New Indian children’s literature goes back to its roots
Its rich variety helps Indian children growing up abroad to identify more with their culture
For a long time, for beginning readers of Indian origin, reading English literature meant looking at things from an American or British cultural perspective.
Most children’s books have been written by Western authors and even Indian books have followed the trend of avoiding any ethnic language or product reference.
However, a host of new age Indian children’s authors are proudly bringing back commonly used Hindi expressions, introducing regional dishes such as ‘pakodas’ and ‘kheer’ instead of the ubiquitous pancakes and peanut butter and cinnamon sandwiches. The jelly.
While a growing number of authors are including commonly used Indian words in their English literature, a Bangalore-based vertical marketplace called The Nestery is helping Indian parents choose the right culturally aware products for their children.
Read: Native American authors featured at Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 22, 2019)
The brand has been able to bring together the best publishers of Indian children’s literature under one roof in a significant way.
Aparna Vasudevan, co-founder and COO of The Nestery speaks at American Bazaar about the need to instill cultural contexts in children during their early years.
AB: Tell us a bit more about The Nestery. Are you just on the books or is there an extensive portfolio?
Aparna Vasudevan: The Nestery was born out of a personal need to make shopping easier and more intuitive for parents. We are focused on selling products that emphasize the meaningful engagement of children.
So you’ll see books, toys, learning aids, posters, even furniture if we see it has the potential to engage kids – so not just books and toys, but think of a DIY “block print your t-shirt”.
Or a loom that lets them try their hand at wefts and warps, an activity book that helps them understand basic concepts like sorting, or a “kitchen tower” – a piece of furniture that helps a whole – small to participate more actively in the kitchen!
Now take it a step further and see them all in one e-commerce website, mapped out in an easy-to-find way!
AB: A lot of the products in your portfolio seem to preserve traditional Indian values while creating cultural linguistic awareness. Why did you feel there was a need for such products?
A V: We launched Nestery to enable discovery and make shopping more intuitive and easier for parents. Over the past three years, we’ve been able to dig deeper into each category, helping a parent find exactly what they’re looking for, for every parenting situation.
For example, we have been able to bring together the best publishers of Indian children’s literature under one roof in a significant way.
Cultural representation builds self-esteem and confidence. We thought this was important because children need to identify with the characters they see in the stories for them to develop a strong sense of identity.
Not just Indian children, even children growing up abroad will identify with the Indian diaspora abroad when they read the rich variety that Indian children’s literature has to offer today.
When it comes to toys, we look for age-appropriate opportunities for quality, inclusion, diversity and engagement. Think ‘Pacheesi’ for example, which evokes nostalgia in us adults, great for kids to learn strategy.
Or neem teethers which are traditionally considered antibacterial in India. Each of them represents a dimension of our culture and helps us to support small Indian entrepreneurs, while being able to offer us a choice of the best toys available internationally as well.
A B: Let’s talk about children and reading. When should it be introduced and how should it be introduced.
A V: Reading should be part of their environment and daily routine. Growing up, my child always had books lying around in an easily accessible place and a daily routine where he was read by a parent or caregiver.
A big part of intro to reading is not to stress “reading” so much as the experience of holding a book and trying to take in the pictures and words in the book.
I think we introduced books as early as three months to my 7 year old son and while he is reading now, being read is something he still loves now.
I also think that stories in picture book form help a lot, because pictures can move the story forward better than words. For example, Tulika has a wonderful book (Let’s Go) on counting that shows children and adults with disabilities without words.
Ditto for Maccher Jhol of Pickle Yolk Books (not revealing the story in the interest of keeping the suspense of the plot intact). Books like this are actually about practicing inclusion and diversity by keeping socio-cultural differences and disabilities as part of the illustrations, not as the hero of the story.
AB: While most parents would like their children to start reading, it seems that some children are naturally inclined and some are not. How do you think parents should approach this?
A V: I think children are small individuals and anything you want to “make them do” doesn’t end well!
I think I would continue to buy them smaller stories that are easier to consume, and ones that speak to their interests (yes, even if it’s a Peppa Pig!) and let them decide if they want read or not.
Also, having a (physical) parent reading a book helps because they see you reading and will want to pick up a book one day (or not!).