Sunday, March 18, 2012, WSJ, excerpt

Anushka Ravishankar comes to SDSU April 16 and 17
LL-430, 7-9 April 16
AL-100, 2-3:30 April 17

Anushka Ravishankar | She writes stories that children can read just for pure fun
Ravishankar wants to free the minds of children conditionedto take reading onlyas a learning exercise

Rasul Bailay

New Delhi

Fifteen years ago, Anushka Ravishankar went looking for some Indian children’s books for her then six-year-old daughter. She couldn’t find any of the kind she wanted.

So Ravishankar, now 46, did what she thought any good parent would do: She wrote them herself.

Write stuff: This software programmer-turned-editor, with 17 titles to her credit, has taught many Indian children how to rhyme.

Write stuff: This software programmer-turned-editor, with 17 titles to her credit, has taught many Indian children how to rhyme.

“There was a dearth of Indian children’s writers so I decided to write them myself,” Ravishankar says. She adds that this doesn’t necessarily mean that all stories you write “for your children” are good stories.

Ravishankar’s stories, most written in verse form with the sort of metre and rhyme that would make Dr Seuss proud, were good. From Alphabets are Amazing Animals to Excuse Me, Is This India?, Ravishankar’s books of nonsense verse have become popular with several generations of children.

With 17 children’s books to her credit, Ravishankar—she should not be confused with Anoushka Shankar, the sitar-playing daughter of Pandit Ravi Shankar—is among the best known Indian children’s writers in the business.

The children’s section of most large bookstores is usually filled with books written by foreign authors. There are not too many Indian authors specializing in fiction for young children, the four- to eight-year-olds who are beginning to read on their own and need whatever they are reading to have a certain cadence and metre to retain their interest. And the few Indian books available for such children are published by small firms, with their production quality leaving a lot to be desired .

Aniyan Nair, head of operations and marketing at bookstore chain Crossword Bookstores Ltd, says the children’s books at his stores are “predominantly by foreign authors.”

“We need to have more writers and publishers (and) encourage more writers to come into the genre,” Nair adds.

Most of her books are published by Tara Publishing, a Chennai-based publishing house that has made a name for itself in the area of children’s literature.

“The work she has produced for us is world class... She is one of the most important writers for us,” says Gita Wolf, publisher of Tara. “I think she is one of the most innovative and talented children’s book writers... She will take her definite place in world literature,” she adds.

Ravishankar was born and grew up in Nashik and went to college in Pune. She graduated in mathematics from the city’s Fergusson College in 1981.

“I was always interested in writing, though I started with bad poetry,” she says.

It was while she was in college that she was exposed to the nonsense verse of Lewis Carrol, Edward Lear and Edward Gorey. “I completely got hooked,” she says.

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