Child’s Play

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Look, it’s a book.

New story, new journey

For a new world, I took.

 

Happily, I drift away

From fables to fantasies

Feeling both, pity and gay.

 

My heart wears a new look

Every page when I turn.

Oh, look, it’s a new book!

 

How tender is a child’s mind? It is elastic enough to be molded into a shape that can determine things for a long. Precisely the reason why literature for children is an investment for the future. We all know how about the evil lurking behind the pretty faces of Cindrella’s step family. And then, there are the good people (read: angels) who fight the evil and bring joy to everyone. While Cinderella’s step family is the ‘enemy’, Nancy Drew is the ‘friend’ who solves mysteries and punishes the bad guys. Books and stories written for children have a lasting impact on their behavior, perception and outlook. It shapes their thinking and personality.

Indian children’s literature is hugely influenced by the rich and imaginative traditional Indian folklore. The Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, the Panchatantra, the Jatakas and Puranas although not necessarily written for children are most popular among them. Most of the stories we read include pieces of these epics packaged in an avatar more pleasing and connecting to the children. Moreover, these books give them a flavor of India’s glorious past which helps them recognise their roots. But keeping this traditional, myth based literature aside it would not be facetious to say that there is a paucity of books coming for children from the Indian independent publishers

For most of us, these traditional stories were prescribed childhood reading. Growing up, RK Narayan and Ruskin Bond remain probably the most popular Indian children writers – they even feature in school curriculum. However, times are changing today, Indian authored books have broken all stereotypes with more relevant stories, using ‘Hinglish’ words and  more local settings that build the much needed connect. The Enid Blytons and JK Rowlings are slowly being replaced by a new breed of Indian authors like Ira Saxena, Nilima Sinha and the like.

But is children’s literature reaching beyond the middle classes in India? Affordability, accessibility and relevance will need to be addressed to universalize the spread of literature for the young. Having said that, just like Indian writing took time to get an international footprint, there is hope for children’s literature. Change is just around the corner. Several publishing houses like Karadi tales, Penguin Puffin and the like today focus specifically on children’s literature. Bookstores have a separate kids section that feature not only international titles but special Indian versions as well.

Moving with the times, more access to e-books and web graphic stories will widen the reach of literature for our young generation. But, before that those who control the access of the young to stories and tales need to recognise that – “Life’s best lessons come from books. A sea change is in how parents should see books — as necessities rather than luxuries.”

 

– Milind Gandhi

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