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Saffron Tree: Celebrating Children’s Books

Posted: October 21, 2010

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Saffron Tree first began as a blog but has gradually become a popular destination for readers seeking out children’s books.

We caught up with Praba Ram, the Founder of Saffron Tree, to talk about the wonderful work they are doing and especially to discuss CROCUS, an annual Saffron Tree event that seeks to Celebrate Reading of Culturally Unique Stories’.

Praba is an accomplished writer, having recently co-authored Dinaben and the Lions of Gir with Meera Sriram, another Saffron Tree author.

Aparna V. Singh (AVS): The basics first! What do you mean by ‘Culturally Unique Stories’? And why did you feel the need for a festival to celebrate them?

Praba Ram (PR): The meaning of “culturally unique stories” can be traced back to Saffron Tree’s beginning and roots. Every culture and community has stories to share. By reading books that authentically capture a culture’s uniqueness through its many different stories, we are offering children a glimpse of the beautiful and diverse world we live in.

We, at Saffron Tree, believe that we can help our children become aware of the multi-cultural society and world that we live in, through such books and stories.

During CROCUS, we also hope to spread the joys of exploring a diverse range of books and stories with children. The wide spectrum of reviews, we hope, serves as an organized repository of some handpicked books across different multi-cultural themes, which our readers can later access from libraries and/or add to their bookshelves.

AVS:  What kinds of children’s books have CROCUS reviewers written about in the past? And what do you have planned for this year?

PR: For CROCUS 2009, we hopped from one continent to another and read a variety of folktales and stories from around the world. Some excellent picks from India were The Rooster and the Sun, a tale from North-Eastern India and Dancing on Walls, set amongst the Warli people of the Western Ghats.

Some excellent picks from India were The Rooster and the Sun, a tale from North-Eastern India (review here) and Dancing on Walls, set amongst the Warli people of the Western Ghats.

This year, we are motivated to delve deeper into the cultural aspects of different communities. Specifically, we plan to showcase children’s books encompassing arts, crafts, music, folktales, dance and other aspects that authentically portray a culture or a community’s expressions.

Over the last one year, our team has grown to fifteen members, a group of ordinary blogger parents passionate about children’s books who have joined voluntarily to become the contributing team of Saffron Tree.

During this year’s CROCUS, we will be reviewing close to fifty books over one week. We also have four wonderful interviews lined up. We look forward to hosting Sandhya Rao, the Editor of one of India’s leading publishers, Tulika Books. We are also hosting an illustrator from Argentina, a couple of authors and a storyteller from India. The interviews we think will serve as a great forum to discuss children’s literature with the experts in the field. It will be interesting to hear their viewpoints, working in different countries creating books for children.

dinabenlionsofgirgiveaway_1.jpgAVS: Given that children today are exposed to a lot of information about other countries and cultures through television, do you feel children’s books still have a distinct role to play?

PR: Stories speak to human emotions and experiences. And books help preserve those stories. I think reading a wide range of authentic stories (as opposed to single, dominating stories) about other cultures can help human beings relate to and connect with other societies at a fundamental level. And instilling the habit of reading books in our children can open their minds early on to so many things around them. Also, they help feed their imagination in the process.

I am absolutely clear no other form of media can provide the benefits that books and reading offer. Most often, the information that television offers is unhealthy, and can sometimes even lead to lop-sided views and pretentious knowledge about the world. In fact, we all know that most research points to the ill-effects of exposing children to television.

AVS: And finally, which are your favourite children’s books written by Indian authors and/or set in India?

PR: Like many, growing up, I have also devoured stories by the quintessential Ruskin Bond and R.K. Narayan. Not to forget, the wonderful comics by Ananth Pai. But I am certainly making up now for having missed out on a good dose of modern Indian authors writing for the very young, growing up today in modern India.

I have lots of favourites in picture books in the early childhood category – authors who have raised the bar and created some enchanting books for children growing up in India these days. The ones that I have particularly enjoyed reading to my children are books by Sandhya Rao (My Mother’s Sari), Radhika Chadha, TV Padma, Maheswata Devi. And so many talented Indian illustrators creating some delightful work for children that we absolutely love on Saffron Tree – Ashok Rajagopalan, Uma Krishnaswami, Manjula Padmanabhan….

As an Indian raising my children abroad, I am constantly on the look-out for authors who touch upon the immigrant experience with stories set in the Indian-American backdrop.

As an Indian mom raising my children abroad, I am constantly on the look-out for authors who touch upon the immigrant experience with stories set in the Indian-American backdrop. In fact, that was yet another key inspiration for the blog when I started out. Uma Krishnaswamy is an all-time favourite. Her book, The Closet Ghosts was one of the first books I had picked for sharing on Saffron Tree.  And there’s Pooja Makhijiani, Mitali Perkins and so many other passionate writers writing on cross-cultural, being-in-between-two-cultures themes.

The last four years of managing the blog, it has been such a pleasure discovering Indian writers from India and here in the US, and bringing them to the world through Saffron Tree.

Thank you Praba, for sharing your journey with our readers! And now – here’s a quick contest: Leave a comment below on any children’s book that you and/or your kids love. The Best Comment within a week (28th Oct 2010) wins a copy of Dinaben and the Lions of Gir, authored by Praba Ram and Meera Sriram.

Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas

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