I like to look past our North American shores and see what picture-book creators on other continents are doing. Now seems like a good time to take a look at two titles Tara Books is releasing this year to be published in May and June.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on books for big boys.
By way of explanation, Tara Books is an independent publisher based in South India. Working with creative people all over the planet to make picture books for both children and adults, they aim to bring readers “unusual and rare voices in art and literature.”
I recently spent some time becoming even more familiar with some of their older titles and highly recommend many of them: Gita Wolf’s and Dulari Devi’s powerful Following My Paint Brush (2011), painted in the tradition of Mithila art from Bihar in eastern India; Gita Wolf’s hand-made Do! (2009), perfect for very young readers, with art created by three artists belonging to the Warli tribal community in Maharashtra, western India (here is a wonderful making-of video); Anushka Ravishankar and Emanuele Scanziani’s exuberant To Market! To Market! (2007); and, also from Wolf, the visually arresting (and very fun) Monkey Photo (2010), illustrated in the Bengalian patua folk style by Swarna Chitrakar.
And if you haven’t seen Marion Bataille’s pop-up offerings—here’s her 2010 title on numbers—run, don’t walk, to your nearest library or bookstore. They are impressive feats of design. Also worth mentioning: Rambharos Jha’s beautiful silkscreen-printed Waterlife, which garnered a BolognaRagazzi New Horizons mention this past March.
It makes my eyes happy to take a break from contemporary American picture-book art, wonderful in its own right, and take a look at Tara’s new offerings, particularly for a focus on art from South Asia.
Within the next couple of months, they’ve got two brand-new titles to offer readers.
First up is Excuses, Excuses! from Anushka Ravishankar, who is evidently India’s best-known children’s poet, illustrated by Gabrielle Manglou.
This book stars a young boy named Neel—he is photo-collaged into these illustrations—and he decides for each day of the week to behave already. He’ll be on time on Monday, obey every rule on Tuesday, be helpful on Wednesday…you get the idea. On each day, we see in italics the voice of who is assumed to be a teacher or other authority figure in his life: “Late again? What is it now? / Chased by a lion? Kicked by a cow?” And for each day, Neel has a wild excuse. (“At night my clock began to tick / In an anti-clockwise way / And by the time I woke up / It was noon, of yesterday.”)
The brightly painted and almost manic, mind-bending photo collages, are…well, "surreal," as Kirkus puts it. Young children will enjoy the offbeat art and the protagonist’s outlandish, out-of-the-box excuses. (Neel would probably consider “my dog ate my homework” downright elementary. Instead, his homework is capable of hopping right out of his hands, leaping through town, and getting drenched in nearby ponds.)
In June, readers will see The Great Race, Nathan Kumar Scott’s retelling of an Indonesian trickster folktale, illustrated by Jagdish Chitara. This is the third title in a Tara series that features the trickster Kanchil, a small deer. In this entertaining tale, another even smaller trickster than Kanchil turns the tables on the arrogant animal.
As an informative closing spread in the book explains, Chitara belongs to a traditional group of artisans in western India, known as Waghari. He paints on fabric (called “the Cloth of the Mother”), which is washed in river waters, block printed and painted, and then dyed. This is the first time his fabric work has been translated into a children’s book. The red-and-black illustrations are striking, and the brisk story compelling, very similar (at least until the ending) to Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare.
If, like me, you occasionally want something altogether new for your eyes, exciting picture-book art quite unlike anything you’ll see here in the States, you’ll find Tara Books well worth following.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.
Picture spreads courtesy of Excuses Excuses (c) 2012 Tara Books, Anushka Ravishankar and Gabrielle Manglou, and The Great Race (c) 2012 Tara Books, Nathan Kumar Scott and Jagdish Chitara.