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Children's books rule the roost

S. Aishwarya and
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Choices Galore: The annual Chennai Book Fair continues to attract its share of visitors every year — Photo: S. Thanthoni
Choices Galore: The annual Chennai Book Fair continues to attract its share of visitors every year — Photo: S. Thanthoni

Films may not be an entertainment substitute for bibliophiles. But works of fiction made into motion pictures can certainly draw a fresh set of readers, and booksellers participating in the 34th Chennai Book Fair at St. George's Anglo-Indian School on Poonamallee High Road swear by that. For the past two days, a lot of the fiction in English that found takers were those which have been made into films.

It is not just ever-green classics like the ‘Narnia' series or ‘Alice in Wonderland' that move off the shelves faster than others at the fair. Books such as ‘Eat, Pray, Love,' are prominently displayed at many stalls.

Books on religion, cookery and self-help books, though regular features every year, guarantee good business for the publishers. Stalls of popular publishing houses and bookstores manage to pull a steady stream of visitors.

Foreign cultural centres attached to the respective embassies such as British Council, American Library and Goethe Institut hand out pamphlets carrying membership details for their respective libraries. Like last year, books for children, brought out by many small-time publishers, dominate the fair. From activity to story books, the sheer array of children's books at every stall is impressive. But regulars such K. Veerachandran say they find the annual fair predictable. “I have been visiting the fair for almost 10 years and noticing a change of trend every three years. First it was Tamil classics that ruled the show, then came English fiction and now for the last two years, it is children's literature. DVDs of Panchathantra and Tenali Rama are ubiquitous. One does not need to visit a book fair to buy them,” says the bank official.

But the scope of the book fair goes much beyond the retail business. As New Horizon Media publisher Badri Seshadri puts it, “Book fairs are a time-tested way of introducing children to the world of books.” Pointing to the lack of adequate neighbourhood bookstores for kids, he says entrepreneurs should come up with small book stores for every 15,000 population. However, on the third day of the fair, the passages remained deserted, with visitors far and few in between. But the sparse crowd did not deter the participants. Unpacking a fresh set of books, a marketing manager of a publishing house says it is the weekends that they look forward to. “You must visit on a Sunday evening to gauge the response. The crowd swelled by the hour last year. And this year, is going to be no different,” he said. And his forecast does not seem to be too far from reality. According to Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI) president Sethu Chockalingam, for the last three days, the number of visitors per day is higher compared to last year. Going by the current rate, he expects a visitor count of 10 lakh at the end of the fair, which would be three lakh more than last year's.

In line with previous years, BAPASI has distributed five lakh free passes to school students of Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts. For children for whom the access to books ends with the book fair, BAPASI is also holding discussing with district libraries to provide easy access and encourage reading habits, said its secretary Rama Lakshmanan. The book fair is on till January 13.

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