People & Spaces 16 and up

A Children’s Author And Children’s Book Publisher Meet In A Children’s Bookshop

If the title seems the beginning of a bad joke, it isn’t. The Author Meets Publisher event was held at  Kahani Tree, the children’s bookstore. The two panellists were Anushka Ravishankar and Natasha Sharma. Anushka was present in the capacity of a publisher (Duckbill publishers). Natasha Sharma is a well-known author of books like Easy Peasy Princess, Rooster Raga, Squiggle Takes a Walk, Akbar and the Tricky Traitor etc.

Also present were an audience with many aspiring children’s books writers, distributor and children’s book fans in it. Little Kulture was lucky to be part of this interaction and this is the ensuing post.

The objective of the Author Meets Publisher at Kahani Tree on 9th February was to kickstart a more steady set of events for the Mumbai chapter of SCWBI -Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators– with Natasha Sharma being at the helm. Writers and illustrators, particularly children’s book writers and illustrators find it difficult to get feedback on their writing, understand how a manuscript must be sent and the norms to be followed.

Anushka Ravishankar who has the dual understanding of this segment being both eminent author of juvenile fiction like One, Two, Tree.., Moin and the Monster, Excuses, Excuses, Today is my day etc. and the publisher at Duckbill publications in Delhi.

The panellists started the session by talking about their own experiences as writer and publisher.

Natasha Sharma decided to start writing for children after a career in marketing. She always loved writing in verse and that is how she started her foray into writing by writing a book of verse on how ‘Zebra lost its stripes’. She sent the manuscript to many publishers way back in 2008. She had no knowledge about publishers and literally cold called the ones she found in her favourite books. The refusals were many, but she kept at it. Eventually, when she did get published it was after many false starts.

The work, unfortunately, Sharma noted did not end there. As an author, she really had to get behind her book. The state of distribution of children’s books was poor and still is to a great extent. Further, marketing budgets are small. She visited several schools for readings. She also enthusiastically got involved in book fairs and bookstores to showcase her books. She did this in tandem with her editor at the publishing house, who then helped her get slots at them. This is true for her latest book releases as well.

Anushka Ravishankar (left) answers a query while Natasha Sharma (right) watches on

Natasha exudes a childlike enthusiasm and gusto when she speaks about her books and how she helps them take flight.Natasha emphasises on the need for structure while planning of the book, writing it and later on marketing it. Writers and illustrators of the Mumbai chapter can rely on her methodic mind to mentor and guide.

Anushka Ravishankar opined that children’s book authors in India currently look at a multi- publisher route. They cannot dedicate themselves to one publisher alone. Indian children’s literature has low visibility according to Anushka. Indian books can literally mostly be found in the darkest corners of bookstores wherever one goes in India, away from the spotlight that Stilton and Wimpy Kid enjoy. The times are a changing, though.There are, she noted a growing number of independent book publishers in the market. A writer looking at getting published can benefit greatly by getting a good editor at the publishing house, among other things, she said.

As a publisher, she often gets manuscripts with ‘Our fab book’ when submitting and a ‘You will regret it’ note from owners of rejected manuscripts. Duckbill gets hundreds of manuscripts every day and what is really required is a clear synopsis. If the synopsis interests them then they go on to ask the entire manuscript. The key factor lacking in many manuscripts is structure, she said. While imagination, creativity and free spirit are laudable, a clear plot, a great beginning an end with a strong middle, are even more so. Authors must also be amenable to changes in their manuscript, she added.

Anushka and Natasha are both very optimistic about the future of English children’s writing in India, as more and more writers aspire to write for children.

Little Kulture asked Anushka and Natasha how to encourage children to read more. This is a bulleted synopsis of their thoughts.

  • Let children be around books
  • Try to move away from the moral perspective and textbook type learning
  • Provide a varied reading diet
  • Read books that make sense at different reading levels (can be enjoyed by both parent and child).
  • Visit libraries and bookstores

Most of this advice is for parents, rather than children. Young readers are often open to reading a variety of books and enjoy it. Parents too can join them on this interesting journey.

A parting but important note on Kahani Tree run by Sangeeta Bhansali. Kahaani tree is choc-a-bloc with many wonderful picture books and chapter books by Indian and international authors. It also holds story-telling sessions and author interactions in schools and bookstores. They also help to set up libraries and reading rooms.

Kahani has on its shelves many a Caldecott Award Winner. You can also spot Arun Gandhi, Nina Sabnani, Natasha Sharma along with Philip Pullman, Pam Muñoz Ryan, kits from Brown Toy Box and many, many delights to enthral child and adult alike.

Sangeeta started searching and stocking Indian books when she found none for her sons. She did eventually, but her sons had outgrown picture books by then. ‘No more’, decided Sangeeta. She started going to several schools in Mumbai with her collection of Indian books and started selling them at school fairs where bigger players like Scholastic did. Today, Indian books find a place of pride in her store with picture books by various Indian authors and illustrators hobnobbing with books from the world over.

Sangeeta Bhansali with her Indian collection of picture books at the Kahani Tree (translates to tree of stories) bookstore

If you are in the Prabhadevi area in Mumbai drop in, browse and buy (which you can’t resist). You can walk into their store in Industry Manor or contact them at Kahani Tree.

The evening concluded with tea, a great chocolate cake baked by Natasha, aloo bondas (potato fritters?) courtesy Kahani Tree, much laughter, exchange of emails and goodbyes.

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