Gorgeous, gorgeous picture book by Richa Jha ( Pickle Yolk Books) —The Middle and illustrated by Eva Ganchez Gomez . A book that empowers, teaches by examples, is imaginative and playful without being dark, foreboding and fearful. It ends as all children’s literature should — with hope, with joy and a song in one’s heart about the future.
I met award-winning picture book author and illustrator Ruth Paul at the residence of the New Zealand High Commissioner on 4 Dec 2019 for a tête-à-tête. It was such a pleasure meeting Ruth Paul! I had read a clutch of her marvellous picture books, each with its own distinctive style. I had also heard about Ruth from the legendary children’s writer Gavin Bishop. Befittingly we met in the Sunshine Drawing Room as a distinctive characteristic of Ruth Paul’s picture books is her fondness for light and the manner in which she plays with it in her illustrations. It is fascinating to immerse oneself in the artwork.
Ruth Paul has written and illustrated over 20 picture book titles and is a recent recipient of a New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate Award (August 2019).
I Am Jellyfish recently won the 2018 award for Best
Picture Book at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Mini Whinny: Happy Birthday to Me! illustrated by Ruth and written by
Stacy Gregg is shortlisted for the Best Picture Book Award, 2019. The King’s Bubbles won the Children’s
Choice picture book award in 2008, and five of her books have made the
Storylines Notable Book List over the years.
Stomp was a finalist in the NZ
Post Book Awards 2012, and Bad Dog Flash was
selected for the US Kid’s Indie Next List in 2014. Her books have sold in New
Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, the UK, China and Korea, with translations in 5
languages. Cookie Boo! Is her first
book to be initially published in the USA, with a Harper Collins USA release in
summer 2020. Ruth’s poetry is included in
A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children, Penguin
Random House NZ 2014. Her original picture book illustrations have contributed
to touring exhibitions for Painted Stories (previously Te Tai Tamariki Trust)
and two are held in the Mazza Collection at the University of Findlay, Ohio.
Ruth lives in an off-grid,
straw-bale house on a farm just outside Wellington, New Zealand. As well as
writing and illustrating children’s picture books, Ruth has worked as a costume
illustrator for Peter Jackson movies. She has two teenaged sons and is actively
involved in her local community, having previously chaired her local Community
Board and School Board of Trustees. Over the years, Ruth achieved a Bachelor of
Arts majoring in English and History from Victoria University, a Diploma in
Visual Communication Design from Wellington Polytech (now Massey University),
and most of a law degree.
Ruth says every new book is a
challenge and presents the opportunity to get better at the craft she
How do you prefer to introduce yourself
as — picture book author / author-illustrator / illustrator? Which came first
— illustrator or author? And if it is “illustrator” then when did
the transition to “author-illustrator” happen?
I call myself a picture book author and illustrator. A child once called me an “author and alligator”, but my teeth are not so big. I studied design and worked as a commercial illustrator first, illustrating books for a couple of other writers, then eventually wrote my own books. It is more common for author/illustrators to start as illustrators as this appears to be the more time-consuming craft to learn. Now that I do both, however, I’m not so sure.
2. When you envision a picture book — do you write first or do you create illustrations or do both the processes work in tandem?
It used to be that I started with words then added mages later, now it’s more a tandem process. Overall, I try to get a “concept” working first. I see (or wish for) a perfectly formed concept and story – both words and pictures – then I slowly destroy this perfect imagining as I put pen to paper and try to wrestle it into reality. The challenge is to preserve the magic of the story during this process.
3. What are the mediums you prefer to use for illustrations? Do you preserve your art work? Do you rely on digital tools to assist in your illustrations and text design?
I work and have worked in multiple mediums, traditional and digital. Having many techniques available is one of the advantages of previously attending art school. I change my style and technique depending on the needs of the book. Plus, illustrating a 32-page picture book is a big undertaking so I can get bored using the same technique twice in a row. Sometimes I use Photoshop and a Cintiq tablet to draw and I find that digital illustration almost replicates the real mediums and processes now so there’s less of a divide than people think. Whatever medium you use, you still have to be able to draw and compose, to have a sense of colour and communication. I try to change between computer and traditional forms just so I don’t get too reliant on one. I will say that generally publishers prefer me to supply my artwork digitally as opposed to hard-copy now, so that is a cost that needs to considered at the outset.
4. When you embark on a new book project, do you leave book production details to your editors or do you like to be involved in them as well?
I always plan images around words on the page, so I inevitably design the type layout as I go. However, as I use every last minute before book goes to production to work on the images, I leave the typography and final design to the publisher. I am usually always consulted on the final look of things, though often there is little you can change given time constraints. Publishers are very particular about the typefaces they use and you have to give their designers some room to work also.
5. Do your books get translated? If so what are the pros and cons of having picture books translated?
I love seeing my books in translation, but only having one language I usually have no idea what they read like! As some of my stories are in complex rhyme, I can’t imagine they work in any other language. My guess is that the substance not subtlety of the text is translated, for instance, in one of my books a sentence saying “Jump over the hump” in English, with a picture of dinosaurs jumping over tortoises, is (I am told) translated as “Jump over the turtles”. A little less fun, but it does the job.
6. How do you remain so enthusiastic and fresh about storytelling, appealing to a child’s imagination? Do you create picture books with your target audience in mind or is it yourself?
I am an adult writing for the child in myself. Fortunately, the audience for picture books this is both the adult-reader and the child so it shouldn’t be a problem. I myself am easily bored, so I guess that’s where I start when telling a story.
7. What are the essential elements of a picture book? Do you think children’s literature needs to be didactic? Is there a difference in creating picture books for the school market as opposed to those created for leisure reading?
Like most things, I can tell you
what a picture book shouldn’t be more easily that telling you what it should
be. A picture book shouldn’t be boring, ugly, preachy or mean. It should be
intriguing, satisfying and a joy to hold. Obviously books for the school market
have to be educationally correct, whereas a trade picture book need only appeal
to the buyer’s taste. And we all know it is easier to sell a child chips rather
I don’t mind books with a message to convey as long as the message is held safely within the story and is not beating it to death with a club. I do like books that leave you with a good “feeling” of some kind, be it safety, quietness or a thought to chew over. I don’t like books that leave a child worried, fearful or over-stuffed.
8. Your sense of perspective especially in the double page spread illustrations is incredible. These seem to have slowly transformed to become the centre point of your later picture books such as The King’s Bubble and I am a Jellyfish. Do you envision your picture books as one long spread or do you see them as a 32-page book at gestation itself?
I am a big fan of the double-page spread. It is a big painting or image with everything in it and I guess I like the logic of a single proposition that conveys all the necessary information. But sometimes vignettes are necessary to explain all the action of a story. The King’s Bubbles was my third book, I Am Jellyfish my sixteenth, but they share a personal sentiment and immersive style even though technically quite different. So I think your question relates to “flow”. I want the child to climb into the world of the book, and I work to make the flow of the page-turn seamless and logical so the spell of that world is not abruptly broken. So – a bit of both?
9. What are the kinds of questions children and adults ask of you? Have you had diverse reactions to the same story?
My favourite question ever was
asked at a school in Delhi just recently. It was “If you could live inside one
of your books, which one would it be?”. I had to really think about the answer
to that. I love that younger kids always want to tell me something about
themselves, rather than ask me questions. I will say “Do you have any questions
about writing a story or drawing pictures? A question is something where you
want to know something from me, and I answer”. Then all the hands will go up
and the first questions are inevitably “I know a story!” or “I’ve got a dog!”
Certain books are for certain audiences. I have picture books that are rollicking good yarns to recite or act out with kids, and some that are for one child only while cuddled up and quiet. There is a book for every situation so the trick is not doing a quiet introspective story with a group of 80 school kids, and vice versa.
10. How much research do your picture books require?
Enough to know you’re not wrong. Enough to know there’s a sound basis for your idea. Enough not to overthink and kill the idea. Enough to add flavour and nuance to the story. Reading everything and anything around your subject always helps to not inadvertently repeat what’s been done before and also to add seasoning.
11. What are the kinds of art forms that you appreciate? Which of these do you think work well in children’s literature or would that be immaterial as long as the illustrator is appealing to the reader’s aesthetic sensibility?
I like folk art because it is not elite, is often telling a story and frequently appeals to a child-like sensibility. I love everything in any art from that blows-my-mind – the extraordinary building, the tiny piece of lace, the kids talent show. I am omnivorous when it comes to art and craft and only know that the older I get the less frequently I am ‘moved’, but when I am, the most surprising things will reduce me to tears. I recently cried during a hip-hop performance, and also when looking at a young girls drawing of a monster. I am moved when I see the feeling – be it vulnerability, bravery, fear, love, joy or sorrow in art. Good art can do that.
12. Who are the artists, illustrators and writers that have influenced you?
Now there’s big question. The answer is in the multitudes and the top of the list rotates from year to year with my changing taste. To narrow it down to children’s authors and illustrators, from New Zealand I love the work of the pre-eminents Gavin Bishop and Lynley Dodd; from everywhere else there’s Emma Chichester Clarke, Roger Duvosin, the Provensons, Brian Wildsmith, Freya Blackwood, Etienne Delessert, Brendan Wenzel, Ayano Imai, Sophie Blackall … there is just so many! I can’t answer this properly!
13 December 2019
List of Ruth Paul’s books:
The Animal Undie Ball Scholastic 2004
The Little White Lie Scholastic 2005
The King’s Bubbles Scholastic 2007
Superpotamus Scholastic 2008
Two Little Pirates Scholastic 2010
Stomp! Scholastic 2011
Hedgehog’s Magic Tricks Walker Books 2012
Red Panda’s Toffee
Walker Books 2013
Bad Dog Flash Scholastic 2013
My Dinosaur Dad Scholastic 2014
Rabbit’s Hide and Seek Walker Books 2014
Go Home Flash Scholastic 2014
Bye-Bye Grumpy Fly Scholastic 2015
What’s the Time
My Meerkat Mum Scholastic 2017
I Am Jellyfish Penguin Random House
Little Hector and the
Big Blue Whale Penguin
Random House 2018
Mini Whinny, Happy
Birthday to Me!
by Stacy Gregg, illustrated by Ruth Paul, Scholastic NZ 2018
Upcoming Trade Books:
Little Hector and the
Big Idea Penguin
Random House 2019
Mini Whinny: Goody Four
Stacy Gregg, ill. by Ruth Paul,Scholastic
Cookie Boo! Harper Collins USA 2020
Little Hector Meets Maui Penguin Random House
Mini Whinny: Bad Day at the OK Corral by Stacy Gregg, ill. by Ruth Paul, Scholastic 2020.
Book Post 47 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.
Nadya is a stunningly powerful graphic novel about thirteen-year-old Nadya who witnesses her parent’s marriage deteriorate. The story and the art work are devastating. The artist-cum-author Debasmita Dasgupta has created a very moving portrait of a family falling apart at the seams but also how the little girl, at the cusp of adulthood, is witness to a catastrophic set of circumstances. Her secure world crumbles and she feels helpless. Yet the staid portrait of the professional at her desk on the dust jacket belies the confused and anxious teenager portrayed on the hard cover — a fact that is revealed once the dust jacked is slipped off. It is an incredible play of images, a sleight of the hand creates a “flashback”, a movement, as well as a progress, that seemingly comes together in the calm and composed portrait of Nadya at her desk, tapping away at the computer, with her back to a wall on which are hung framed pictures. Many of these images are images of her past — pictures of her with her parents in happier times as well as when the family broke apart. A sobering reminder and yet a reason to move on as exemplified in the narrative itself too with the peace that Nadya discovers, a renewal, a faith within herself to soar. Scroll sums it up well “Teenagers may read this story of a nuclear family living in the hills for relatability, but for everyone there is the poetry of the form that this graphic novel poignantly evokes.” Nadya is an impressive debut by Debasmita Dasgupta as a graphic novelist. Nadya, is releasing on 30 September 2019 by Scholastic India.
Debasmita Dasgupta is a Singapore-based, internationally published Kirkus-Prize-nominated picture book illustrator and graphic novel artist. She enjoys drawing both fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Working closely with publishers across the world, she has illustrated over 10 picture books, comics and poems. Widely known as an art-for-change advocate, Debasmita tells stories of changemakers from around the world partnering with global non-profits. Her art is exhibited in Italy, Singapore, Thailand, Denmark and more than 40 international media outlets have featured it.
Here are excerpts of an interview conducted via email:
How did the story of Nadya and its publication come about? Was
it the story that came first or the illustrations? What is the backstory?
I am a visual
thinker. Words don’t come to me naturally. The story of Nadya was with me in
bits and pieces for a very long time. I needed some time and space to weave it
all together. It happened exactly a year ago when I went for an illustrators
residency near Burgos (in Spain). That’s when I completed the story and
illustrated a few key frames, which finally expanded to become this 64-page graphic
When I was in primary school, I had a very close friend (can’t disclose her name). I have faint memories of us spending time together and quite a vivid memory of her fading away from my life after her parents went through a divorce. I was too young to understand the significance of the word “divorce”. All I could understand, deeply, was that it changed the course of my friend’s life. She became more and more quiet and then one day never came back to school. There were rumours that perhaps she went to a different school or a different city. Years later, another very close friend of mine went through a divorce. She has a daughter and at that time she was eight. This time I realised the thing that bothered me the most in my childhood was that I couldn’t make an attempt to complement the loss in my friend’s life with my friendship. Simply because I didn’t know how to deal with it. Finally, I found an answer in my art and the story of Nadya began.
2. While the story is about Nadya witnessing her parents marriage fall apart, it is interesting how you also focus on the relationships of the individuals with each other. Is that intentional?
Absolutely! I don’t see Nadya as a story of separation. On the surface it is a story of a fractured family but underneath it is about our fractured emotions. In fact to me it is the story of finding your inner strength at the time of crisis. You just have to face your fear. Nothing and no one except you can do that for you.
3. Nadya seems to collapse the boundaries between traditional artwork for comic frames and literary devices. For instance, while every picture frame is complete in itself as it should be in a comic book, there is also a reliance on imagery and metaphors such as Nadya being lost in the forest and finding the fawn at the bottom of a pit is akin to her being lost in reality too. Surprisingly these ellisions create a magical dimension to the story. Was the plot planned or did it happen spontaneously? [ There is just something else in this Debasmita that I find hard to believe is a pure methodical creation. It seems to well up from you from elsewhere.]
Thank you Jaya!
You are right that it is not a pure methodical creation. In fact, what fascinates me is that you could feel that the borders are blurred. When I was creating the story of Nadya, I felt that there were many crossovers between borders. Like emotional borders (grief and renewal) and timeline borders (past and present, with a hint of future). And I think these crossovers resulted in the form of an amalgamation of narrative forms, textures and colour palettes. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I felt the story is set in the mountains where you cannot define the lines between two mountains or the distinctions between the trees in the forest when there is a mist. They all overlap each other like human emotions. It’s never all black and white.
4. How important do you think is the role of a father in a daughter’s life?
Let me tell you the story behind “My Father illustrations” – It was on a Sunday afternoon when the idea came to me after I heard a TED talk by Shabana Basij from Afghanistan. It was a moving experience. I felt something had permanently changed inside me. Over the next few days, I watched that talk over and over. Her honesty, her simplicity and power of narration moved me. Shabana grew up in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. Despite all odds, her father never lost the courage to fight for her education. He used to say, “People can take away everything from you except your knowledge”. Shabana’s story gave me a strong impulse to do something but I didn’t know ‘what’ and ‘how’. That’s when my red sketchbook and pencil caught my eye. Before I’d even realized it, I had taken my first step. I illustrated Shabana’s story and posted it on Facebook. It was an impulsive reaction. I found Shabana’s contact and shared the illustration with her. Shabana was so touched that she forwarded it to her students, and then I started getting emails from a lot of other Afghan men! The emails were a note of thanks as they felt someone was trying to showcase Afghan men in a positive light. I realized that if there are so many positive father–daughter stories in Afghanistan, just imagine the positive stories across the world! My journey had started. I started looking for moving father-daughter stories from across the globe. Some I found, some found me. With every discovery, my desire to create art for people kept growing.
5. With Nadya you challenge many gender stereotypes such as the daughter’s relationship with her parents. It is not the standard portrayal seen in “traditional” literature. Here Nadya seems happier with her father rather than mother. The breaking down of Nadya’s relationship with her mother has been illustrated beautifully with the picture frames “echoing” Nadya’s loneliness and sadness. Even the colours used are mostly brown tints. This is an uneasy balance to achieve between text and illustration to create an evocative scene. How many iterations did it take before you hit a satisfactory note in your artwork? And were all these iterations in terms of art work or did it involve a lot of research to understand the nuances of a crumbling relationship?
I often say
“Preparation is Power”. And I have always learnt from great creators in the
world that there are no shortcuts to create any good art. However, the process
of preparation varies from artist to artist. To me, this is not a process, it’s
a journey. It starts with a seed of an idea and then it stays with me for a
long, long time before I could finally express it my way. There is a lot of
seeing, listening and spending time with my thoughts. Breaking of the
stereotypes, whether they are gender stereotypes or stereotypical formats, were
not intentional but I guess embedded in my thinking. It’s not that someone from
outside is telling me to break those norms but it’s a voice, deep inside,
constantly questioning. Not to find the right answers but to ask the right
There were many versions of character sketches and colour palettes before the finals were decided for Nadya. Even though the initial characters and colours were similar to the finals, the textures and tones are distinctively different. Since the story runs in different timelines with varied emotional arcs, I wanted to integrate separate tonalities in the frames. In the end, a graphic novel is not just about telling a story with words. If my images can’t speak, if their colours don’t evoke any emotion then my storytelling is incomplete.
6. Did you find it challenging to convey divorce, loneliness, relationships etc through a graphic novel? Why not create a heavily illustrated picture book, albeit for older readers?
I am a bit of an unconventional thinker in this regard. I can’t follow the rules of length and structure when it comes to visual storytelling. That’s why many of my illustrated books are crossovers between picture books and graphic novels. To me, when I know the story I want to tell, it finds its form, naturally.
7. As an established artist, what is your opinion of the popular phrase “art for art’s sake”?
I am an advocate of “art for change”, more precisely a positive change. I strongly believe (which is also the genesis of ArtsPositive) that art (of any form) has the ability to create a climate in which change is possible to happen. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually it will.
8. Graphic novels have become popular worldwide. Mostly the trend seems to be tell personal stories or memoirs or a lot of fantasy. To create a novel for social activism is still unusual though it is happening more and more. What do you hope to achieve with Nadya?
I admire those books (graphic novels) that I can read several times, because it’s not about the length of the book, instead it is the depth that intrigues me to re-visit it more and more. Books that help start a conversation. A conversation with yourself or with someone else. I want Nadya to be that conversation starter.
9. Although it is early days as yet, what has been the reception to Nadya, especially from adolescent readers?
The book is releasing in India on 30th September and I can’t wait to see what young adults have to say. Before that we had a soft launch in Singapore during the 10th Asian Festival of Children’s Content, where Nadya received a very warm welcome. All festival copies were sold out but my biggest reward was when I met this young artist from Indonesia, who told me that he could see himself in little Nadya. His parents separated when he was very young. I also met a teacher, who said that he is going through a divorce and would appreciate if I could speak to his children with this book. His eyes moistened when he was speaking to me.
10. Who are the artists and graphic novelists you admire?
That’s a long list! But surely the work of Marjane Satrapi, Paco Roca, Riad Sattouf, and Shaun Tan inspire me a lot. The way they present complex subjects with simplicity, is genius!
11. What motivated you to establish your NGO, ArtsPositive? What are the kind of projects you undertake and the impact you wish to make?
About a decade ago,
when I started my journey as an artist / art-for-change advocate, there was not
much awareness about this concept. It was a very lonely journey for me, helping
people understand what I do and what I aspire to do. So when I had the
opportunity to start an initiative, I decided to develop ArtsPositive to
contribute to the art-for-change ecosystem by supporting artists who create
At ArtsPositive, we
create in-house art-for-change campaigns such as #MoreThanSkinDeep* (the most recent campaign). We have also launched a quarterly ArtsPositive
digital magazine to showcase art-for-change projects and enablers from around the
world, collaborate with artists, and share artistic opportunities.
* More Than Skin Deep is an illustrated poetry campaign by poet, Claire Rosslyn Wilson and
artist, Debasmita Dasgupta, through which we are amplifying the voice of
fifteen fearless acid attack survivors (from 13 countries), who are much more
than their scars.
Krishna in Rhymeis a fabulous retelling of the story of Krishna by Kairavi Bharat Ram and Ananya Mittal, published by Scholastic India. It is in couplets. Ishan Trivedi’s sumptuous illustrations fit so beautifully with the text, making the reading experience magical. Gift it now. Gift it in Diwali hampers. It is a book for children and adults to read, whether already familiar with the stories or not, is immaterial.
He is always remembered for the fun he had, For being a playful god, beyond the good and the bad.
He represents the child in us, who enjoys life and is free, He’s the balance between fun and responsibility.
He taught us that to your fate you are bound, This idea’s called karma, what goes ’round comes around.
The Gita is perhaps his most famous speech, In this all about duty and dharma he does teach.
When you do what you must, things will always be okay, Following your heart will never lead you astray.
We hope this epic story you all have understood, Remember this forever: evil never beats good.
Gorgeous selection of picture books from Scholastic India. Incredible illustrations. Fantastic stories.
Lucia And Lawrence by Joanna Francis celebrate friendship, respecting boundaries and differences between gregarious Lucia and reserved Lawrence.
The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! by Mark Carthew and Anil Tortop is a mystery, a gentle adventure and a magical escape, told sweetly in rhyme. Lovely! Lovely!
Aunt Grizelda Treasury Of Grim And Grisly Rhymes by Anna Best and Natalia Pavaliayeva has a whacky sense of black humour. Sufficiently macabre to get young readers hysterical with delight. The crazily dark yet full of light illustrations do immense justice to the poems.
The Robot Who Won’t Cry by Karen Hidgson and Madalina Dina is about Rusty who wishes to cry but is unable to, convinced that robots do not cry. His friends try and help him to cry, achieving unexpected results when they least meant it to happen. Warm little story about empathy and friendships.
Last Tree In The City by Peter Carnavas is about Edward who finds a tiny spot where a lone tree stands in the urban concrete jungle. One day the tree is cut down. Edward is saddened but then one day spots a sapling at the base of the tree stump. Apart from it being an environmentalist story if it is meant to be a modern twist to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, then Peter Carnavas’s book is far more preferable.
I Don’t Care Said Claire by Karen Hodgson and Harriet Rowe is about a self-absorbed, stubborn and petulant Claire. Always with a frown on her face, Claire did whatever she pleased. The open ended conclusion to the picture book is a wonderful twist, a great conversation starter for children — what happened next?
Mr Darcy by Alex Field and Peter Carnavas is another fabulous book on friendship, loneliness and socialising. It is about Mr Darcy, the reserved duck, and his circle of friends in Pemberley Park.
Brilliant haul of books from Scholastic India. Reasonably priced too for the local market.Worth getting for school libraries and personal collections as they will give much more than the few pages of story.
Book Post 40 includes some of the titles received in the past few weeks. Wherever available Amazon’s Kindle widget has been embedded in the blog post. It will allow you to browse through the book before you decide to buy it.
Mapin Publishing and UNESCO have co-published a set of five picture books called UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India Series. These books have been published with the support of Parag, an initiative of TATA Trusts. The five sites described are — Mahabalipuram, Sanchi, Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, Qutb Minar, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. There are 37 World Heritage Sites in India of which 29 are cultural and 8 are natural sites.
There is a separate author and illustrator for every book while the series editor is historian Narayani Gupta. In fact Prof. Gupta has written at least two other books for children. One was on Delhi and the second on Humayun’s Tomb. Launching this series is a good attempt at making information about historical sites accessible to children. These are also reasonably priced at Rs 195 each so the parents too get “value for money” in terms of information, text, pictures and some exercises at the back of every book.
Of the five books, the ones on Sanchi and Qutb Minar are best told. Sohail Hashmi’s Sanchi: Where Tigers Fly and Lions Have Horns manages to delve immediately into the historic site giving a fabulous description of the gates, sufficient amounts of historical context and involving the children in the story, thereby incorporating their perspectives too. For instance, the children spot holes in the walls that are visible to them as it is at their eye level. Something that an adult could have possibly missed. So the guide/Sohail Hashmi immediately points out that these are probably newly drilled holes to assist in draining rain water from the complex and help protect the monument. Narayani Gupta’s Qutb Minar is also beautifully written describing the complex while focussed on the Qutb Minar, its complicated history and the do’s and dont’s children should observe while visiting the historical site. For instance the chowkidar warns the children not to play on the graves warning them that the ghosts would come and haunt the children. A playful account in the story but an acute observation to include as children are wont to all sorts of pranks in open spaces and could do with learning a few rules of etiquette to observe while visiting historical monuments.
Compared to the aforementioned books, the remaining three titles — Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary: The Kingdom of Birds, Mahabalipuram and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: Travelling Through Time are not as elegantly written, illustrated or produced. For example, Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary: The Kingdom of Birds while giving the history of the Bharatpur bird sanctuary as it is popularly known is an annoying book to read. Firstly, if it is meant for children it has far too many dark illustrations making it impossible to identify the birds clearly nor read their names that have been printed in black on a dark background! Secondly, the editing is sloppy. It is inexplicable why certain sentences from the text have been put in bold or made in a larger font when there is nothing significant in them. Also if these are meant to be edutainment books then surely a little more care could have been spent on details such as the meal the children in the story ate. “Everyone was careful not to spill any food and no plastic or paper was left behind.” Surely in a book that is focused on environmental conservation a little thought could have been spent in discouraging the use of plastic. Instead of cleaning up the plastic used, point out that no plastic was used, only biodegradable or reusable plates and glasses were used. Even 94-year-ol David Attenborough speaking at Glastonbury 2019 spoke about the effect of plastic on the planet. No effort can be small enough. Readers, especially young, pick up cues from books and imitate behavioural patterns.
Finally, why are there two illustrations each of the Grey Hornbill and Painted Stork instead of using the resources available to accommodate more bird pictures? Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus: Travelling Through Time is no better either. It is inexplicable why the device of time travel had to be introduced in a story about a historically rich site such as this railway terminus built in the nineteenth century. Introducing the element of time travel merely weakens the storytelling for it begins to pull the narrative in different directions. It is also equally baffling why there is a glossing over of historical facts such as mentioning in the story that Victoria Terminus was renamed in 1996 to Shivaji Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It happened in recent memory. It is mentioned in the inner front flap as being called Victoria Terminus for at the time India was governed by the British. So why not say explicitly that renaming the terminus in the fin de siecle was also politically motivated? Shouldn’t children be made aware of history rather than a selective narrative? Mahabalipuram is also disappointing for its insipid storytelling and bland illustrations.
Perhaps the series would have been on a stronger footing if editorial guidelines had been set for all the contributors. Also a template design created to ensure that there is some consistency in the book production. It can be creatively debilitating to adhere to a template design but at times these tough decisions need to be taken particularly when catering to young readers. Children seek familiar markers. For instance choose whether boxes will be used to highlight information ( as is in Qutab Minar ) or pull out quotes ( as in Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary). Secondly, it is a good idea to use multiple illustrators but give them firm guidelines that the pictures while being aesthetically appealing also need to be informative so create them with a child’s perspective in mind, not an adult’s. Thirdly, if these are books meant to focus on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India then the date when the particular site was designated so should be placed in exactly the same spot in every title. This is not the case. Only Mahabalipuram and Keolodeo mention the dates in the box provided in the inner front flap of the books. Finally the awkward dimensions of the picture books make them go flippty-flop in an adult’s hands. For tinier hands this can only become cumbersome. So it will not be surprising if children abandon the books rapidly. This size of the book is definitely not child friendly.
Ultimately this is a good idea as a book series for younger readers except that it has been shoddily executed. Perhaps the team would have benefitted well by creating stories of the same standard as that created by Sohail Hashmi and Narayani Gupta. Who knows, maybe future titles in the series will consider it?
Updated on 1 July 2019 to embed the David Attenborough link.
Rebecca Servadio, Literary Scout and Managing Partner, London Literary Scouting is an incredible person to meet, crackling with energy, eyes sparkling and speaking rapidly with not an urgency but because there is so much to share about the world of books. No time to waste. She is a powerhouse who is involved with organisations like PEN, World Without Borders, literary festivals, juror for various publishing awards etc. In 2017 she was recognised as one of the Whitefox “Unsung Heroes of Publishing“. Rebecca works for twenty plus publishing houses around the world, for example Riverhead/PRH in the US, Gallimard in France, Einaudi in Italy, Anagrama in Spain, Hanser in Germany, de Bezige Bij in Holland as well as working in film/tv and stage where she also works for BBC Film and the National Theatre amongst others. Rebecca and I met when we were a part of the Visiting International Publishers Delegation, Sydney (29 April – 5 May 2019). The following interview was conducted via email.
How and why did you get into publishing?
The truth is that I love to read, I love literature, I love the thrill of losing myself within a book, the immediate travel. Immediately I am somewhere else, outside of my experience, inside the human experience whether it be emotional, intellectual or a page turner. I was and am still interested in people and in storytelling and in community and collaboration of all types and publishing is all these things. Creative with words. Local, particular, challenging, ever evolving, transformative, international – publishing is all those things and each interests me. I was a lawyer before starting to work in publishing and although I learnt both rigour and determination and other life skills that serve me well with my scouting agency, I found myself weighed down by the monotony and intense focus. Publishing is as varied as there are stories and people and I relish the challenge of connecting these two things with good books.
2. Why did
you choose to be a literary scout and not a literary agent? What are the
differences between a literary scout and a literary agent? Does it help to be
multi-lingual as you are?
I think the real answer to that question is that I am interested in where the dots connect up and how you build bridges and connect people and books in different countries. I love building bridges and networks that surprise and so help books to travel and help the publishers that I work with discover and publish the best writing and author. I also like to communicate and talk in different languages and across different languages and different domestic, national and international realities. I read in English and Italian and French. I work closely with Spanish and have readers that read in the Scandinavian languages, German, and Portuguese. I think of scouting as curation, as gate opening, as intelligence, as the signal within the noise and the world is very noisy.
There are many differences between scouting and agenting
but the primary one is that an agent represents his or her clients – writers
generally speaking and is paid through a commission on the sale deal for the
book of the author. An agent is always incentivised and interested to recommend
an author (and a particular book) because that is the very nature of their job
– their bread and butter consists in selling that authors works and so talking
about them in a way that strengthen the hand and the value of the book. A scout
on the other hand works for a publisher and helps the publisher navigate the
publishing world and marketplace. The scout should be opinionated and recommend
the best books for a particular publisher and again enable the publisher and
their best interests and so advising against a book is as much part of the job
as advising to buy a book more economically or again read/buy something
different all together. A scout should never have a commercial incentive or
interest to recommend a book to their publisher and their loyalty should always
lie with the publisher and not the writer or the agent. A scout should not have
a client – publisher house – in their home country and again work exclusively
in each country unlike agents. Again agents generally work in one territory and
not across territories although this is not true of co-agents or foreign rights
agents in house or in agencies.
As Literary Scouts we are interested in and engaged
with storytelling in all its forms. We look for the best fiction and nonfiction
to be published, or published in English, as well as in other major languages,
on behalf of our international Publishing Clients as well as for Film, TV and
Theatre. Rather than thinking in ‘global’ terms, as London-based scouts we can
and do individuate those ‘worldwide voices’ which speak across languages.
London is the most international of cities and we read widely and omnivorously.
Yes, they might be set in other countries, worlds and cultures, but the
challenge is to recognise those singular and particular voices that can cross
latitudes and longitudes. Without being defined or pre-occupied by ‘the new’ we
help find the authors that will build the bridges to readers today, tomorrow
and in the future.
London Literary Scouting was born from a partnership
between Koukla MacLehose, Rebecca Servadio and Yolanda Pupo Thompson. Koukla
MacLehose founded her eponymous scouting agency in 1987, as the agency grew and
flourished in 2012 Koukla founded Koukla MacLehose Associates which then became
MacLehose, Servadio and Pupo-Thompson in 2014. We are now known as London
Literary Scouting and the agency is led by Rebecca Servadio
We read voraciously and widely. We don’t read academic
books nor do we read picture books. We read and have readers who read with us
in most of the major languages. We try and find readers on a case by case basis
in the other languages.
4. What are
the notable successes or even failures of your firm? (There is a learning to be
gleaned from every experience!)
I think our successes are all in the breadth of our
client list – wonderful publishing houses, the BBC, the National Theatre and
production companies and well as the calibre and intelligence and hard work of
our team. In terms of books there are many by SAPIENS is one of which I am
important are book fairs, rights tables, and international literature festivals
to a literary scout?
Essential. Meeting publishers, agents – new friends
and old friends, writers and book lovers – new friends and old friends, is
right at the heart of the business. Publishing remains a people business so the
opportunities to meet and exchange are these ones. Reading, listening to and
meeting writers is equally important and interesting. Part of scouting well is
understanding what you have in your hand and who needs to know about it when.
Part of scouting well is understanding your clients – the publishing houses and
their domestic realities and needs and so travelling regularly to their home
offices and country and meeting them at fairs is essential.
6. You are
an active participant with organisations that believe firmly in the power of
literature/words like PEN and Words without Borders. Around the world there is
a clamp down on writers. Literary scouts work internationally with their
clients. With state censorship and self-censorship by writers/publishers
increasing, how does a literary scout navigate these choppy waters?
Carefully. I think network and intelligence and
understanding writing and the value of fact and information has never been more
7. As a
signatory and an advisor to the PEN International Women’s Manifesto you are
very aware of the importance of free speech. What are the ways in which you
think the vast publishing networks can support women writers to write freely?
Do you think the emergence of digital platforms has facilitated the rise of
This is a hard question to answer properly. I think
the primary way that vast networks can support women writers to write freely is
to ensure that they are as widely read as possible in as many parts of the
world as possible both so that their writing – their freedom of expression is
more protected in what is a public and international space and again that it
reaches the widest number of people so that change and progress is enacted and
again shepherded and enabled forward. Change and collaboration are radical and
transformative, community in numbers affords some protection for free speech
and again value and visibility. I would agree that the emergence of digital
platforms has played an important and facilitatory role.
porousness of geographical boundaries is obvious on the Internet where
conversations about translations/ world literature, visibility of international
literature across book markets, evidence of voracious appetites of readers,
increase in demand for conversion of books to films to be made available on TV
& videos streaming services, increase in fan fiction, proliferation of
storytelling platforms like Wattpad, growth in audiobooks etc. Since you are also associated with trade
book fairs like the Salone Internazionale del Libro, Turin, do you think these shifts in consumption
patterns of books have affected what publishers seek while acquiring or
commissioning a book?
I think that most publishers acquire and publish the
books that they have fallen in love with and are interested by and that to some
extent reflect or help us answer or perhaps simply understand questions about
how to live and to be that are essential to the human condition and that the
changes in the world are necessarily reflected in these choices as the
readership too evolves. I think the flip-side of this is true to so for example
the fragmentation of society and the proliferation of niche interests and
communities on the internet has also translated into a strengthened special
interest publishing houses be they neo Nazi publishing houses or Christian
evangelical publishing houses.
9. A mantra
that is oft quoted is “Content is oil of the 21st Century”. Has the
explosion of digital platforms from where “content” can be accessed
in multiple ways changed some of the rules of engagement in the world of
literary scouts? Is there a shift in queries from publishers for more books
that can be adapted to screen rather than straightforward translations into
other book markets?
I think that the explosion of digital platforms and
perhaps even more importantly the speed and ease with which the digital world
is able to share information and again upload/disseminate and/or publish has
transformed the mores and publishing reality entirely. Navigating the mass of
content, its breadth, depth and scope is very challenging but equally the fact
that it is now possible to submit a manuscript quite literally to publishing
house around the globe at the same time has transformed the rules of engagement
as has the corporatisation of publishing and the establishment of huge global
publishing houses such as Penguin Random House or HarperCollins. That said I
think the wealth and breadth of content means too that real considered opinion
and curation is more important than ever and so intelligent scouting is ever
more important and interesting. Of course no one can run faster than email nor
should they want too. . . .Re the book to screen market book to screen (and
particularly TV) is booming which is surely a good thing for authors who are
struggling evermore to make a living from writing and a less good thing for
publishing as many interesting and talented writers prefer to write within this
more lucrative medium that write simple books. As someone who remains of the
opinion that what is sort after is excellence in all ways put particularly
storytelling – so in other words the opposite of indistinguishable content – I
continue to feel optimistic about wonderful books and writers finding
interesting and transformative ways to also tell their stories in other medium
and that books will continue to be read and treasured and shared.
10. In your
experience what are the “literary trends” that have been consistent
and those that have been promising but fizzled out? What do you think are the
trends to look out for in the coming years?
I think intelligent narrative nonfiction and popular nonfiction is going and has gone from strength to strength and will continue to do so. People after ever more in need of ways to understand and answer the questions that trouble or times and contemporary societies. A trends that has (fortunately fizzled out) is soft erotica a la 50 Shades of Grey. With regards trends for the future, I look to the environment and the ecological/climate crisis in both fiction – eco thrillers & whistle blowers as well as serious nonfiction.
11. How many hours a day do you devote to reading? And how do the manuscripts/books find their way to you?
How many hours a day…. that is really impossible to answer. I love to read and equally I am interested in people and curious so I meet people which is also how manuscripts make their way to me. How books come to me is that that is the heart of the game. Books can come from anywhere so I work with, talk too and interact with a wide variety of people from agents, foreign rights agents, editors and publishers but also writers and journalists. I read voraciously, online too, longform, short stories, old and new. I love recommendations. Friends. I work closely with both like minded and non like minded people because I don’t see the point of only having a network of people who share your taste. Many agents and foreign rights people send me books because working for a larger family of publishers means it is a way for them to reach a wider audience.
Asking for a friend. JonArno Lawson is a Canadian writer who is doing research on storytelling that’s nonverbal, or close to nonverbal. Storytelling that’s done primarily through pictures, scrolls, frescoes, bas reliefs, silent films, stained glass windows, but also pantomime, or shadow puppets (without voices) – parades or parade floats for festivals, etc. He is also interested in objects and pictures that focus on a certain moment in a story, in either a religious or secular context. An example might be the Christian Nativity scene Weihnachtspyramide of Germany (a candle carousel lit at Christmas). Any information you might have would be of interest to him. Please feel free to contact him at: [email protected] Also please feel free to circulate this post.
A few years ago JonArno Lawson’s award-winning wordless picture book Sidewalk Flowers was distributed to every Syrian refugee who arrived at Canadian shores.