Bharat Babies: inclusive children's literature for Indian-American kids

Bharat Babies helps bring Indian-origin Americans together through inclusive children’s literature

May 25, 2018 02:38 pm | Updated 06:29 pm IST

Meet Anjali, an inventive little girl with a huge heart. She is a little sassy, quite clever, but really, she is like any other child. Except, well, her name: it sets her apart in her American hometown, making her question who she really is and where she comes from. These are questions that Sheetal Shah, actress and author of children’s book Always Anjali, challenges multiracial kids to ask themselves, growing up in the American melting pot. In fact, they are questions that entrepreneur Sailaja Joshi has been asking herself for years.

Representation matters

“This question of identity, the need for minority representation in America, pushed me to start Bharat Babies,” says Joshi. She launched the online publishing house five years ago, pregnant with her first daughter, and hungry for literature that her little girl could call her own. “I wanted my daughter to see herself on the cover of a book. Most of what was available at the time was culturally insensitive and highly offensive,” she explains.

As she toyed with the idea of writing, this thirst for quality children’s literature led her away from pursuing a Ph.D programme and into uncharted territory. “As an Indian couple in the US, my husband and I speak three languages at home: English, Marathi, and Telugu. There was practically no literature that could cater to kids of that demographic,” she says.

While she initially interacted with a niche audience, she says the nine books published so far have resonated with all communities, especially under-represented ones. “There was a demographic shift in India: people were living in less generational homes and more single family homes. As a result, storytelling was changing, both at home and for families like mine. Bharat Babies is meant to bridge that gap,” Joshi says, adding that their team of 12 writers and illustrators have given their portfolio the voice she so wanted to be heard.

Connecting people

“The creative individuals we work with have allowed us to produce literature that connects with people worldwide,” she smiles. The content, she says, has helped create a global market for their books. The company launched their tenth book, Always Anjali , earlier this month in both New York City and Boston. The book, which focusses on the representation of South Asians, is pushing the envelope. But Joshi says for them, it’s just the beginning. “There are barriers we’ve broken. But there are so many more to go.”

With their first bilingual board book on its way, integrating both English and Romanised Hindi, and plans to expand, Joshi says their digital enterprise continues to grow its family across geographical boundaries. “Social media has had a profound impact on how we’ve been able to expand, reach people, and make sure our stories our heard,” she explains. A believer in the power of Instagram, Facebook, and their own website, she says the new-age network has encouraged the team to share more diverse stories as it grows.

And yet, amidst it all, she comes back to where it all started. “Everyone loves children’s books. That love, that nostalgia —that’ll never go away. It’s here to stay.”

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