Samina Mishra Posts

Literati – “Storytelling” ( 6 Dec 2014, The Hindu)


Jaya Bhattacharji Rose( My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 6 December 2014) and will be in print ( 7 December 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-a-look-at-the-world-of-books-publishing-and-writers/article6667631.ece . I am also c&p the text below. )

Watching Ameen Haque of The Storywallahs perform at the Kahani Tree, Bookaroo, was a treat. He wove stories, poetry and music together and had the audience singing and laughing along with him. In the short interaction, the children were introduced to the radical idea that crying is perfectly normal for boys and grown men.

Telling tales

Even when adults communicate, it is inevitably through stories. We call it conversation. Break up the conversation and analyse it. It is anecdotal, replete with stories and vignettes. The impact of a well-told story is immeasurable. Similarly a book allows a quiet engagement between the author and a reader. Books make you see the world afresh. It works for all age groups.

This relationship between books and young readers was apparent at an event organised by SCWBI India in partnership with Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan and the Bookaroo Childrens’ Literature Festival. The topic was “LSD: Love, Sex and Darkness in Books for Children” and the participants were educationist Dr. Shalini Advani, author Samina Mishra, illustrator Priya Kuriyan, and publisher Sayoni Basu.

“Should children’s books only deal with happy things? What about death, violence and sexuality? What about darkness and ugliness?” These were some of the questions raised.

Dr. Advani pointed out that adults tend to be more uncomfortable than children. “For adults, our role is to drag these issues out into the clear light of day. To normalise them as a part of the circle of life so that children — who think about them anyway — learn healthy ways of talking about them and thinking about them. It’s not happy worlds that young people seek. So it is not about whether a book has death or perfidious adults or parental divorce or pain. But more about how it is done — young people don’t like to be lectured to or even gently educated.”

Some recently YA books — Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar about a teen who may be a lesbian;Smitten by Ranjit Lal about a teen who is molested by a family member and Jobless Clueless Reckless by Revathi Suresh about a pregnant teen — have tackled these tricky topics.

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Fiction relies upon storytelling to represent experiences, although its impact depends on the author’s magic with words. At times the storytelling has visible weaknesses but the reader persists, usually out of curiosity about a new topic. For instance, Sonora Jha’s Foreign (farmer suicides in Vidarbha); Pia Padukone’s Where Earth Meets Water (9/11 and the 2004 tsumani), Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman(indentured labourers on sugar plantations in British Guiana), Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing (Syrian Christian family in New Mexico), and Robert Allison’s The Letter Bearer (WWII, amnesia).

Inclusive fiction

Exquisite storytelling and its impact is apparent by the recent online conversation between Amitav Ghosh and Raghu Karnad regarding Flanagan’s 2014 ManBooker Prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The two Indian writers discussed the inclusive capacity of historical fiction and the “duty” of a novelist but also gave insightful comments about a moment in history that had been made accessible through contemporary fiction.

The legendary publisher Gordon Graham puts it prophetically in a 1980 essay reprinted in As I was Saying: Essays on the International Book Business, “Creative composition in the electronic age will not happen at the moment when the author and the publisher decide it is releasable.” It will happen with the active participation of the reader. A statement that holds true 35 years later.

Irrespective of age groups and formats, the importance of storytelling can never be negated since it is an important module of communication and transmission of information, requiring the active participation of all stakeholders.

Update ( 6 December 2014):

In the paragraph listing the debut writers I should have clarified that it is not only fiction, but also nonfiction by relies upon the art of storytelling. Hence I have included Gaiutra Bahadur. My original list was much longer than was finally published.

6 December 2014 

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

Good Books Guide for children, NBT and PAG-E

The Good Books Guide, 1Ever so often I am asked by parents, educators and schools to recommend books that are age-appropriate for children. Every time I put together a list based upon the sensibilities of the people asking. It has been a long time since I began working in publishing and engaging with children’s literature. For many years I guest-edited a special issue of The Book Review on children’s and young adult literature. Last year I was on the jury for the Crossword Book Awards for children’s literature. But in all these years of working in the publishing industry I have rarely come across catalogues of children’s literature that could be easily recommended. Apart from compilations of titles available in English and other Indian languages, it is also crucial to understand how to select a book for a child. Introduction to literature after all is part of the nurturing and grooming process of a child into a independent, informed and literate individual. From the basic picture books, hardboard books for toddlers to picture books, chapter books and novels and non-fiction for older kids, it is not always easy to come by information. Having said that, in the last one year, there have been three titles published in India — 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love ( Young Zubaan), Children’s Books 2014 ( NBT) and The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children ( NBT and PAG-E) that are a beginning. They introduce titles from English, in translation and available in other Indian languages. Children’s Books 2014  was launched during the New Delhi World Book Fair 2014 as the theme was Kathasagar- Celebrating Children’s Literature. This catalogue includes details of around 800 titles from all Indian languages and National Book Trust has decided to make it an annual 20140226_122508publication. Fortunately a list of publishers with all their contact details have been included in the book. Next year, I hope ebooks will be included in the selection as well. Zubaan

The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children is a slim manual that was created by Subir Shukla, after a national consultation between National Book Trust and PAG-E ( Publishers’ Action Group) held at Sonapani, Nainital from 26-29 September 2012. It focuses primarily on the criteria necessary for selecting a book. Details such as illustrations match the text; do the theme and contents have any bias; is the plot weak or illogical?; is the language used appropriate for children; is the typescript and type-size inappropriate; are the illustrations and design unsuitable or of poor quality?; how to identify ‘desirable’ books; does it stimulate curiosity and engagement?; if it is a non-fiction title is it correct and factual? and so on. There is a table given towards the end that helps in classifying books according to classes and ages. This manual is a beginning. It will open a debate but at least such a publication has come into existence!

101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! is a collection of short reviews of children’s and young adult titles that have been published in India recently. The books were selected by Anita Roy and Samina Mishra; then authors, reviewers and publishing professionals were asked to contribute short notes on the titles. It gives a sense of gravitas since as a reader you are assured that the titles have been assessed by experts. Years ago, the Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children was published, with a preface by Ruskin Bond; it focused on English-language books from India and rest of the world. All these books are useful in their own way, but for the first time with the NBT publication we have now access to titles from other Indian languages as well!

Report draft by Subir Shukla; Editorial co-ordinators – Manas Ranjan Mahapatra and Dwijendra Kumar The Good Books Guide: How to select a good book for children National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 40 Rs. 130

Ed. Rubin D’Cruz; Editorial team – Meenakshi Behl, Ritu Krishna Children’s Books 2014: An annotated catalogue of select children’s books in India National Book Trust, India, 2014. Pb. pp. 290 Rs. 100

Eds. Anita Roy and Samina Mishra 101 Indian Children’s Books We Love! Young Zubaan, Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 168. Rs. 195

Ruskin Bond Puffin Good Reading Guide for Children Penguin Books India, Delhi, 2006. Pb. pp. 260. Rs. 250

26 Feb 2014

Puffin