Feature image description: Illustration from ‘Always Anjali’ by Sheetal Sheth and Jessica Blank. Anjali, an Asian Indian American girl, searches through a rack of novelty license plates, finding only Eurocentric & White-appropriated names .
In this post: Are you making space on your bookshelf for characters of color?
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Sailaja became a supporting member of our Patreon community in 2019, but I’ve been loving on Bharat Babies and hoping to feature them in a maker spotlight since long before this 🙂 All images in this post are the intellectual property of Bharat Babies, and are used with permission. – Ashia R.
The following text is excerpted from my interview with Sailaja N. Joshi, founder of Bharat Babies.
Circumventing White Fragility With Adorable Books
Maker Spotlight Featuring Sailaja N. Joshi, the Founder of Indie Publisher Bharat Babies
[Image description: A laughing child holding up the books Amal’s Ramadan & Amal’s Eid.]
Confronting entitlement & bias
Parents frequently leaf through our books at book festivals 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.
[Image description: A mother and child read ‘Let’s Celebrate Diwali’ together.]
Making space – whose stories belong?
Here’s the thing: I don’t need you to explain.
You have spent your entire lifetime, entire generations, only seeing yourself on the cover of a book.
That was the norm. Seeing white characters in children’s literature is the norm for all children, white and brown alike. But the truth is, these books are for all children.
For parents of white children, I challenge you to actively make space on the bookshelf. To make space, all the space, for a broader picture of the world in which we live.
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.
You might also like: Does Your Bookshelf Pass The Uhura Test?
Empowering voices of color beyond the page
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 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.
Our books open up the world, reflecting a broader picture of the world at large. To that end, we ensure that communities of color have an active role in sharing the stories of their culture, history, and heritage. 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 #OwnVoices and encourage authors, illustrators, and sensitivity readers with lived experience to contribute and shape our stories.
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.
You might also like: Don’t Yuck My Yum: Books Dismantling Orientalism & Food Shaming
[Image description: A parent and child read Shubh Raatri Dost/Good Night Friend while laying down for bedtime stories.]
Dismantling misconceptions about Asian Indian Americans
There are SO many misconceptions about Indian culture. We dispel myths in our books by exemplifying real-life, modern images of Indian and Indian-American peoples.
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, such as in the book Let’s Celebrate Diwali.
We are so proud of this book. Our co-founder (and my little sister), had the initial idea. She wanted to make sure our Diwali book was inclusive of all the religions that celebrate the holiday. We approached author and teacher Anjali Joshi with the idea and the rest, as they say, is history. She created a beautiful tale that has become one of our bestselling books.
Another big misconception is that, as Indian Americans, we 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.
You might also like: Dismantling Stigma Against Sikh Families
Empowering children to see and understand the world
Diversity is not a new idea or initiative; it’s the nature of humanity. 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.
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.
Through compassionate exposure to diversity, we increase education, love, kindness, and understanding. 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 our children to see and understand the world.
You might also like: Stereotype-Free Books Celebrating The Lunar New Year
Fighting against irresponsible mainstream representation
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.
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. Our team works hard, investing each dollar we earn back into our company to help ensure more diverse books come into the market.
In a traditional space that is dominated by five big publishers, there is little space (and investment) for indie publishers like us. 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.
Highly Recommended Books from Books For Littles
Do the kids in your community have access to racially, ethnically, and faith-inclusive books?
If not, donate a book to your local library or elementary school. Many don’t often have a budget to get stories by #OwnVoices makers and indie publishers on the shelves.
You might also like: Raising Luminaries: Books For Tomorrow’s Kind & Brilliant Leaders
How to support #OwnVoices Indie Publishers
Buy our books. Directly from us at BharatBabies.com. Always. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate every single order
Request them often from your library. That’s a really wonderful way to help us.
We are so excited when you share our books with friends in person or on social media. Share our posts on Facebook and Instagram. Follow @BharatBabies on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with our latest books.
And if you know a non-profit who serves communities, especially children, reach out to us. Maybe there is a way we can partner.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Make Space On Your Bookshelf
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