CHENNAI: Books should gently introduce a child to the reality of life, according to Radhika Meganathan, award-winning children’s book writer based in the city. Bullying, everyday tension in school, and comparison among friends are a few things teens suffer from, and children’s books should deal with these, she says. Radhika has been writing picture books and stories ever since she won a fellowship by Highlights magazine in 2004.
Radhika, who organises meetups every month for enthusiasts of children book writing, says that most participants, when asked to come up with an idea for novels meant for children, usually pitch in with something related to fantasy and magic. “There are so many other topics like ego, friendship, jealousy and parental care, but writers, especially those who are parents, prefer not to expose their children to the reality of life,” she says.
She recounts an incident in which she had asked the participants to write about child abuse. “The initial reaction from most was negative. Though everyone knows that abuse is prevalent, no one wants to write about the ‘horrible’ topic. They do not understand that such stories would empower the child to deal with such situations,” she says. In yet another meetup, she asked the participants to imagine a situation in which the mother of a child is diagnosed with cancer, and write a story from the child’s perspective. “Again, they refused to add the idea to the novel,” says Radhika, who is currently working on two novels — one that deals with a vulnerable teenager who is forced to help her parents open a new restaurant, and another about a high school girl who has a crush on a not-so-good boy. Both are contemporary and mainly focus on the age group of 16 to 18, which needs guidance, says the author of the picture book The Village Fair and Second Helpings, a collection of short stories.
While most commercial children’s book hits include the various versions of Panchatantra, Ramayana and Mahabharata, publishers Tulika, Tara and Duckbill are coming up with topics to suit the present generation. She quotes the book Faces in Water by Ranjit Lal which talks about female infanticide, as a good read. “Apart from the plots, there is a general restriction in the use of words when it comes to children’s novels. It is too sanitised,” she says. According to her, writers consciously keep away from using cuss words, which makes the novel seem less real. Every teenager is aware of such words, says Radhika, who also organises workshops for children.
Radhika’s views about writing took a turn after she underwent the creative writing course in London University in 2007. “Unlike in India, in the US and UK, the network of writers is really vibrant. There are countless groups there, whereas in India you can just count them in your hand,” she says. Radhika got back to India and decided to help budding writers by hosting workshops and retreats. While earlier, the participation was meagre, in the last two to three years, she says she has been seeing an increased participation. “There have been workshops for which I have got just one person, but then the number keeps fluctuating anywhere between one and 15,” she says.
Radhika conducts writing workshops in Anna Nagar and Velachery. Interested people can enroll at http://www.meetup.com/Childrens-writers-in-Chennai/. She also offers author consultancy services. If you have written a book and are unsure about the next step, you can get in touch with her. Details can be found at www.childrenswriter.in, or call her at 9444485133.