Sailaja Joshi’s small, Somerville-based publishing house is diversifying children’s lit, one title at a time.
It all started when Sailaja Joshi was an expectant mother who wanted to have a library-themed baby shower. As she searched for books to include on her registry, she noticed there was something missing.
“I realized I couldn’t find any books where it looked like my daughter on the cover,” Joshi explains. “I thought it was really messed up that it was 2013 and that my daughter wasn’t going to be able to see herself in books.”
As a sociologist and anthropologist, Joshi understood how important it is for children to read early—and to see themselves represented in the books they pick up. The existing titles that did feature Indian characters were, at best, inaccurate. Others were downright offensive. None took into account her future child’s developmental needs.
That’s when Joshi began laying the groundwork for Bharat Babies, a publishing house telling stories of India’s heritage. “We really started out as me refusing to believe that my daughter would have this reality,” she says simply. “That’s really it.” The publishing house launched in November 2014 with the illustrated title Hanuman and the Orange Sun. Bharat Babies has since published six other board books, illustrated books and early readers, and they have three more on the way.
“I think it’s really powerful now that my daughter and her classmates know other realities,” Joshi says, “that they’re just hanging out chatting about Ramadan and how they’re not going to eat until the sun goes down, because that’s what Amal does.”
“I think that’s such a sweet moment,” she continues, “that these children are pretending to be Hanuman, and calling themselves Harini, in the same way that I was mesmerized by Harold and the Purple Crayon and Harry Potter.”