Alison Goldberg: How did your vision for Bharat Babies come about?
Sailaja Joshi: The idea for Bharat Babies began when I was pregnant with my daughter in 2013. I had a library-themed baby shower, and with my background in feminism, anthropology, and sociology, I knew it was so important for my daughter to have books with her on the cover. But the children’s books that I found about India were culturally inaccurate and insensitive.
I was in the car with a friend and told her, “I can’t believe this doesn’t exist.” She said, “You can do something about this.” I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and I launched Bharat Babies starting with $1000 grant from Northeastern University where I was in a PhD program at the time.
The response was amazing. Hanuman and the Orange Sun by Amy Maranville, illustrated by Tim Palin, is our flagship book, and we met our presale goal for this book within three days. Since then, we’ve seen a lot of ups and downs, but I will persist until the end to get the funding because this work is very important.
AG: How is Bharat Babies set up?
SJ: As a publishing house we are nontraditional. We are open to submissions from anyone. Once we take a manuscript, we work closely with the author and illustrator, who work in concert with each other. I believe they need to birth it together since this makes for a much better book.
For example, in Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Jessica Blank, there is a moment in the story when Anjali and her mom are snuggling in bed, and the author reminded the illustrator to portray the girl’s earrings in this scene since Indian girls typically sleep with their earrings on. Little nuances like this help change perspectives and demonstrate the lived reality of the South Asian diaspora.
I refuse to do teaching tales as a way to showcase diversity. I want stories from the mundane to the extraordinary.
AG: In what ways do you see your publishing work as activism?
SJ: Bharat Babies is the instrument of my activism. I want to be purposeful about the stories we create to encourage big conversations for our communities. One book can change an entire child’s perspective, and a teacher’s, and parent’s, too. Now that these books exist, no one can take that away. They will always resonate in a way that hasn’t been given visibility before.
There is the physical act of taking up space on that bookshelf. In conversations about diversity, we often talk about a seat in the boardroom, etc., but our kids deserve space on the bookshelf, starting at birth.
AG: What would you like to see more of?
SJ: I love publishing new authors. I love being a conduit to a dream, and seeing authors and illustrators see their book for the first time.
I want Bharat Babies to increase our early readers and publish young adult books over time. The need will always be there to continue to be part of a conversation about diversity and literature and its importance, from birth.
AG: What changes would you like to see in the publishing industry?
SJ: I’d like to see more acceptance of nontraditional publishing methods. And I’d like acknowledgement of how the current system of publishing is linked to prestige and privilege. We need to acknowledge that to break it. Being the token brown person in the room is frustrating.
AG: Are there publishers that you look to as models?
AG: What are some of your favorite children’s books about social justice and activism?
SJ: Carmela Full of Wishes, by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson. I love how it quietly talks about immigration and social justice. Also, A is for Activist, by Innosanto Nagara, and I Will Be Fierce!, by Bea Birdsong, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani. When we read it, my kids call out, “I will be fierce!”
Thank you, Sailaja!
Learn more about Bharat Babies at https://bharatbabies.com.