Friday, June 24, 2011

Bilingual Books in SoBo

Sangeeta Bhansali, director of Vakils, Feffer & Simons Pvt. Ltd. in Mumbai sent us the following email recently (on 17 June), and we’d like to share the email with you (mildly edited):

Kahani Tree is a division of Vakils, Feffer and Simons Ltd. that promotes children's books and is dedicated to inspire a life-long love of reading in children. It supports independent publishers of children's books from all over India.

Audiobooks and picture books from Karadi Tales are available at Kitab Khana (Flora Fountain). On Sunday 29 May, a children's event was organized by Kitab Khana on trees, as part of World Environment Week. About 15 children were present, ages ranging from 2 to 7 years. We had a reading session combined with a craft activity.

Prior to the event, I provided Kitab Khana with a list of books on the environment and volunteered to help by talking to the parents while their children were involved with the activities. Since I am familiar with the content of most of these books, I figured I would be able to support the sales staff of Kitab Khana during the event.

The Karadi Tales bilingual Chitra series was prominently displayed on a table, separate from the bookshelves because they were attractive and directly relevant to the topic. The 4 titles – The Tiny Seed, The Grouchy Ladybug, The Mixed-Up Chameleon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar written and illustrated by Eric Carle – sold out in minutes… and not in singles, but in sets, sometimes 2 or 3 together. Eric Carle was obviously well known to the customers of KK and the quality of books was impressive. The bilingual aspect with the English / Hindi combination was also appreciated.

The huge problem, though, was that Kitab Khana had ordered only 3 copies of each title. And in events like this, word spreads like wildfire. Some parents were even buying the books for their children who were probably too young simply because they had not seen books of this kind before! I heard comments like: ‘Who knows when we'll see this again, it's so rare to find good unusual books!’ and ‘I cant stop myself from buying good books for the children, when I see them, even though I have a space constraint.’ and ‘What a unique concept... Hindi and English with Eric Carle's wonderful illustrations!’

And before we knew it, the books were all gone and we were hugely disappointed that we could not meet the demand. I sent Kitab Khana 5 copies each on Monday 30 May, just in case some of the parents did return! 

Another experience was at the Cathedral School Hindi Book Fair held on 19 and 20 April. Around 450 parents attended the book fair. Bilingual books were a huge hit! Twenty copies each of all these books sold out on the first day! A lot of Hindi and bilingual audiobooks were also sold, especially as gifts for overseas family / friends, just before the start of the summer vacation.

In my opinion, South Mumbai is certainly hungry for Karadi Tales and wants to see more!

Thanks, Sangeetha!

Monday, June 20, 2011

From Blogosphere

A lovely article on our audiobooks from 'Buzzing!' writes:

Many stories involve animals and carry a strong moral that a toddler can understand. A very cool element of Karadi Tales is that most of them come with an audio CD where the story is narrated in a very engaging manner. The voice of Karadi is of the highest calibre- Saeed Jaffrey , Girish Karnad or Naseeruddin Shah. The rest of the characters are very well vocalized. 

Read the entire piece here!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Picture Books and Early Learning

Notes from Singapore Part 4: Our editor, Manasi Subramaniam, promises that this will be the last of her reminiscences on the Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) 2011 held in Singapore last month. 

I really wanted to share this with the children's publishers, educators and young parents out there. One of the sessions I attended was on picture books and learning by Susan Harris Sharples, the former Dean of Education at Wheelock College, USA. Among several other very interesting things, Susan spoke about the importance of picture books in early childhood development. This is something that I think we all should recognise and take very seriously into account while considering a child's education and development.

Why is it important for a child to be exposed to good picture books? Aside from the obvious factors of imagination, creativity and artistic development, Susan talked about how a child connects words with pictures and automatically starts reading between the text - that is, the child sees things in the pictures that are not a part of the text, and begins to create a world that is not just textually depicted. Each picture is certainly worth a thousand words, says Susan, and for early readers, it's better to let the artwork do the real talking.

Susan added that the two questions that a publisher should ask before choosing a story are: ‘Will this story capture the child’s imagination and interest so that she will actually want to interact with the story?’ and ‘Do the illustrations go beyond the words so that each page is a world of discovery for the child each time she reads it?’

She also talked about the importance of holding a book in your hand while telling a story to a child. That’s the only way the child will actually go back to the book after hearing the story once. The oral tradition is one of retelling. But if we want a child to read, holding a book is the real key.

In another session, Susan made a presentation on supporting young children's writing development by encouraging developmental spelling was a well-researched and thought-provoking session, especially for people interested in early learning and development. Her entire presentation is available for download here.

Also read:
Part 1: 'Connecting with Connected Kids'
Part 2: 'Potato Chips and Arsenic'
Part 3: 'Asian Content for the World's Children' 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Asian Content for the World's Children

Notes from Singapore Part 3: More musings on children's publishing after the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2011 (AFCC) from our editor, Manasi Subramaniam:

Through the course of the conferences and seminars at the AFCC, there was a lot of learning involved for me, especially in the sessions that talked about current publishing trends and future predictions for publishing. The focus on Asian content, at least as far as the book publishing industry was concerned, was refreshing. A lot of publishers provided us with perspective on the kind of books that travel well internationally, sell well domestically etc., all of which is relevant to an industry that caters to a global audience.

The focus of the publishing seminars was ‘Asian Content for the World’s Children’ and I think this was approached very systematically. Bringing in publishers from the West who talked about the kind of Asian content that works for the West was a nice touch.

Among several other things, I was keenly interested in trying to understand why Asian content doesn’t always work in the Western market and what we can do about it. In a session called 'The Global Market for Asian Children's Books: What Travels, What Doesn't and Why', American editor Neal Porter of Neal Porter Books addressed this issue thoroughly. He talked about both the content we produce and the way we produce it. In another session by literary agent Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency in the USA called 'The Children’s Market: What Has Changed and What Sells Now', this was briefly covered once more.

From these sessions and from others, I've gathered three valuable suggestions on how a book can be made more 'universal'.

Firstly, it's probably time for us to stop moralising. Asian content tends to be didactic and heavy on morals. This is something that doesn’t work for an international audience. This deep moralising is, I think, one of the remnants of our fable culture – we like to end stories with a moral. While western culture shrugged themselves off Aesop and Grimm and even Beatrix Potter and have moved comfortably on to stories that deal with human problems in a more contemporary and realistic manner (look at Pippi Longstocking, for example), Asian content is a little caught up in the notion that a good story must have a good moral. This is clear especially from the number of books in the market that end with 'And the moral of the story is...' I think that we must ask ourselves - whatever happened to reading for the sake of reading?

Research has also shown that anthropomorphic characters (talking animals) are passé. Asian content tends to give animals human characteristics and often even has animals and humans interacting with each other. It's hard for me to understand why this doesn't always work, especially since talking animals have been a staple part of children's content since the Aesop days. But the contention was that children of the world are interested in character-driven stories - stories that they can identify with. And they can best identify with other children.

Another suggestion was to stop regurgitating the same stories over and over again. Folklore and myth may have been important at some point. But in creating multicultural content, international publishers are more interested in contemporary stories than in old folktales. Walk into any bookstore in India and the children's section will be filled with dozens of different retellings of the Panchatantra and the Jataka. In fact, a lot of Karadi Tales titles are inspired from a rich history of folk stories. But I've begun to wonder - while these may be the stories that we want to tell our kids, are these the stories that they want to hear? Unless the adaptation is truly unique, there's nothing that really 'stands out' about a folktale retold. 

Of course, this begs the question of why we should bother creating content for children of the Western world when so many of our own need books to read. But I've come to believe that there is such a thing as universality of the human spirit and that it is possible to achieve that kind of universality while maintaining an authentic voice and a sense of territory.

These are ideas that I'm very keen to explore in the kind of picture books that we have lined up on our publishing agenda.

Read Part 1 on 'Connecting with Connected Kids' and Part 2 on 'Potato Chips and Arsenic' of our AFCC report!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Potato Chips and Arsenic

Notes from Singapore Part 2: On returning from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore from 26 to 28 May, our editor, Manasi Subramaniam, writes about her revelations and hopes for children's publishing in Asia:

Fresh from the AFCC, all I can think about is how wonderful it is to be a creator of children’s content. We are the guys who are most closely associated with the future of the world – and that’s pretty awesome! Above and beyond that, there’s also a lot to be said about the Asian market in particular. Like all other industries in Asia, publishing is growing in leaps and bounds and it’s changing almost every single day. 

One really important topic that I connected very deeply with was the question of mass versus class. In the words of Liz Rosenberg, American writer and reviewer of children's books: 

‘Potato chips are really popular. They’re not healthy or good in any way. But they’re still really popular. There’s a lot of junk out there and obviously people love it. But the important thing to remember is that you can’t really live on it. So what you need to ask yourself is this: Do you really want to be known as the guy who made potato chips or the guy who made beautiful wholesome meals? While you can’t completely ignore the sensational stuff like the Twilight series, you just need to be aware that it isn’t great literature. And you can’t overdo it either. Because then you’re just eating arsenic!’

I agree wholeheartedly with Liz. And I’d rather make salad than chips!

It’s important for us to realise that content really is king. After the AFCC, I truly believe this with all my heart. Fancy packaging and marketing gimmickry can only get a book so far. As one publisher that I met said, to assume that your buyer is foolish is just sheer arrogance. 

Glossy paper, famous names and funky fonts don’t sell a book. Beautiful stories and beautiful artwork are the best salespersons that we can have. To think that anything else will work is to disrespect the people for whom we create books, to assume that they are stupid and have no taste, discrimination or sophistication. We cannot trick people with fancy packaging. 

The thing that really struck me about many of the publishers that I met in Singapore (from all parts of the world) was their sincerity. They all genuinely believe in creating beautiful books – and they love their books too much to ever allow them to be ruined by bad design or gimmickry. Most importantly, they believe that whatever they do it needs to be done well. No successful publisher creates books half-heartedly – everyone reiterated this at some point or the other. 

Either way, we have to recognise that the future of children’s publishing is in high quality storytelling, no matter what the format is. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Connecting with Connected Kids

Notes from Singapore Part 1: After a rewarding three days at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore from 26 to 28 May, our television producer, Shubhadeep Bhattacharya, talks about his experiences, his learnings and his thoughts on the future of digital content production in India:

The leitmotif for this year’s AFCC was ‘Connecting with Connected Kids.’ And hence a significant part of the discourse and dialogue was dedicated to exploring how technology is changing the way kids are reading, learning and socialising; and the way publishing and the media landscape are responding to these developments. Buzzwords at this year’s conference were apps and transmedia content and collaboration, and the mood was decidedly digital. 

Chris Cheng, a prolific Australian children’s writer, demonstrated how self-publishing tools, social media and new media have empowered tech-savvy and enterprising writers and illustrators to publish, collaborate and experiment. Chris negotiates licensing rights to his work separately for different platforms. He makes his content available in English, Spanish and Chinese, the three most popular languages in the app space.

I attended a session called ‘Developing Your Book as an Animation Property’ conducted by a Singapore based producer, KC Wong. KC is CEO of an animation company called Sparky that has been able to penetrate US, UK and Australian markets, with content that is co-produced in collaboration with local players. Interestingly, the idea of the book forming the seed of a TV series became a recurrent theme through the course of the conference. KC believes that the big screen today necessarily demands 3D. But a young child watching a show on TV will be happy with 2D. And if there is a lot of fast action and detailing, 2D is surely a preferred option. 

The keynote address of the Asian Publishers’ Symposium for the day was given by Julia Posen of Walker Books, UK. The keynote covered the changing face of the publishing industry. She talked about how non-publishers like Google, Amazon and Apple now shape the future, and the opportunities and challenges these changes present. The digital trend was discussed through the following developments:
  1. Amazon declaring that it has sold more ebooks than printed books 
  2. Kindle sales touching 12 mn units
  3. iPad sales crossing 15 mn, with over 350,000 apps listed on iTunes
  4. ePub 3.0 that allows standardised publishing of picture books 
  5. Google e-bookstore’s promise to offer 3000 titles free 
  6. Google's challenge to Amazon’s 9.99 USD pricing policy for ebooks. 
The sessions that followed the keynote also discussed similar issues, such as the popularity of the Print-On-Demand option and the challenges of gaining visibilty in a crowded digital space. The lucrative option available to authors of self-publishing was reiterated. Amazon now offers a writer 70% royalty on her e-books, if she lists and sells her books through their store. 

One interesting case study was how the popular game Angry Birds gained visibility. The strategy adopted by Angry Birds was to first list the app in small markets such as the iTunes stores in Finland and Iceland. This was complemented by intense promotions. The popularity in these small stores caught the attention of Apple who then hot-listed the app across stores in larger markets like the UK and USA.

On more than a few occasions, speakers cited how very young kids nowadays reach out to all electronic screens, such as a TV or a computer monitor, and start swiping their fingers over it, expecting all screens to respond to touch! 

Tim Levell, a producer with CBBC, shared his experience about a TV series he produced, which gained wide popularity in the UK. The audience engagement with the TV series was fueled by a set of cross-platform activities that included online games, activities, videos, extras, interaction, public service engagements etc. Tim laid a lot of emphasis on games as the primary device for engagement, particularly factual games that are not very expensive to develop. 

Other broadcasters represented at the conference were Okto and Nickelodeon. Syahrizan Mansor of Nickelodeon Asia shared how when commissioning any project, they evaluate its shelf life beyond television; such as its potential for live shows, mall activation, school programmes, merchandise etc. 

The festival had very good speakers, and the programme was well structured and topical. I gained from the experiences shared by publishers and producers. It was certainly a useful exposure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June 2011

In 2011, we'll be giving you a calendar for every month with artwork from one of our books. Here's the June 2011 calendar. We hope you like it!