This Childrens Day, City Express takes a look at what’s on your ward’s bookshelf & in the market.Till a few decades back, tales of happily-ever-afters reigned kid’s literature, now subjects are changing.
CHENNAI: Remember those days when your grandmother or your teacher would tell a story and prod you what the ‘moral of the story’ was? Or how when every story you read or heard was about a prince and a princess living happily ever after? Interestingly, stories needn’t be that way given the varieties of stories that are produced by authors and publishers in the country these days. From stories that are all about an ordinary child with ordinary wishes to stories of a curious child who refuses to conform to gender stereotypes, children’s literature has patrons who deliberately choose the unconventional path, going beyond the standard template of the kind of stories most of us grew up on.
In a recent panel discussion in the city among various children’s book, authors shed light on telling a story that caters to every child irrespective of their background. Bearing that in mind, the discussion focused on the oft-missed subject of ‘inclusion’. Writers like Anushka Ravishankar, Zainab Sulaiman, Zai Whitaker, and Sujatha Padmanabhan, addressed this particular lack of inclusion in most stories today. Having worked with disabled kids extensively, Zainab’s Simply Nanju is a perfect example of weaving in every child’s story where no child is different from the other. The story is about 10-year-old boy Nanju, whose spinal cord is affected, thereby resulting in a crooked walk. “Nanju is a naughty boy, like every child. To him, wearing a diaper is as normal as wearing socks. My characters are real; from the kids I’ve met before. The plot is perhaps mine,” she says. Ultimately, the authors believed that stories on children not being looked at as “victims” of disabilities was needed, by bringing out their stories with colourful illustrations or using animals for further sensitisation.
Along similar lines, Shobha Viswanath, of Karadi Tales, feels that contemporary children’s literature is more original now, touching up on simple things in life. “We have a book where a farmer goes on a trip in search of silence, tired of all the noise from his farm. And there are other theme-based stories where we talk about a child’s fear of monsters. In children’s literature, there are a lot of quirky stories but it also gives rise to more original content and well-established stories,” she says. Karadi Tales is currently coming up with newer books, working on themes of blindness and inclusion,
Resonating with the sentiments of most children’s book authors and in a mission to bring back the tradition of inculcating reading among children, Amrutash Misra of the Book Lovers’ Program for Schools (BLPS) believes that new content for children comes from the fewer but newer publishing houses in the country. “Children’s books are a large segment till age 15. There are some generic rules most authors, editors and publishers follow but it really depends on the age and the theme/genre of the book. The older players are mostly repackaging older material or dishing out the same stuff repeatedly,” he says. As easy as it may sound writing for children, most fail to see that there’s more to what meets the eye. “Unlike in the adult publishing business, the person reading and the person paying are two different people. So authors, editors and publishers have to worry about the interests of both reader and the buyer — which can be very tricky,” he adds.
City-based publishing house Tulika has been bringing out children’s and young adult books ever since their inception. The books that stand out from their collections are the epistolaries and winner of the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar 2015 award — Mayil Will Not Be Quiet and Mostly Madly Mayil by authors Niveditha Subramaniam and Sowmya Rajendran. The central character, pre-teen Mayil Ganesan, confides in her diary about the happenings of her day and her thoughts and observations. From talking about menstrual period to crushes and boyfriends, the Mayil Diaries are a treat to read, stepping away from cliched storylines.
“The idea for the Mayil Diaries came when Niveditha and I realised that there were no children’s books that dealt with gender issues. We wanted to create a book that teachers could use to discuss these concepts in classrooms. So, the first Mayil book was originally written as a resource book,” says Sowmya Rajendran.
As unconventional and different as the books were, the road, however, wasn’t easy owing to apprehension from some and reluctance from others. “We found no takers for it. It was Radhika Menon of Tulika Publishers who suggested that we redo it as a girl’s diary. The idea appealed to us and we did just that. The book did well — it started the conversations and discussions that we hoped it would. As lot of people wanted more of Mayil, we came up with the sequel.”
With newer stories and concepts being introduced, what really makes a good children’s story? “A good children’s book yesterday, today, and tomorrow should be a book that a child wants to read. It can be about anything but it has to retain the child’s interest. Originality, perspective, and relevance are some of the factors which will make this happen,” adds Sowmya.