Anyone who has ever tried to penetrate the world of children’s book publishing will tell you what a daunting task it is. A few fortunate ones, like Pooja Makhijani ( Mama’s Saris) and Uma Krishnaswami (Monsoon) make it to the mainstream, but there are scores more who bravely undertake the project, knowing their chances of breaking through are slim, with every likelihood of their book being consigned to a vast slush pile at the publisher’s desk.
Perhaps we immigrants are inspired by the challenges our children go through to assimilate into this new culture and want to share stories from the war zone. (It certainly isn’t to become the next J.K. Rowling.)
Sanjiv Sinha took a techie approach to the problem of finding a publisher.
A father of 2 daughters from Dallas, Texas, software professional Sinha recalls making up stories for his 4-year-old a few years ago. The stories touched on the common issues faced by desi children in the US – joining a preschool where no one looks like you, bringing lunch that invokes laughter from your classmates, and so on.
The stories were the inspiration for Alisha’s World, a charming picture book revolving around the eponymous Alisha, perhaps a composite of Sinha’s kids Riya and Shibani, who the book is dedicated to. The book has 3 stories revolving around the third-grader Alisha and her experiences at school. Joining a new school at the start of the book, Alisha faces the typical cultural challenges of a second generation Indian American. She navigates them with the help of a loving family, understanding teachers, and good friends. The glossy book is illustrated beautifully by Archana Sreenivasan.
After exploring options of finding a US publisher or using an American self-publisher like Lulu or Amazon, the software professional eventually settled on outsourcing! Alisha’s World is illustrated and printed in India and sold in the US for $17.99.
The books have been a hit at local schools, where teachers have used them to teach valuable lessons on multiculturalism and diversity. To help things along, Sinha set up the Alisha’s World website, which features information about the book, fun games, and a way to purchase the book. A Facebook page keeps fans updated on Alisha and her adventures.
The quality of the book notwithstanding, finding a mainstream audience has been difficult. Says Sinha, “I need to sell just 20,000 books per year to break even.” He is looking at the library and school market rather than individuals who, he admits, might be reluctant to dish out over 15 dollars for the 40-page book.
In the works is the second book of Alisha’s adventures. A typical story deals with Alisha’s request for a sleepover and her parents’ misgivings about this quintessential American ritual.
“I find this endeavor just so much more creatively satisfying than my day job,” laughs Sinha.