These six incredibly beautiful books published by award-winning publisher Tara Books take children’s illustrated books beyond the conventional mythology or re-tellings of familiar narratives that have been the staple of children’s books in India for a long time. Each book is a beautiful work of art and two of them, An Indian Beach and Twins, invite readers young and old to interact with the art and the text. The first is constructed in such a way that it can be opened if different ways. Inside each page/section has incredibly detailed black and white drawings of life at Elliot’s Beach in Chennai. The scenes go from night to day and feature all the hustle and bustle of beach life from shops and entertainment to people and animals.
The book opens into a continuous circle of pages that allows the reader to see the beach scenes on one side and an array of sea life on the other. Children then can look at the pictures, name different elements, color, and identify sea life. Twins offers stencils of animals—monkeys, camels, whales among them—that invites the reader to trace pictures and to build stories based on the tracings. Charming, whimsical and interactive these books will keep young readers engaged and offer the adults an opportunity to engage in imaginative play with the young ones.
In Beasts of India, the author and artists offer an array of folk-art styles through which they create a picture book of animals of India. Not only is this book handmade but each page has original silk-screen prints of an image such that the book itself is a delight to hold, feel, and experience. From pithora and Kalamkari to Gond and Madhubani art, the book celebrates India’s indigenous and folkloric artistic traditions and brings a range of artists to contribute to this book. While this book might seem like it is for children, it’s beauty and the helpful guide to artistic styles is a delight for every adult reader and an opportunity to share India’s rich heritage with the young.
In Water, Subhash Vyam, a Gond artist shares a story from his community that helps him interpret his experiences of moving from his village to the city. Richly illustrated by Vyam, the narrative preserves his oral storytelling style and explores the importance of water as a natural resource. Told as a story within a story where the author discusses how water is made available in the village and in the city and how modern technology like the hand pump eased life in the village.
He goes on to speak of the economic differences between village and city and between the rich and the poor in both that make for variable access for a life- giving necessity in both. As his village grapples with a new dam to be build that would change the ecology and limit their access to water, he tells of a folk tale in which some sisters’ greed leads to their demise. He wonders if the folk tale’s moral doesn’t apply to his modern-day life by examining how some may want too much and pay a price for their greed.
Walking is a Way of Knowing: In a Kadar Forest is about the Kadar people in South India, a small indigenous community. These stories capture the Kadar way of life, the way they lived in the forests and preserved or regrew them. Illustrations by Matthew Frame in Speaking to an Elephant offer colorful half page inserts between the narratives that complement them. The second book focuses on an urban visitor traveling through the forest with the Kadars and learning about their memories and stories. This book celebrates indigenous ways of knowing.
Tara Books is breaking new ground in illustrated books by celebrating indigenous and folkloric art and narratives. Each book is a delight not just for young readers but also for the adults in their lives.