Magic, monsters and mysteries

Publisher Tina Narang on celebrating differences, creating book series with strong brand recall and working with graphic novels in her newly announced list for kids

What do Zippy the Zebra, poet Gulzar, and artists Garima Gupta and Kaveri Gopalakrishnan have in common? They are all part of the new Harper Collins Children’s Books in India list. Spearheaded by Tina Narang, who worked at Scholastic for over 12 years, the publishing house’s children imprint is going to be a mix of picture books, fiction, non-fiction, bilingual books, science and mythology.

The set launches with Meet Zippy, the first in a picture book series by Anitha Balachandran about an eponymous zebra. “The characters are all unique with very different personalities: a zebra, an elephant, a rabbit, a turtle, a leopard and more. So, it is about celebrating differences as well,” said Narang. Apart from that, the Flipped series sounds fun – which Narang said is a book with two covers, with Scary stories at one end and Funny Stories at the other. “The reader needs to simply flip the book over to get to the other side,” she explained. “The idea is to have something there for different tastes, so a child who can’t stomach a scary story, can just go ahead and read a funny one.” In an email interview, Narang outlined her plan for the imprint.

What’s the prime focus of your list?

The prime focus is to find fresh, new ways to engage the reader. There were two factors that I kept in mind when planning the list: Novelty and the Series format. Novelty because you are entering a market that you know is already full of good books from small and big publishers, all of whom acknowledge that this is a growing segment and are competing to be players on this stage. And Series because within this crowded market, where books disappear with alarming regularity, brand recall becomes the next major challenge and establishing a successful series ensures that the books within that series have a longer shelf life. So, I have tried to create a list of books that goes across age groups and is representative of various genres from picture books, to chapter books, to activity books, non-fiction, fiction, biographies and more.

Gulzar’s writing a children’s book, Ek Bar Socha Pustak Ne Aur Anya Kavitayen, after ages.

I am delighted to be working again with some of the authors that I had the pleasure of working with earlier, Gulzar being one of them. He suggested doing a collection of poems for children which I thought was a brilliant idea. The book has some delightful poetry. The book will also include some popular songs that he has written for children which remain unforgettable even years later, such as ‘Lakdi Ki Kathi’ and Mowgli. It will be a collection that fans of Gulzar—both young and old—will enjoy and cherish.

Do you plan to navigate unexplored themes?

This depends very much on discovering a brilliant story that explores a hitherto unexplored theme, or thinking of an innovative idea and commissioning an author to take that forward. This happens more organically. One of my strongest theme-based projects so far has been Paro Anand and Orjan Persson’s graphic novel 2. Brilliantly illustrated by Garima Gupta and Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, this book was a bundling together of two perspectives of the same story: the boy’s from Paro and the girl’s from Orjan.

Does the list include new writers and illustrators as well?

Among the new voices is Nidhi Chanani, whose graphic novel, Pashmina, we will be publishing later this year. There is a refreshingly different Gita retelling by two new UK-based authors, Sonal Patel and Jemma Kattan. Although Damian Ward has illustrated for foreign publishers, this is the first time he will be illustrating in India. Damian will be working on Jane De Suza’s Uncool series.

What are the key highlights, according to you?

Some of the highlights of the list: The M series is an interesting play on the letter M. Some of the popular genres that kids enjoy start with the letter M, such as Mysteries, Magic and Monsters. The first in the series is Magical Tales by Shashi Warrier, two brilliantly-told, charming stories with a dragon called Hot Lips and a bear called Bubba. The Good Indian Child’s Guide series by Natasha Sharma takes things that are intrinsic to India—be they mangoes or cricket—and presents a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the subjects.

There is the Favourite Things series that lists the favourite things of your favourite authors, sportspersons, celebrities and others. Launching the series will be Ruskin Bond’s favourites. Also, coming up is a bitingly funny teen series called Uncool by Jane De Suza, one of India’s leading humour writers, which is a rib-tickling tackling of teen issues. There is also the biography of Amrita Sher-Gil, the fiercely independent and talented artist, in the Timeless Biography series.

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