Sujatha Bagal

Stories and essays on food, travel, culture.

Read India Books: A Treasure Trove of Children’s Literature in Indian Languages (and English)

When you read a well-written children’s book, nothing seems easier than to write and publish one. What could be difficult? All you need is a good idea and simple words that a child can understand. Voila! You have a children’s book. Right?


Just as a well-written book makes it seem so simple, a badly produced one is a lesson in how easy it is for a children’s book to come out all wrong. Children’s books are, or should be, all about capturing the child’s imagination and making the child want to read. The language should be simple and straightforward (not at all easy to achieve, I tell ya), the illustrations rich and eye-catching, the layout easy to navigate, the pages child-friendly, and the length just right.

While there are numerous publishing houses that cater to the children’s market, most of these books are written by non-Indian authors, primarily for a non-Indian market. Yes, Indian children can and do read these books. Most of us are familiar with and love Dr. Seuss (my review of two of his Horton books here), Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, etc.

But what about books that are set in India? Books that draw from our rich cultural heritage? Books based on the Panchatantra? Books based on our history? Most importantly, what about books in Kannada, Hindi, Marathi, our languages?

When my brother and I were growing up, we were fed a steady diet of Chandamamas and Amar Chitra Kathas. We read and our mother read to us many stories from Indian mythology and history. Both these books, however, were for the older children. The Chandamamas told stories in long text with few pictures while the Amar Chitra Kathas told the stories through dialogues and pictures in comic book format.

Moreover, the stories, especially those from our religion and mythology are not told in child-friendly terms. Here, I’m thinking of the story of Krishna and the events leading up to it, including the slaying of seven of his siblings by Kamsa, hardly appropriate for a child just learning to read or even slightly older children. When I first read the story to N from a “children’s book” (he was slightly over three then) I had to skip the pages where the language was particularly gory.

My search for Indian books for N was proving to be hopeless. That is, until I found Read India Books, quite by accident. I found Indian stories with Indian characters set in Indian households, towns and cities. The language was excellent, not childish but definitely child friendly. Here’s an example from a story called A Royal Procession:

It was early in the morning when Parvati and her brother Laxman entered the monastery through the tall gates. Their father was a potter and they had come to deliver earthen pots, plates, bowls and glasses.

Putting down her basket, Parvati looked around the courtyard, which was surrounded by a row of small rooms, and asked, “Is this where the Buddhist monks stay?”

“Yes,” said Laxman. “They live in those rooms and pray to Lord Buddha in that temple. This place is called a vihara.”

The Royal Procession is from a series called “Once Upon an India” written by Subhadra Sen Gupta and illustrated by Tapas Guha. The set contains four books, one each from the Maurya period, the Pallava period, the Mughal period and the Freedom Movement.

(My son’s thoughts on The Royal Procession, a story about two children who got to see King Ashoka in person: the story was good because it really happened (which he tells me he figured out from the last section of the book, “Fun Facts of History”), because he got to see the king on the elephant, because the art was good, and because the children were very lucky to have met the king.)

Read India Books is an arm of the Pratham organization. According to their website,

Pratham Books is a not-for-profit trust that seeks to publish high-quality books for children at a affordable cost in multiple Indian languages. Pratham Books is trying to create a shift in the paradigm for publishing children’s books in India. The low cost model proves that children’s literature can be attractive and affordable and therefore more accessible.

Read India Books is an imprint of Pratham Books and is the first of several publishing brands that we hope to create. Over the next one year Pratham Books will publish an additional 100 children’s book titles under the Read India brand.

The books are categorized by age groups and are available in a few Indian languages in addition to English. For example, the Tell Me Now! Series, Khikkhil Tota (Hindi, Marathi and Kannada), a series called Primers are all recommended for 3-6 year olds. Books such as Hum Sab Prani, Paheliyaan, Out and About with Ajja (available in Hindi, English, Marathi, Kannada, Urdu and Gujarati), Wild and Wacky Animal Tales (available in Hindi, English, Marathi, Kannada, Urdu and Gujarati) are recommended for 6-9 year olds and The Quirquincho and The Fox, The Magic Powder, Ganga ki Lehrein (English, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada), a set of short stories in Hindi, Marathi and Kannada are all aimed at 10-14 year olds.

The books are printed on glossy, high-quality paper and book lengths range from about 15 pages to about 30 pages each. The color and the quality of the illustrations are excellent, as is the print. The type face is large and spaced so children can follow the words easily. The books are priced from Rs. 5 each (the Tell Me Now! Series) to about Rs. 25 each, and can be ordered online from Read India Books’ website.

If you’ve been looking for high quality children’s books in Indian languages with Indian stories told well but have been disappointed so far, I say your search has ended.



This entry was posted on August 4, 2006 by in Blog, Reviews and tagged , .
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