"Our aim is to empower young readers"
Bok Bok Books is a unique collective effort by global artists and writers, who have made it their mission to ensure that all children have access to stories that resonate with their own experiences.
Their story is one of passion, a longing for stories that reflect their language and values, and a commitment to filling the literary landscape with diverse narratives.
Their latest creation, Bhorta Bhorta Baby!, is a baby board book celebrating the traditional Bengali dish bhorta.
It is written by Jumana Rahman and illustrated by Maryam Huq and is set to take young readers on an enchanting culinary adventure.
Bok Bok Books founder Rumana Yasmin’s unwavering dedication to championing the diverse voices of children’s literature is as inspiring as it is heartwarming.
Here, we delve into the essence of Bok Bok Books, the magic behind Bhorta Bhorta Baby!, and explore Rumana’s passionate vision for the future of literature.
Can you share the inspiration behind starting Bok Bok Books?
Bok Bok Books was born from the pressing diversity issue in publishing.
During the early years of my parenting journey, I noticed the lack of books representing my background, culture, and language while reading to my daughter.
The absence of diversity concerned me, as I thought about the impact it would have on my daughter’s self-image and understanding of her heritage.
It was during this time that I discovered a survey conducted by CLPE, which revealed a stark statistic.
Only 1% of books published in the UK in 2017 had a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic main character.
This revelation inspired me to go on a completely new career path.
My mission with Bok Bok Books is to address the diversity gap in publishing by ensuring that underrepresented voices are authentically shared through children’s literature.
How do you envision Bok Bok Books making a difference?
Our commitment to promoting diversity and amplifying underrepresented voices extends beyond supporting authors and artists from diverse backgrounds.
Our mission is to demonstrate that books can be thoughtfully crafted FOR diverse communities.
“We acknowledge them as a valuable and deserving audience.”
In the words of a well-known Bangla proverb, “Bindu Bindu Jole Shindhu Hoy” – “droplets of water collectively form the sea.
We believe that every contribution, no matter how small, can play a big role in cultivating a more inclusive and diverse publishing landscape in the UK.
Can you tell us about working with Jumana Rahman and Maryam Huq?
Jumana approached me with Bhorta Bhorta Baby! at a time when we had no capacity to make another title.
No Bengali can turn down a chance to celebrate bhorta; however, it was Jumana’s enthusiasm for the book that really drew me in.
I loved collaborating with her.
Our co-editing sessions were spent sharing stories about the toddlers in our lives and debating about the necessity of coriander in bhorta.
We read aloud the text countless times, which Jumana happily and tirelessly volunteered to do until we were both entirely satisfied with the final result.
Selecting Maryam as the illustrator for the book was a natural choice.
Her vibrant style was exactly what Jumana and I were looking for.
Although this was the first book that she had illustrated, Maryam approached it with incredible grace and skill.
Halfway through the project, Maryam announced that she was taking a giant leap, leaving her job to become a full-time illustrator.
There was no doubt that she would thrive, and it has been wonderful seeing her doing so well.
Nurturing Jumana and Maryam’s talents and ensuring they had the best possible experience was a top priority for me.
To this end, I enlisted the expertise of a talented art director, Clare Baggaley, who played a crucial role in bringing out the best in Maryam’s illustrations.
Additionally, I engaged a PR professional, Dannie Price, to further the reach and impact of Bhorta Bhorta Baby! and to support the promising careers of these debut talents.
Authenticity is crucial, particularly when publishing authors from diverse backgrounds.
Stories should reflect the genuine experiences and expressions of the author, and avoid harmful stereotypes and misrepresentation.
Children’s literature can provide windows into the lives, traditions, and experiences of others.
In turn, this can promote empathy and dispel stereotypes.
Early exposure to inclusive books lays the foundations for open-mindedness, respect, and a lifelong commitment to embracing and celebrating the richness of our global society.
Can you elaborate on the impact you hope these stories will have?
Stories are powerful – they help us construct our understanding of the world.
By offering narratives that include a whole range of viewpoints and experiences, our aim is to empower young readers to become informed, empathetic, and critical thinkers.
“This will ultimately contribute to a brighter and more inclusive future.”
We seek to break free from singular narratives that have resulted in the multiple crises we are experiencing globally.
What steps does Bok Bok Book take to ensure inclusivity?
When working towards inclusivity and representation, there is a fair amount of rethinking that needs to be done with the way we do things.
We are rethinking our audience – modern Britain is not made up of one ‘core’ audience.
We are rethinking ‘quality’ by dismissing the idea that there are universal standards for how a story needs to be presented.
We are rethinking who we work with, not just when it comes to the authors and artists, but also partner organisations that are supporting us in our journey.
What challenges and opportunities have you encountered?
One of the key challenges has been in playing the numbers game.
You’re not represented by most distributors unless you publish a certain number of books per year.
You’re not allowed into certain bookshops (most independent bookshops are awesome!) unless you have already sold in numbers that actually go beyond our entire print run.
“You can’t make a profit on Amazon unless you sell in the thousands!”
Navigating this terrain while maintaining a small and sustainable operation has been a significant issue.
On the flip side, I’ve been fortunate to receive support from professionals in the industry who recognise the value of our mission.
So while there are gatekeepers, there are also people who really believe in the power of books to create a better world.
Can you share any upcoming projects from Bok Bok Books?
A very exciting project was launched this summer with DESIblitz and a very talented artist from Teesside, Miki Rogers.
The project aims to capture and share stories of migration to Middlesbrough and Redcar & Cleveland, building on Miki Rogers’ existing work, titled ‘One Suitcase.’
In ‘One Suitcase,’ Miki interviews migrants about the tangible and intangible items they have brought with them on their migration journey, exploring their cultural significance.
As an extension of ‘One Suitcase,’ we have created a mobile museum of migration, featuring items borrowed from interviewees.
These items are being exhibited in the DESIblitz Truck Art Bus, a unique exhibition and activity space, at various local events and venues.
Visitors can listen to soundscapes created from ‘One Suitcase’ interviews and explore the collection of objects.
The observations and responses collected during these exhibitions, along with the stories of migration documented in ‘One Suitcase,’ will inform the creation of a children’s book by Bok Bok Books.
This book will delve into the cultural, historical, and social significance of selected objects.
This will allow young readers to connect with these items, understand their importance in expressing heritage and culture, and appreciate the shared story of human migration.
How do you hope Bok Bok Books will add to the broader landscape of children’s publishing?
The world only has a select few narratives that it chooses to hear.
But, we aim to establish the message that diversity and inclusivity in storytelling are not only valuable but essential for a richer, more empathetic future.
“We are interested in books that create ‘bok bok’, the Bangla word for endless chatter.”
If you feel strongly about a subject that you feel needs to be included in conversations with our children, then Bok Bok Books would like to hear from you.
In a world brimming with literary choices, Bok Bok Books has risen above the crowd to offer something truly extraordinary.
Their collective spirit, uniting artists and writers from different corners of the world, emphasises the importance of inclusive children’s literature.
Bhorta Bhorta Baby!, authored by Jumana Rahman and brought to life through Maryam Huq, is a testament to Bok Bok Books’ unwavering commitment to celebrating cultural diversity.
With playful rhymes and captivating visuals, this baby board book is set to enchant young readers and take them on a journey into the heart of South Asian cuisine.
Bok Bok Books, Rumana Yasmin, Jumana Rahman, and Maryam Huq have proven that stories have the power to unite, educate, and inspire.
They have turned their passion into a journey that brings delight to children and promises a brighter, more inclusive future for children’s literature.
The latest book from Bok Bok Books is Bhorta Bhorta Baby! written by Jumana Rahman, and illustrated by Maryam Huq.
It is out on November 21, 2023. Order your copies here.