Birth of Art1st Books

Exploring Art1st Books through ‘Play’

By Ritu Khoda, Founder, Art1st

“Every book is a door that opens onto another world…The object we call a
book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It
exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of
the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates.”

Rebecca Solnit

I opened several doors in my childhood but never through a book. I was too busy climbing trees, plucking mangoes, knocking wickets, and fighting bullies to think of books! But what I did on a regular basis was daydream – of magical lands of colour inhabited by celestial beings, merchants, traders and tantric yogis. These daydreams, however, came crashing down when I took literature in my 11 th grade. I realized that I had paid absolutely no attention to someone else’s world of imagination created through words. These words had the power to conjure images in my mind. This realization changed me. I had a lot of catching up to do. I became a voracious reader. Books from all genres found a home on my shelf. But what took me deeper into the world of children’s literature was my professor of clinical psychology. She gave me The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett along with chocolates as my farewell gift. I was quite amused. Why would she give me a book from children’s literature? I was entering the world of adulthood. I was heading to do my Masters in Psychology. How was this book going to help me? Little did I know then that by opening the pages of the Secret Garden I had alreadyopened the door to the resounding symphony of children’s world.

When I founded Art1st in 2009, it was to bring a world of creative possibilities into our classrooms. I knew that one of the ways to open that door would be through books on art. We created curriculum books from preschool to grade 8th for the schools we mentored. The themes in the books varied from concrete to abstract, fantastical to conceptual. The detailed presentation on art history and curated works of artists provided an understanding of Indian art in relation to its social and cultural history. These books ensured high engagement and participation of students in creative and reflective work.

While working with the children, I realized that I needed to open yet another door, a door that leads to artists’ studio and gives them a peep into their life. It was important that our children dive deeper into the world of Indian Art and artists so they could bring into their awareness the power of creative thinking. So, we developed four main categories of books on art- each for a specific age-group, keeping in mind their cognitive, social and artistic development.

Games and Art Series
Magical World of the Wild
People and Places

Art Exploration Series
Raza’s Bindu
Ambadas’s Dancing Brush

Art Integrated Series
Art is a Verb

Eye Spy Series
Eye Spy Indian Art

Our books were meant to engage and delight young readers. These had to be deliciously crafted books that would whisk our children away from their world into the world of images. We wanted ‘play’ to be the navigating force behind our work because we wanted them to explore the book as a learning space that was interactive and fun. At the same time, we wanted our parents to go beyond the obvious and understand the power of visual literacy.

When it came to curating works and lives of Indian artists, it was important that the child felt a personal connection with them. One way of making this process effective was by sharing anecdotal stories of artists from their childhood. This presented an opportunity to create an open and free space for children to discover artists in their own way. Our titles for preschoolers, under the Games and Art series, did this by combining simple games like counting, spot the difference with Indian artworks from across genres. These works of art became the exciting playground on which children could play and learn, with the help of tactile interventions.

Over the years, Art1st Books have become larger than my personal passion. Even after ten years of art1st, I can’t stop questioning my fascination for images. What draws me to them? Where do ideas come from? Why are my ideas different from yours? What triggers our imagination? Why does our mind gravitate towards a fantastical world of colorful structures?

– Ritu Khoda, Founder of Art1st Books

Read more about our books:

This post was originally written for The Bookwallis on Facebook, by Art1st Founder-Director, Ritu Khoda. You can read the piece and enjoy the pictures here.


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