Home Uncut Interviews Sailaja N. Joshi: Bharat Babies

Sailaja N. Joshi: Bharat Babies

via Sailaja Joshi

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The finished maker spotlight will be open to public view soon, and it’s right here*

*It’s currently password protected, but will be viewable as soon as I get final approval from Sailaja.

Click here to see the full list of uncut Maker interviews.

Click here to go back to the unpolished book collections main page.

 


Good to know

  • I’ve been a fan of Bharat Babies books for a long time, and I’ve recommended them in the BFL Facebook group in the past.
  • Before connecting with Sailaja, in my consultant work with Little Feminist Book Club (also a BFL supporter, plus this is an affiliate link), I highly recommended they consider ‘Always Anjali’ for a monthly book box. That worked out, and should be coming out in 2019.
  • Let’s Celebrate Diwali is also a favorite of mine. Click here for the BFL review I boost once a year or so for it.
  • When Sailaja discovered BFL, she reached out to me. I asked how I could help support her work, and she mentioned that pre-orders are really important. So pre-order their books whenever possible!
  • I had been intending to reach out to Bharat to do a maker spotlight on them someday but was too busy. When Sailaja reached out, I offered to do a maker spotlight. Right around this time, she also became a BFL Patreon supporter. So I want to be transparent about that, but also let you know that I would have boosted her work in a maker spotlight even if she hadn’t beat me to it. She’s just awesome, and supported BFL, without me asking or anything.


Sneak peek: Sailaja N. Joshi’s Interview

What event inspired you to create Bharat Babies?

Honestly, it was motherhood that inspired me. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I realized there was such a huge diversity gap in children’s literature. I was searching for books to read to my newborn daughter that would celebrate my Indian culture and heritage. I wanted to share the stories with my child. But what I found was that many of the books out there were inappropriate for a child, or even worse, culturally insensitive. Refusing to live in a world where my daughter would not see herself on the cover of a book, I took matters into my own hands and started Bharat Babies with just $1,000 of seed capital.

Who reads your books?

This is a great question, and  I think the more crucial question for the 21st century is “who should read our books?” And the answer is everyone. We believe that all children should hear and see the stories of all cultures, starting right at birth. With Bharat Babies, we’re starting with the stories of India and South Asia, but this is only the beginning of our journey. Our vision and mission is to help ensure that every child’s story is told and that every child can be the hero.

The next generation of global citizens are just starting their journeys and diverse books are one of the tools they need to become culturally literate citizens of the world.

What single takeaway do you want kids to get from your books?

Kids are not born close-minded. They aren’t born with the idea that there is only one way to do things; that there is only one kind of beauty or belief. With our books, we hope to encourage a sense of wonder in diversity. Bharat Babies books focus on opening up the world to our readers. We want them to understand and see the world. To learn that diversity is not a new idea or initiative; it’s the nature of humanity. Through diversity, we increase education, love, kindness, and understanding.

What are challenges are you asking for parents to confront in themselves?

Very frequently, parents come up to our booth at a book festival. They leaf through our books and say “OHMYGOSH, this is perfect for my Indian friend / cousin / neighbor / coworker!” That’s when we ask “Well, couldn’t it also be perfect for you and your family?”

In this moment, parents are confronted with their own limitations. Sometimes the question prompts a more thoughtful conversation. The parent says “Wow, you’re right…” Maybe they realize how few books they have for their kids that feature non-white protagonists.

But sometimes, the question doesn’t spark understanding. I see a lot of people stumble when they’re confronted. They push back. They try to explain why they think the book is not for them.

And here’s the thing: I don’t need you to explain. You have spent your entire lifetime, over a generations only seeing yourself on the cover of a book. That was the norm. The norm for all children, white and brown alike. But the truth is, these books are for all children and for parents of white children, I challenge you actively make space on the bookshelf. To make space, all the space, for a broader picture of the world in which we live.

What makes your books different from ordinary books already out there?

Our books open up the world, reflecting a broader picture of the world at large. Even in 2019, the number of books that feature non-white characters is shockingly low. We aim to change that. We look for stories that feature own-voices and encourage both authors and illustrators to submit their work.

To that end, we work to ensure that communities of color have an active role in sharing the stories of their culture, history, and heritage. 

What are the risks in doing this work?

We are an indie publishing house. The publishing world is expensive and gives very little returns for investors. We struggle to challenge the largest publishing houses for space on bookshelves, acknowledgement in publications, awards… everything.

But. We won’t stop. What we do is too important.

How do the topics in your books counter the dominant narrative?

In our books you’ll find a lot of powerful brown girls and boys, celebrating themselves and their cultures. They are the heroes of their own stories. They sometimes teach each other, but they never are saved. They are never out-shouted or overlooked. We shine the light on these characters, and in doing so, we hope to shine a light on the children they represent.

What common misconceptions do people make about Indian culture? How do your books counter that?

Oh wow, there are SO many misconceptions. The first misconception that comes to mind is that everyone who identifies as Indian is Hindu. That’s fundamentally not true. In fact, India is home to many major religions, including (but not limited to): Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Islam. We feature all of these religious traditions in our books.

Another big misconception is that we as Indians bifurcate our lives. There’s a sense that we are Indian at home, and American at school. In truth, that is just not how we live our lives. Maybe in the past, people have felt like they needed to hide their culture and religion from those outside their homes. But that’s something we hope will change as more minds are opened to diversity in their communities.

In our books, we try really hard to dispel myths by exemplifying more modern and real-life images of Indian and Indian-American peoples.

Why is it important to have #OwnVoices authors and illustrators writing from lived experience, rather than white authors writing these stories from the outside?

It is incredibly important for publishing houses to recognize and uplift #ownvoices authors and illustrators. In so doing, we create more opportunities for people to speak their truth, and provide insight into their worlds. It’s also important to have sensitivity readers and those who can reflect on the stories at hand. We frequently use a variety of #ownvoice authors and sensitivity readers to help shape our stories.

I noticed that ‘Let’s Celebrate Diwali’ does something no other picture book on Diwali has done so far – it’s inclusive for multiple religions and eschews the colorism common in Asian kidlit. What decisions led to this?

We are so proud of this book. Our cofounder (and my little sister) had the initial idea. She knew we wanted to do a Diwali book, but we wanted to make sure it was inclusive of all the religions that celebrate the holiday. We approached author Anjali Joshi with the idea and the rest, as they say, is history. As a teacher and writer, she created a beautiful tale that has become one of our bestselling books.

What keeps you up at night – either with excitement for the future, or worries?

I’m so excited about how Bharat Babies is making an impact and changing the world! I truly believe that there is so much power in children’s literature to create meaningful conversations about diversity at a young age and this will change the world!

One of our biggest challenges simply put is financing. As a publishing house, in a very traditional space that is dominated by five big publishing house, there is little space (and investment) for houses like us. But we never let that stop us. Our team works hard, investing each dollar we earn back into our company to help ensure more diverse books come into the market.

How can white families support the work of #OwnVoices authors, illustrators, and publishers?

Buy our books. Directly from us. Always. Request them often. That’s a really wonderful way to help us. You can also share our work with your friends. Share our posts on Facebook and Instagram.

How can our members follow and support the work you’re doing?

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@bharatbabies) to keep up with our latest books. You can also find our collection of books at bharatbabies.com. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate every single order and we are so excited when you share our books with friends in person or on social media.

And if you know a non-profit who serves communities, especially children, reach out to us. Maybe there is a way we can partner.

#OWNVOICES

I am an Asian Indian American and cis-gendered woman.

 

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