In late 2014, Sailaja Joshi took the lead to carve out a niche overlooked by other publishers: South Asian children’s books. The lack of titles reflecting the Indian way of life fueled her desire to produce diverse kids’ literature, not knowing at the time that launching an independent publishing company would be far from easy.
“The industry is really a machine designed to prop up the major publishing houses,” Joshi says. “And being an indie—particularly one focused on diverse kids’ lit—has been a continuous challenge.” Today, she funds the business through pre-order campaigns on every book as well as a “family and friends” investor who believes in her mission. “I think it was lovely optimism mixed with deep activism that brought this publishing house to life."
An avid reader since childhood, Joshi, 38, was captivated by every book she laid her hands on, from Harry Potter to Amelia Bedelia. But when she wanted her own children to read books written by South Asian authors featuring South Asian characters, she discovered that void in the market and seized the opportunity to fill it. Since the birth of Mango & Marigold Press (formerly Bharat Babies), the publisher has printed 20 titles across four categories, catering to various ages.
“We currently produce books from birth up to young adult,” Joshi says. The company’s titles include a middle-grade novel coming out in May, and the second book in the Anjali series—the first children’s title to spotlight a South Asian hero—scheduled for release in September.
Joshi assumed her target audience for these books would be folks who grew up in the U.S., but whose parents were raised in India and longed for their families to remain connected to their heritage. But that's not the case. Instead, Mango & Marigold’s collection reaches a broader demographic.
“I realized that the appeal of our books, really the need for our books, was much bigger,” Joshi explains. “I realized that our books were vital for not just BIPOC families, but also white families, so their children could see other children.”
Over the past year or so, Joshi has spearheaded the #1001DiverseBooks initiative, which encourages individuals in the community to sponsor a copy of a book for just $10, enabling every child access to high-quality children's literature. “This year, we’re doing some really big things with the initiative, so stay tuned,” she says.
As a reader, Joshi finds herself drawn to young adult, graphic, and romance novels because her mind needs an escape. These five books top her reading list for 2021.
If I Tell You The Truth , by Jasmin Kaur (January 2021). “I have really been vibing on poetry and prose for the past year or so, and I cannot wait for this wonderful piece by Jasmin . The book is her second and explores trauma, fear, courage, and the healing power of love. I love books like this as I often will take a moment in my day to leaf through, read a verse, and reflect.”
Sister of the Bollywood Bride, by Nandini Bajpai (May 2021). “I loved Nandini ’s first book, A Match Made in Mehendi, because it didn’t fall into many classic tropes of exploring Indianness that I often see. I felt so connected to the characters. Nandini has a great way of creating such relatable stories.”
Red, White, and Whole , by Rajani LaRocca (February 2021). “I love Rajani ’s first book Midsummer's Mayhem (so did my daughter), and how it turned a Shakespearean classic on its head and featured South Asian kids, well, being kids. Red, White, and Whole is a departure from Rajani’s Shakespeare-inspired middle-grade/young adult books. It explores the world of Reha, an Indian-American girl who feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian-American student, and home, where she celebrates those Indian traditions. When Reha finds out her mother is sick, she becomes determined to save her.”
A Promised Land , by Barack Obama (Fall 2020). “Admittedly, I’m late to the game here, but I loved Michelle Obama ’s book because it painted such a wonderful and honest picture of motherhood that I could easily relate to. I am hoping Barack ’s will give me that hope and promise I so deeply need.”
Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame , by Supriya Kelkar (February 2021). “This is a historical fiction young-adult book, and Supriya has such a powerful voice. I find I read her books in one sitting (if I get the time). The story takes place in 1857 India, where 12-year-old Meer escapes a life she had no say in. It explores the moment in time where India was beginning to seek its independence from the British. I love how Supriya explores the untold stories of India's history.”