Information on children’s book publishing in Pakistan is hard to come by. And it’s a trend across the industry according to this 2017 article from Publishing Perspectives. The same article, however, provides valuable information about educational publishing, highlighting the three major book fairs in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad that focus on this area. It also provides an overview of three publishers who are active in the private education sector: Kifayat Publishers, Association for Academic Quality (AFAQ) and Paramount. Publications for government schools are organised differently by textbook boards in every province.
From what I have read, there seems to be a real disparity between education in private and government schools in Pakistan. A recent article in The Economist states that only 3% of those starting public school graduate from 12th grade (the final year); most children who actually start school drop out by the age of nine. Although equivalent stats were not provided for private schools, that sector is booming with an increase of around 19,000 privately-run establishments over a ten-year period from 2007-2017, to 68,000 countrywide.
Pakistan’s literacy rate remains resolutely low at just 58% (FY 2015-16). An article in The Express Tribune notes that there a big urban-rural divide, with a much higher literacy rate in built-up areas, and that females lag behind their male counterparts.
What about reading for pleasure, I wondered? I found some wonderful books by authors of Pakistani origin that had been published outside Pakistan, but I struggled to find picture books published in the country to share with you. Language has obviously been a barrier here as I have only been able to access information available in English.
So, I contacted Aisha Esbhani, a teenager from Karachi who is currently over half-way through her challenge to read a book from every country in the world. I have been following her popular Facebook page Reading Books from Every Country for a while now and highly recommend her book choices and reviews. Aisha suggested two picture book titles from Oxford University Press in Pakistan, one of which I have been able to order. She also recommended a third very different title, White in the Flag by Mobeen Ansari. Not so much a picture book as a book of pictures, this photographic documentary of religious minorities across Pakistan was launched in August 2017 to coincide with the country’s 70th birthday. I have unfortunately been unable to source a copy of this title, but I did find this sumptuous piece about it online.
Somehow, I have ended up with six picture book titles for the Pakistani leg of our picture book adventure, two of which are from Pakistan. So, in a Planet Picture Book first, I’m going to review them all in two separate blog posts, as was suggested on my Facebook page when I asked for help deciding which books to feature. Thanks for the idea, Katrina McKelvey!
Here is the list of titles we are going to enjoy together:
Amai and the Banyan Tree by Fauzia Aziz Minallah (Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 2012) – a bilingual book in English and Urdu.
Suraj the Tiger Cub by Farida Mirza, illustrated by Nyla Khan and Jason Pruett (Oxford University Press, Pakistan, 2014)
Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (Chronicle Books, 2012)
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoët (Little, Brown and Company, 2017)
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Krömer (Lee & Low Books, 2014)
The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World, a series of 22 short stories about Mulla Nasreddin Hoca, retold by Shahrukh Husain, illustrated by Micha Archer (Barefoot Books, 2011)
The latter two titles were featured on a great list titled ‘Where are our South Asian narratives?’ compiled in 2017 by two Pakistani women majoring in Special Education in the US.
If you are after picture books in Urdu, then check out this blog post by Urdu Mom, which I found on my Internet travels.
Time now for me to re-read all of the above![Image: Shangrila, Skardu, Pakistan by junaidrao, made available under a creative commons licence. Source: flickr.com]