It all started in 2013 with a baby shower. Sailaja Joshi, then a doctoral candidate in Northeastern University’s sociology program, wanted to plan a library-themed party for her baby girl. But when she started making her registry, she was alarmed: The children’s books available severely lacked diverse representation, especially when it came to her own Indian culture. So, as a student, Joshi turned to what was familiar: research.
She found that, at the time, there were roughly as many books about animals, trucks, and other non-human characters as there were about children of color, and together, racially diverse books made up barely a quarter of what was being published. Concerned but not deterred, she reached out to the women in her local mothers’ group to ask whether anyone had experience in children’s literature. One mother spoke up—she’d earned her master’s in the subject. From there, everything else just clicked.
Joshi applied for an educational grant through IDEA, Northeastern’s student-led venture accelerator, which helps students and alumni develop a business from concept to launch. After accepting her bare-bones business plan, the program provided Joshi guidance and resources, including $1,000 for her book prototype.
“That was the transformation point,” Joshi says. “That’s how I was able to hire our first illustrator and bring on Amy Maranville, who wrote our first manuscript.”
Joshi took the project to family and friends, whose further investments allowed her to put together a pre-order for Hanuman and the Orange Sun, the first book from her new publishing house, which aims to tell the “sweet and savory stories of the South Asian diaspora.”
Dubbed Mango and Marigold (previously Bharat Babies), the publisher represents a team of eight authors, seven of whom are of South Asian heritage, and prints between 5,000 and 10,000 copies of each book, though many have second or third runs. They’re distributed across the United States at indie bookstores and big-box locations such as Costco—and Joshi says she hopes to reach Target stores soon.
But Joshi doesn’t want these stories to only be available to families who can afford new books. When Finding Om by Rashmi S. Bismark comes out in May, 1,001 copies will be distributed to literacy and advocacy nonprofits working with kids as part of the #1001DiverseBooks campaign, wherein $15 sponsored copies of the book are available on the publisher’s website for “purchase.” Why not settle for an even thousand? In the Hindu culture, ending numbers with 1 indicates growth and prosperity.
That growth is also indicated in Joshi’s vision, to eventually share stories from the entire South Asian continent. More than anything, Joshi and her team want to empower kids in their most vulnerable and formative years—when they need it most—using representation as a catalyst.
“We want every child to see themself as the hero of their story,” Joshi says. “When children see themselves in the ordinary and extraordinary, they realize that anything is possible.”