Do Indians prefer children’s books written by non-Indians? Our experience points to some interesting findings…
“We like books by foreign authors better than ones by Indians,” a teacher once said to us.
“Why?” we asked.
“They’re just better,” she said, very matter-of-factly.
Then adding as an after-thought, “By the way, can you get Roald Dahl to visit our school?”
A Post-Colonial Perception Problem
Why and how is it that so many Indians see Indian writing this way?
Time and again, we have met numerous teachers and parents who think children’s books by foreign authors are better than books written by Indians. As we discover through our work in the world of Children’s Books, the prejudice is very real. An unfortunate situation, since stories set in India are often more relatable for children growing up here.
There may be several possible reasons and explanations for this phenomenon. The first and the most dominant theory is a lingering post-colonial hangover. This is rooted in the learned belief that cultures and products from foreign lands are inherently superior to homegrown ones. Until Independence, this harmful, unfounded perception (or propaganda) was shaped and groomed by colonial powers. As a result, we see sections of society holding onto to ideological chains from the past. So long as this misunderstanding exists, Indian authors struggle to find Indian readers.
The post-colonial hangover is a reason why India’s ‘premium’ brands are Peter England and Louis Phillippe, in comparison to Indian brands such as Madura Fashions or Arvind Mills.
Be Indian, Read Indian
For the most part, the situation is not so bad. As the facts are uncovered, we see a different story come to light. The truth is that despite what people presume, there are plenty of outstanding children’s books out there, written and published by Indians.
The Challenges for Indian Children’s Books
The book selection process for the average Indian parent or teacher is far more complicated than it should be. Undeniably, getting them to pick an Indian children’s book over a popular foreign book is the key challenge. In order to counter this, parents and teachers need to have enough information and easy access to Indian children’s books.
- Information about children’s books by Indian authors may not be readily accessible. Moreover, where information does exist, it is usually buried under a pile of foreign titles. For parents and teachers to choose Indian books, they must first know that they have a choice. Information about Indian children’s books must be easily attainable.
- Easy Access: India is a huge market. Not every Indian publisher can see to it that their books make it to every bookstore in the country, or even popular online stores. They face multiple restrictions, not to mention international competition. Thus, Indian authors struggle and fight their way to Indian bookshelves.
Spreading the Word about Indian Children’s Books
In countries abroad, there are various awards, book lists, organizations, and initiatives that work to give children’s books and their authors more recognition and visibility. On account of this, their efforts go a long way in creating greater awareness among the public.
By and large, India is catching up slowly. Notably, efforts like The Hindu’s Young World Goodbooks Awards, the release of great content on Pratham Books’ Storyweaver platform, and monthly listings of new releases by Goodbooks and the Duckbill Blog are paving the way.
fREADom’s BICW: India’s Best Children’s Books
fREADom wants to be part of the Indian literary revolution. The Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary Awards List is our contribution towards this goal.
BICW lists excellent Indian books for children, to help parents and teachers choose from the best homegrown literature. The BICW Winners List features an age-wise selection of the best Indian children’s books, over the last 15 years.
Through BICW, we want to bridge information gaps and give Indian authored books the recognition they deserve, to make them the first choice for Indian parents and teachers.
Learn more about BICW
Take a look at the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary list!
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