Tara Books, a publishing house from Chennai in south India, are an inspiring collective of individuals – writers, designers and bookmakers – who create illustrated and handmade books for children and adults. In their own words Tara Books are “committed to returning the senses back to the physical book in an age busy writing its own obituary”. Their books engage with a diverse range of themes such as the ancient literary and artistic traditions, folk stories and legends, poetry, fiction, history of both the ancient world and reflections on modernity, sustainability and education, culture, travels, state of modern society, the artistic world, the world of children’s books, the list goes on… Every book from Tara is outside-the-box, pioneering some creative idea or putting their creators’ spin onto familiar ideas, masterfully fusing the words, the art and often a novel design.
Below is the image of what I am ordering next (www.tarabooks.com), a book that demonstrates this outside-the-box quality of everything that Tara Books produce.
Texts on history of children’s picture books are there in abundance, including those on the Russian avant-garde art influence culminating in the golden age of children’s book production in the Soviet Union. This text from Tara humbly titled “Another History of the Children’s Picture Book” is not, however, just another one of the conventional enquiries confined to specific time or space. “From Soviet Lithuania to India”? That is a puzzling research lens if you asked me… Despite being well-conversed in children’s book history of the Soviet Union where I was raised and developed as a reader I would have never thought possible connecting Soviet Lithuania with India in a discussion about children’s books. Can’t wait to see what this is all about, watch out for the review of it in due course.
The great content and high quality of Tara Books production quickly turn their readers into fans. But it is their signature creations – books made entirely by hand – that steal one’s heart. From a total of about 10 to 12 books produced each year 1 or 2 are entirely handmade. These are hand-bound by 25 artisans in a special fair trade workshop facility in Chennai. Each page is an individual screen-print from an original work by one of the artists representing the many artistic traditions of India. Screen-printing by hand using traditional dyes is extremely labour intensive. Tara Books produces a few thousands of handmade books per run and with all their business conducted on a fair trade basis still manages to keep these affordable. The price for a handmade Tara book averages at A$50-60. These books are hugely popular and first run usually sells out at record speed. One of Tara’s earliest handmade books “The Night Life of Trees” has already been reprinted 13 times, whereas “Waterlife” 6 times and I wish for those to be reprinted hundred times more so that more people can experience the joy of engaging with these objects-of-the-art.
Apart from hand-made books Tara is the only publisher I know that experiments a lot with formats such as fold outs of all kinds, scrolls replicas, textile inserts, panoramas. A few recent examples are “An Indian Beach” and “Knock! Knock!”:
Needless to say that Tara Books has won more awards than I can fit in this post. The full list of their awards goes over five (no kidding!) A4 pages. Bologna Children’s Book Fair Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the year in Asia (2013), the London Book Fair International Book Industry Excellence Award (2014) are examples of duly honouring this unique publishing house in its glorious entirety.
The pleasure of engaging with Tara’s books is multifaceted. Intellectually rewarding texts, visually stunning art, handmade books that are both an intellectual and a multisensory physical thrill (think smell and paper texture which are hard to describe and impossible to convey through any digital images). If you have a home library it is not complete without at least one of Tara Books creations. If you decide you need one or many head to www.tarabooks.com and be spoiled for choice. If you live in Sydney pay a visit to the wonderful “Lost in Books” shop in Fairfield NSW (www.lostinbooks.com.au). They stock or can order all the latest Tara Book titles. Here are some old and recent titles in my library which I intend to gradually review in this blog:
It’s really hard to round up a review of Tara Books in just one post. I have recently had a privilege of meeting with two of their wonderful team members Ragini Siruguri and Dhwani Shah, the talented young designers who visited Sydney to run workshops for adults and kids (read about this experience and other Tara books here).