Feature story

GROOMING READING

Giving flight to the joy of reading is what Parag, a Tata Trusts initiative, has set its mind on. And its books, too. With some 680 original stories for children in the 5-16 age group, Parag's books have been published in nine mainstream Indian languages as well as in the tribal languages of Mundari, Bhilori, Pawri and Santhali. These books have been accessed by more than 40 million children — and not a few adults — in schools, community libraries and homes. Nurturing children's literature in the Indian milieu and in Indian languages is Parag's principal goal, and it walks the extra mile to welcome kids from rural and poor backgrounds to the world of reading. Set up in 2005, Parag also supports school and community libraries, has instituted awards for children's literature, runs professional courses and holds events for teachers and librarians.

Students at a government school library in Beda in Rajasthan’s Bali district. Reading a book in your mother tongue – that seems elementary but India has always seen a deficit in regional language literature. The gap is especially wide in children’s reading and this is what Parag aims to bridge — by working with education teams in different places, identifying writers and illustrators, and creating books that children can relate to.
Manya ki Dahad (Manya’s Roar) is a Hindi storybook for children, one of many that Parag brings out in Indian languages. Published by Eklavya, 2019
To take the joy of reading into tribal communities, Parag developed a set of 10 short storybooks in Pawri and Bhilori. Some of these were used in schools in Nandurbar, Maharashtra, where first-generation learners speak tribal dialects. Author Varsha Sahasrabuddhe traveled to Nandurbar to understand the lifestyle of the local community. The result – a set of stories and illustrations (done by Madhuri Purandare) that reflect the cultural and social uniqueness of local children. Published by Moolgami, 2016 When Parag tried to develop books in Mundari, a tribal dialect spoken in Jharkhand, it ran into unexpected difficulties. Words and meanings changed every few kilometres and the process of finalising error-free manuscripts was painstaking. The books are used by children in schools in Jharkhand’s Khunti district.
Nonfiction books are part of Parag’s publishing portfolio. Presented in a visually rich format, Balti Ke Andar Samandar (The Sea in a Bucket) uses a character called Sonu, and her bucket, to make children understand water sources. The book was developed by Avehi Abacus with inputs from children and teachers. Another popular Parag book is The Poop Book!, which uses animal poop as a way to make children laugh while learning about nature. This has been translated into French by Alliance Francaise. Balti Ke Andar Samandar, published by Eklavya, 2013
Teacher and children in a classroom in Rajasthan’s Bali district get involved in a 'big book'. With large fonts and illustrations, these books help students in a large group engage with the story being read out, even those who haven’t yet learned to read. Realising that very few publishers were interested in bringing out books of the kind, Parag decided to explore this opportunity and has supported the development of 16 big books in Hindi and English.
Children’s literature rarely features people with disabilities, which is why Parag has introduced books where disabilities are portrayed realistically. The idea is that children with disabilities see characters in books that they can relate to, and children without disabilities get an understanding of the life of the differently abled. Parag has also brought out dozens of audio books, books in braille and tactile books. Kittu Udaan Choo, published by Eklavya, 2019; Catch That Cat, published by Tulika, 2013
It’s not just literature for children; Parag also encourages literature by children. Chashma Naya Hai (The Spectacles are New) is a compilation of 13 stories written by children between 9 and 16 years of age, living in five settlements in Delhi. The book, developed by Ankur Society for Alternatives, features the imaginative narratives of children from marginalised backgrounds. Chashma Naya Hai, published by Eklavya, 2019
During the pandemic, Parag accelerated its digital publishing engagement. In association with Rajasthan’s State Council of Educational Research and Training, it started a weekly digital magazine called Hawamahal, which provides audio and video learning content for students. Library Khidki is a similar engagement (with Uttar Pradesh’s education department).
Parents at a school library in Rajasthan. Community engagement is a core element of the library initiative and parents are invited regularly to visit these libraries.