The British author loved in India

The first book in series, Timmy and Treasure, was released in January. The second story she’s written, Five and the Runaway Dog, released in May this year, introduces Simi, a girl of South Asian heritage, and her family who have moved into the village. Simi plays a major part in the story and is also featured on the front cover. The third book, Five and the Message in a Bottle, an upcoming release slated for May 2023, includes a police chief of Nigerian heritage. A girl in a hijab is featured in images and as a village resident.

Another author – Jacqueline Wilson – has written a new story for The Magic Faraway Tree series, addressing some of the gender prejudices of the original. The book, which was published in May, retains the characters of the Faraway Tree that readers know and love – Moonface, Silky the Fairy and Saucepan Man – and introduces new characters Milo, Mia and Birdy. In the revised editions, among other subtle changes, the girls aren’t the only ones helping with domestic chores and Milo is a boy with longish hair who often wears pink.

The re-written Famous Five books have been received well by young audiences – and not just in the UK, but Spain and Portugal, too, says Ahmed. “My readers see the Britain they are familiar with, one that is multi-cultural and inclusive,” she says.

Though Blyton is still popular in India, she doesn’t hold a cultural monopoly over young minds. Indian authors and publishers have long catered to young children, and children’s book publishing in the country is going through a revolution, as publishers experiment by translating into different Indian languages and exploring new subjects. The Delhi-based Children’s Book Trust, a pioneer in children’s publishing that has been operating for 60 years, now reaches hundreds of readers in India’s remote rural villages. Pratham Books, a non-profit publisher in India, has been producing engaging children’s stories since 2004, which have been translated into 21 Indian languages, including four tribal languages. The award-winning Duckbill, acquired by Penguin Random House, has published books about Indian characters such as Chumki in Chumki and the Elephants, a story of how a young girl learns more about the wild animals who are so much a part of her home. “These are books about children from different cultural backgrounds even within India, giving children a peek into the lives of kids who are so different from them, and yet, so alike in many ways,” says the author of Chumki, Lesley Denise Biswas. “When books are written by diverse authors, their personal experiences are invaluable.” 

And yet, Blyton still has the power to overcome her critics and to transfix; as Purandare discovered on that August morning, when her daughter Rumi spent long, happy hours reading with her grandmother. “It made me nostalgic,” she says. “Growing up, it was all I ever did with my pocket money: invest it in buying more books by Blyton. So, it made sense to me that Blyton was able to transcend any generational gap – to be so loved and read at all ages.” 

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