As publisher previews go this may be one of my shorter posts if only because the featured publisher of the day is not a large sort. I have had the pleasure of seeing the products of Tara Books for a couple years now, but it was only recently that Gita Wolf herself came to town to show me the upcoming season. But first, a bit of background.
If the name “Tara Books” is unfamiliar to you here’s what you should know. What we have here is a worker-owned independent publisher. One that is based out of Chennai, India where a collective of writers and designers and artists come up with these books. Some of their books are handmade (a little symbol with a hand appears in the catalog when that’s the case) while others use hand-binding or silkscreen printed pages. And to top it all off they sell in the States. Have for years.
Now one of the things I like about the Tara Books presentation is that they don’t feel they have to slot their books into niche categories. As they say in their catalog, “In an ideal world, we would present our books in some order – even an alphabetical one – and you would be free to decide on who the reader is.” It reminds me of that recent Colbert Report interview with Maurice Sendak where Sendak said (and here I am paraphrasing) “I write books and somebody tells me they’re for children.” However, since that is not an entirely practical way to sell books in this day and age Tara Books has given their books categories here and there.
With that in mind we’re going to begin with a book that appears in the Adults_Picture Books section of the catalog but could be enjoyed by many a kid as well. I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail is a folk poem from the 17th century. It’s called “trick verse” where it seems not to make any sense at first. Then you give the middle of a sentence a break and it starts to become logical. So right off the bat you’ve got some complex wordplay. In addition to that there is the art of Ramsingh Urveti. I’m having a hard time describing what happens here but I’ll try. Essentially, Urveti makes use of die-cut illustrations that take care to focus the reader’s attention on specific little circles. As you read, however, the wordplay and the art combine and contrast, leaving you with something that feels like Who Needs Donuts? meets Tree of Codes. I can’t really describe it any better than that. Suffice to say, it’s enthralling.
Next up, some books that are definitely made for young readers specifically. Excuses, Excuses! is the first of these, a unique combination of photography and art. It’s written by Anushka Ravishankar, a writer I once heard referred to as “the Dr. Seuss of India”. The hero of this tale is a boy by the name of Neel. He’s the kind of kid that never quite follows the rules, and has plenty of reasons for why that might be. Illustrator Gabrielle Manglou has a bit of fun with this one, as you can see:
I like that the catalog chose to pair that new little book with the slightly more traditional The Great Race. It’s written by Nathan Kumar Scott (who lives in Colorado, if I understood correctly) and illustrated by Jagdish Chitara who pulls out all the stops with a Mata-ni-Pachedi style of ritual textile painting from Gujarat (can you tell I’m quoting from the catalog here?). The story is based on an Indonesian folktale and this is the first time this particular style has been used to tell a picture book tale. And as you can see, the results are worth it:
And finally, this came out in 2010 but is so blooming cool that I had to include it here. I’m a big graphic novel fan to begin with, so when I saw this amazing title I knew I had to see it firsthand, though technically it’s not for children. The blues musician/writer/poet Arthur Flowers tells the story of MLK in the title I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King. His words are alongside the work of Manu Chitrakar, a traditional Bengali patua scroll artist. What results is a story that’s a scroll turned comic book, telling the great man’s tale more creatively than most of the books we see on this topic. It got a star from Booklist back in the day, y’know. An interview with Mr. Flowers in The Ithaca Post explains how the project came together and some of the collaborative elements that came into play.
And here’s a performance of Mr. Flowers himself:
Finally, a lot of the books created by Tara are handmade. What happens when the printing process goes a little awry? One word: Flukebooks. Similar to those moleskins you authors are always carrying about, Flukebooks take the prints that went a little wonky in the shop and repurposes them into gorgeous one-of-a-kind notebooks. Voila:
That, as they say, is that. I wasn’t lying when I said it was a short post. They have a big catalog, but only few things out each season. By the way, to keep up with Tara Books I recommend that you follow their blog. A recent post called A Book Trail in Mexico is a sumptuous feast. This image, amongst many, is just the tip of the iceberg:
Many thanks to Ms. Wolf for visiting NYPL and showing us the upcoming season!