Interview With Sailaja Joshi CEO And Founder Bharat Babies
In the Spring of 2013, Sailaja Joshi was on a mission to complete her baby registry in preparation for the arrival of her first child. Inline with her “library” themed baby shower, Sailaja went on the hunt to find books about Indian culture that she could share with her newborn daughter. Of the few books that spoke to her Indian heritage, Sailaja realized that none of these books took into account the developmental needs of her growing child. Recognizing this gap in children’s literature, the idea for Bharat Babies was born.
Tell us about yourself.
So! My name is Sailaja Joshi and I am the CEO and founder of Bharat Babies, a children’s publishing house that helps families diversify their bookshelves, one story at a time. Founded in 2014, we’ve bootstrapped the funding to produce 13 books, across four product categories with several additional books slated for release over the next two years. My roots in reading are deep, as there is not a moment in my life where I cannot remember not having a book with me. I spent my early 20s gaining an understanding of the Asian-Indian Diaspora as a Sociologist and working as a Consumer Anthropologist in boutique consulting agencies. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I realized there was such a huge diversity gap in children’s literature. Refusing to live in a world where my child would not see herself on the cover of a book, I took the matter into my own hands and started Bharat Babies with just $1,000 of seed capital. I still currently balance all the day-to-day things, a full-time job that helps to pay the bills, two adorable, but incredibly mischievous kids, a wonderful husband, and of course, Bharat Babies.
What did inspired you to create a children book?
It started from a really simple, selfish place. I wanted my daughter to be able to hear the stories of our Indian culture, history, and heritage in a way that reflected her lived multicultural identity. I couldn’t find those books on the marketplace and the books that I did find, that were supposed to be geared towards here, were problematic, to say the least. So, I started a company to help fix that. While, maybe someday, I’ll write a book or two, right now I really happy being the nurture of these stories and helping them come to fruition.
What sort of stories are in the books?
So our mission is to tell stories that reflect every day to the extraordinary. Stories of celebrations of holidays, religious milestones, to having to clean up after playing inside every day. You’ll find retellings of classical myths, to stories of children learning to honor their names. It’s a really wonderful mix of books, and we’re so proud of them!
Which book is your personal favorite?
Oh man, that’s like asking me, my favorite child! I’m going to give you a very diplomatic answer. I love them all for so many reasons. I love Hanuman and the Orange Sun because it was the first, and gave us a way forward. I love Padmini is Powerful because it has touched SO many people in ways I could never imagine. I love our Amal series because, because seeing a little brown boy do good can be so hard in this media age. I love Always Anjali because that story is something I so deeply needed at such a young age and now children have it. I love the inspiration Sarla in the Sky has provided to so many adults, in ways I never dreamed possible. And I love Satya, she’s fiery like my daughter and so full of kindness and generosity.
Describe the route to your first book published.
So, the idea for Bharat Babies had been burning in my mind for about 8 months. I had done some research, realized I wanted to be the CEO and NOT the author, understood that in order to start really truly pitching this idea, this vision, I *needed* an illustrator. However, I didn’t have the financial leverage to simply hire someone, and so I reached out to Northeastern University’s IDEA Prototype Fund. As an alumna of the school, I have this really amazing access to people and resources who were ready to support me. They gave me $1,000, no strings attached and told me to chase my dream.
With that money, I hired our first illustrator, Tim Palin, and author Amy Maranville and have never looked back.
How is this book helpful to the children?
It’s so incredibly important for children, *all children* to see themselves and others in stories that are being told. Rudline Sims Bishop has a phenomenal discussion on this in, *Critical Multicultural Analysis of Children’s Literature: Mirrors, Windows, and Doors* drawing the analogy that books can be windows into worlds previously undiscovered to the reader; they open like sliding glass doors to allow the reader inside. But books can also be mirrors, and this is really important. When books reflect back to us our own experiences, when stories reflect our lived reality, our experiences, it tells the reader that their lives and experiences are valued. They are seen. They are heard, and they deserve to be.
Who is your favorite author?
Man oh Man. That’s so hard. Growing up, I was incredibly found (and still am) of RK Narayan. I also loved Aldos Huxley. And finally, J.K.Rowling. I’ll let you in on a secret. I’ve read each of the Harry Potter Books at least 7x each and typically am ALWAYS listening to them on tape. J.K Rowling’s words and her crafting of a story is so amazing, I love hearing them.
What is the plan for the next few years?
Continue to bridge the diversity gap in children’s literature, one story at a time.
What is a regular day for you?
HECTIC. But it starts around 5 am, with a workout, cooking breakfast and getting kids lunches set. I had to my full-time job, do all the things there, and then am typically home by 5 pm. I make dinner, hang with the kids, get them in bed and then do Bharat Babies work from 9 pm till around midnight. Then start it all over again.
Some words for the new writers…
Just write. Get the words on the paper.