Sayoni Basu is publisher at Duckbill, one of India’s leading publishers for children’s and young adults. Duckbill books have been acclaimed for their wide-ranging subjects, and for introducing Indian children to new, original fiction. The books have won multiple awards, including the Crossword Award for Children’s Writing. We asked her what children are reading these days, and why Indian teens seem to read a lot more books from the West:
What are the stories that kids like to read these days?
As different and diverse as the things that adults like to read! The range of themes and subjects in books for kids is happily growing every year, so there is really a chance for kids to find the kind of books they want to read, just as adults can. (I think when we club all kids as having similar tastes, we are doing them a grave injustice!) As with adult books in terms of numbers, the top sellers are always the less challenging books. So Geronimo Stilton and Wimpy Kid would be the highest sellers.
At a time when even Kindle ads are targeting children, what are the new ways in which children’s publishers are adapting?
Ebook and print are just about medium, right? So as publishers, the challenge is not so much the medium — once you have the basic set up in place — as about the stories. I have to say we are not overly concerned — as long as the books we publish are available in all mediums. Besides, the ebook sales are only a very small percentage of physical sales for us.
Why do our teens read Western YA books more than homegrown ones?
Certain teens read international YA books because they are made into movies and have international marketing money behind them. And since all these kids dream of studying internationally, it fits in with that dream. Other teens read Durjoy Dutta and Ravinder Singh. What gets left unread in the middle is good Indian YA fiction. The reasons one can speculate about are many. Teens have been force-fed a diet of really boring Indian books (mythology, folktales, books with morals) when they were growing up, so they have no desire to read more Indian books. No self-respecting teen would be caught dead in the children’s section of the bookshop, and that is where Indian YA is almost invariably stocked. (This is why several Indian publishers have now started publishing their YA books under their adult imprint. I think that is a smart move.) Indian is just not seen as cool by metro teens. However, I think the quality and kinds of YA books being published in India in the last five years is truly awesome. I wish they would be read more!
With Dhanak and its critical success [and previous award-winning children’s films], do you think children’s films are more widely accepted than children’s books?
There are really few Indian children’s films which get a proper theatre release. Interesting stories are being told but it is often difficult to access them. In that sense, at least the books are usually available to buy — but the films often disappear after a few shows or film festival screenings, and there is no DVD release or ready place to rent them online like Googleplay or Netflix. But Indian children’s films are very very interesting, as they tell unusual stories and are not set in the largely urban middle-class milieu that children’s books often inhabit.
What are you working on at the moment?
Lots of really exciting stuff — several more hOle books, which are hugely popular, a very funny YA novel (yes, we don’t give up), a book by Harsh Mander, a detective story, some school stories — it’s a long list.
Five Duckbill books on the Juggernaut app you’d recommend?
1. Moin and the Monster by Anushka Ravishankar: probably my favourite Indian children’s book. I still laugh when I read it. Just completely delightful.
2. Jobless Clueless Reckless by Revathi Suresh: I fear this is the only book Revathi will write, and it is so wonderful and funny and quirky that the world should read it.
3. Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman: Because it is set in a school for kids with special needs, and shows how life can be magical for everyone.
4. Daddy Come Lately by Rupa Gulab: A hilarious young-adult novel about a girl and her single mum.
5. Razia and the Pesky Presents by Natasha Sharma: Because I love history and humour, and this book (and the series) combines the two in the best way possible.
Duckbill books are now available on the Juggernaut app here