In recent decades, several South Asian authors have gained prominence – not only writers of novels for adults (such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundathi Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Desai, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Salman Rushdie, Chitra Divakaruni, and many others), but also writers of outstanding work for young readers. And in the past five or so years, the latter group has grown exponentially. What are some good ways for parents and educators to stay abreast of this growing list of South Asian writers dedicated to creating books especially for young people, featuring South Asian characters, settings, and themes?
There are at least two important resources to keep up with: The South Asia Book Award seeks to shine a spotlight on some of the best books with South Asian content written for young readers in the English Language; and the website, Kitaab World, has numerous lists of books, interviews, and blog posts about South Asian authors and books. Indeed, the goals of the South Asia Book Award are almost precisely the goals shared by Gauri Manglik and Sadaf Siddique, the founders of Kitaab World, whose blog contains numerous curated lists of books with South Asian content.
Rachel Weiss, the founder of the South Asia Book Award, directed programming at the University of Wisconsin’s (Madison) Center for South Asia for over 16 years and has personal ties to Southern India, where she once lived. Her vision went beyond just evaluating a book’s textual content. She wanted judges to pay attention to illustrations as well when they evaluated picture books. She furthered her mission by creating lesson plans and other resources for the books the award honored, to encourage educators (not just parents and young readers) to support these books.
“If teachers or librarians use the books we have recognized, they will truly be exposed to the depth and breadth of the region called South Asia,” says Emera Bridge-Wilson, who has worked with the South Asia Book Award committee for over a decade. Kevin King, who has served on the SABA committee almost since its inception, has additionally sought to bring attention to some of his favorite South Asian authors via the Kalamazoo Public Library’s podcast.
While awards and lists are not necessarily always the best or only way to judge a book’s excellence or importance, their importance is undeniable. For anyone with an interest in supporting South Asian authors, a look at the past, as well as current and future award winners and honorees of the SABA award, and the books on Kitaab World’s lists, are excellent places to start.
Padma Venkatraman is the author of numerous award-winning books for young people, including Climbing the Stairs, Island’s End, A Time Dance, The Bridge Home, and, most recently, Born Behind Bars; two of which have won and one of which was a finalist for the South Asia Book Award. Visit her at www.padmavenkatraman.com, @padmatv (twitter) or @venkatraman.padma (Instagram).