's publishing and very supportive policies towards the creation of children's books. In the Scandinavian countries, France, Poland, Switzerland and so many others, there has been such tremendous support for children's books with illustrations and consequently there is a market which has led to such a variety of books. I'm sure there must be some books of indifferent quality also, but we get to see the best and boldest in terms of illustration and design.

I think we need to look beyond measuring ourselves against others. We have a wealth of traditions of visual representation in India as also young designers coming out of design schools. If book illustration and design received greater attention from publishers, I am sure a lot more exciting work will get done. There are many excellent Indian illustrators who are transforming the landscape and will do even more interesting work in the future as the children's books segment continues to grow.

ABP: What are the various attributes that should be kept in mind while including illustrations in a children book?

Manisha: Illustrations are essentially a creative interpretation of a story or a situation by the artist. They have to stand on their own within the overall framework of the book. Depending on the type of book being illustrated, such as a picture book, text book, comic book, the attributes may change. They have to serve the purpose of the book. The obvious things to eschew would be any form of stereotyping whether relating to race, class or gender, although that can depend on the context of the story. Any disturbingly graphic depictions of violence are usually kept out.

Clarity and a visual balance with the text is another very important attribute specially in beginners' books, picture books, etc. If there is the possibility of communication between the illustrator and editor and author and if there is a specific audience in mind, it becomes easier to decide the attributes. Whether detailed or with bold lines, black and white or coloured, the idea is to create an ideal package to draw a child into the world of books.

ABP: Since you have worked with a lot of illustrators, brief us about any particular illustrations which have touched your heart?

Manisha: It is very difficult to pick favourites. There are so many illustrators who have touched my heart. Some of them directly and others whose work I admire.

I love Bindia Thapar's illustrations. She illustrated a book called City of Stories for us and I feel happy as soon as I spot that book. Her cityscapes, her characteristic style makes the book shine in a different light altogether.

I also love Priya Kuriyan's work. She has illustrated many books for us and I will always look upon the Rituchakra series with great fondness. Maya Ramaswamy's work in titles such Nono, the Snow Leopard, King Cobra, The Adventures of Philautus the Frog is outstanding.

Ruchi Shah's work is really interesting too. Nina Sabnani, Shilpa Ranade, Tapas Guha all bring a great sense of individual style to the books they illustrate. I also admire Atanu Roy, Shuddhasatwa Basu, Taposhi Ghosal, Anita Balachandran.. I could go on with so many other names....

ABP: Any message for our readers.

Manisha: Publishers have to play their part if we want to see more and better children's books in all Indian languages. They have to support illustrators and recognise that even the simplest picture books and early readers have a far reaching impact on a new generation of readers.

JUMPSTART 2015 was successfully held on August 18 at IIC Delhi and from August 21- 22 at Goethe-Institut in Bengaluru. Writers, illustrators, storytellers and scriptwriters weaved together amazing stories and illustrations, making it a breeding ground for new ideas. Festival advisors, Manasi Subramaniam and Ameen, brought in respective energies in putting together a contentrich programme at Jumpstart 2015 (organised by German Book Office, New Delhi) which was an effective mix of panel discussions, interactions and Masterclasses for writers, illustrators, storytellers and scriptwriters. While the one day event in Delhi started off with a panel named Storydust, the rest of the day was all about the hands-on Masterclasses led by field experts and international speakers.

While Motti Aviram, from Tel Aviv, guided aspiring and professional screenwriters sharing his unique formula for writing a good script. Australian author, Leonie Norrington took the participating writers through the tools and techniques of creating everlasting characters. Master illustrator from Australia, Nicki Greenberg charmed the artists and illustrators in her class by reading parts from her illustrated stories and then getting them down to doodling. Expert storyteller, Ameen Haque mesmerised the audience in his masterclass by getting down to the business of telling captivating stories.

Bengaluru sawan enthusiastic response from the city’s creative folks and the two days went off in a buzz of activity and interactions. Moving through Windows, Mirrors and Kaleidoscopes, the day moved onto the Slamathon where select participants got to individually interact with the expert speakers while pitching their stories and receiving ideas for further improvement. The second day involved the above masterclasses led by Motti Avaram, Leonie Norrington and Nicki Green berg.

There was also a session conducted by Goodbooks for educators and librarians. For Publishers, the event provided the platform for necessary debates and discussions on experiments in education such as gamification and story based learning. In all, Get Storyfied at JUMPSTART 2015 was a success for team GBO and was of benefit to the creators, disseminators, consumers of children’s content in India.