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#PublisherSpeak: Tina Narang on HarperCollins India’s children’s books division

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There’s been a significant shift in how the children’s publishing segment in India is perceived today as opposed to how it was about a decade ago. And it’s a happy shift.

There are more publishing houses for children, more mainstream publishers publishing for them and more Indian authors writing for them. By entering this space, HarperCollins India is acknowledging two things, the importance of publishing for children and the challenge of finding new and novel ways to do so.

It’s exciting to be presented with an empty canvas to draw on and to give the publishing list shape, colour and texture. But it is also very challenging!

As I set out to draw on this very clean canvas, there were two essential factors that I kept in mind — novelty and the series format.

Novelty, because you are entering a market that you know is already full of good books from small and big publishers, all of whom acknowledge that this is a growing segment and are competing to be players on this stage.

And series, because within this crowded market, where books disappear with alarming regularity, brand recall becomes the next major challenge. Establishing a successful series ensures that the books within that series have a longer shelf life. With these two clear ideas in mind, I have tried to create a list of books that goes across age groups and is representative of various genres from picture books, to chapter books, to activity books, non-fiction, fiction, biographies and more.

But the challenge for children’s publishers today is not just to create good content and find the most effective way to get it to the target audience, it is also to create readers. The future of children’s publishing lies as much in the hands of the young reader as a determinant of what he will read as it does in the hands of the publisher publishing the books. In the days to come, it is this synergy that will provide to this industry a truly vibrant nature. Children have less time — and even lesser inclination — today to spend time with books, so we should make this impatient and on-the-move generation see reading as a pleasurable activity and not something they are being forced to do against their will.

Recent studies have shown that a clear majority of kids prefer humour over much else, and like books that have characters they can identify with. Basically, books that are more entertainment than infotainment (which is the key factor for parents determining what their child should read). And that is precisely what we hope will be the keyword for the list: engaging content for children that helps establish a long-term bond.

Another strong challenge is to how to get local content for children to share shelf space with popular internationally-published titles. It doesn’t have to be an either-or, what we need to aim for is a more comprehensive offering—the best international titles right alongside what is being published here. This is easily achievable if, as publishers, we help establish a strong local identity with the books we publish, so that parents and teachers — as the key influencers — also begin to see the merits of offering children such books in addition to the more popularly bought international ones.

From the brand new India division of HarperCollins Children’s Books, there is quite a bit on offer in the next couple of months: there is more in the Zippy series from the author-illustrator Anitha Balachandran; author and columnist Vaishali Shroff takes children on a journey along the Narmada with a dinosaur called Bluethingosaurus to learn about the dinosaurs of India. There’s a poetry and song collection for children from Gulzar, the master poet and storyteller. The ‘These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things’ series will bring children the favourites of their favourite author, Ruskin Bond. A biography of the wonderful artist, Amrita Sher-Gil by Bombay-based author, Anita Vachharajani, launches the Timeless Biography series. There is also a graphic novel about a teenager in America trying to come to terms with her Indian roots by a brand new voice, Nidhi Chanani, and a bitingly funny teen series ‘UNCOOL’—a rib-tickling tackling of teen issues—by Jane De Suza, one of India’s leading humour writers.

By providing an exciting mix of titles in this first list and setting the course for various series, we hope that children will enjoy what we have on offer as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.


Tina NarangTina Narang, publisher of HarperCollins India’s newly launched children’s books division. 

 

 

 

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