Children's Day 2022: Six authors share their take on children's literature

Children’s authors talk about the changes they have seen in the genre, the positive and negative changes and changes they would like to see in the coming years

Manasi Y MastakarUpdated: Saturday, November 12, 2022, 07:31 PM IST
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Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan, Parvati the Elephant’s Very Important Day and It’s Time to Rhyme

Changes over the years

I’ve recognised that children want to be stimulated and have a takeaway from their reading. They are used to screens, sound and vibrant visual images, so books need to be more than just words on a page - thus less “conventional” and more edgy. Graphic novels are gaining popularity. Audio components are being added to texts. Poetry with the Read Aloud aspect is making a resurgence. I’ve been addressing the changes in the genre. My book of poetry, It’s Time to Rhyme, is not a static collection of poems to read aloud but introduces fun ways for readers to create poems as well. The engagement with the text brings readers back to the book again and again. Even in my conventional picture book, Parvati the Elephant’s Very Important Day, the story is written in a simple rhyme scheme so that the read aloud element is enhanced. The book has a glossary of words in Malayalam so readers all over the country have an opportunity to learn another language. My latest book, Treasure Trove of Timeless Tales, a collection of stories, is thematically and structurally diverse so there’s a surprise element to engage readers. The “take away” aspect is part of every one of my books.

The positive and the negative

I think all change is positive if there is opportunity for excitement and learning. We need to change and adapt with the demands of the market. Even if the lament is that today’s gadgets like video games with their sophisticated story lines and dramatic visuals are drawing children away from books, we need to remember that a well-written text can describe characters with far more human depth and emotion than AI can produce. One form of instruction or entertainment does not have to supplant the other. As writers we must accept that other stimuli can exist side by side with books.

Changes I would like to see

I’d like to know that children’s books have the same pride of place on the shelf at home as devices and games. I’ve said when I address a group in a classroom or a bookstore-

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit. —Aristotle

Let’s create some new habits. I tell parents that it’s okay for children to choose what they want to read as that first discovery builds their interest and their confidence. And if you are reading to a child – re-read books that are asked for as that usually builds fluency because the child will be familiar with the words in the book and will soon recognize the story as well. Favourite books will then become books which children will read later for pleasure. One form of instruction or entertainment should not supplant the other. The best way to avoid the exclusive dependence of gadgets is to accept that they can exist side by side with books. So, don’t take away time with devices but share the wonderful world of books as well with them.

Favourite children’s authors

There are so many children’s authors that I’ve loved over the years. These are authors I read as a child but whose books are still adored by another generation of readers because the themes, the language and the visual images the authors conjure up still resonate with readers. Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, all of Shel Silverstein’s poetry collections, Dr. Seuss inimitable rhymes, Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwallah, Anant Pai’s comic books, R.K. Narayan’s simply written memorable stories are all true classics in my mind.

Paro Anand, author of Being Gandhi

Changes over the years

Leaps and heaps of change. Children's literature is braver, bolder and much more open to new thought and perspectives. Books that have been published in the last 10-15 years would never have been prior. The shift from age-old mythological stories to contemporary subjects that connect with young readers is welcome. Illustration has leapfrogged into today's world.

The positive and the negative

Actionable feedback of what children really want and not what adults believe they should read. And greater information and access to what's out there are the two negatives. On the positive, certainly, the fact that children's literature is being taken more seriously, including the number of literary festivals that pull in more readers and bridge the gap between the creators and their readers.

Changes I would like to see

Our languages are still in need of strengthening and support. Library systems to provide greater access should be plentiful. Popular media  support to get information on what's new out there  are a few of the many changes we need to see

Lubaina Bandukwala, Who's Afraid of Z? Not Me!

Changes over the years

The Indian book space has become a very exciting one in the last decade. Publishers are willing to explore new genres and new topics. There is a better understanding that one size doesn’t fit all in children’s books and so we have a wide variety of formats from picture books to chapter books. There are also a lot of new authors providing strong, distinctive voices representing different communities and regions of India, from the North East to Tamil Nadu to Kolkata. We also have brilliant illustrators who creating beautiful books And there is a growing awareness about these books amongst readers.

The positive and the negative

Authors/illustrators are not shy of talking of topics that might have been considered taboo at one time, like gender or divorce or communal or class issues. There is an attempt to include diverse perspectives – For example - there are more books the feature female protagonists. As well as differently abled children.

Negative – contemporary children’s books are important to represent the world to children and help them explore and understand the world around them. This gets lost sometimes in the slew of “workbooks” and “educational” books that sell better.

Changes I would like to see

More awareness about Indian children’s books and their creators. India is huge, yet quality and innovative Indian children’s books reach a miniscule percentage of readers. There has to be a dedicated effort to grow this market and build respect for this genre and its creators and to give them visibility in mainstream press and spaces.

Favourite children’s authors

Anushka Ravishankar, Shabnam Minwala, Lavanya Karthik, Vibha Batra – all touch upon interesting topics with a lightness of touch and humour. Samina Mishra for such layered sensitive treatment. Aditi Krishnakumar for richly imagined worlds. Rajiv Eipe and Priya Kuriyan for picture story-telling. In international books, I love Francis Harding, Sheila Turnage – so many more.

Raisha Lalwani, The Day My Brother Became My Best Friend

Changes over the years

Being a huge fan of the ‘Classics’ myself, I understand the impact of the stories that we grew up reading, have on us. I feel both, overwhelmed and overjoyed looking at the kind of content we have available for our children to read through today. I feel like there’s more facts than fiction which was a huge gap we needed to fill.

There’s also the trend of Series writing as compared to before, which as we know has gained a lot of popularity among kids, specially the ones in their pre-teens.

The fact that as writers, we don’t have to restrict ourselves to Gender Neutral writing is great. It gives us more Liberty. The famous quote of ‘Men Being from Mars and Women being From Venus’, doesn’t just kick in when we’re in our teens. Its something that has always been there and the fact that there are more gender specific books for all ages, now a days actually makes a lot of sense.

What I’m saying is - If there is a Mr. Happy, there is also a Little Miss Sunshine.

The positive and the negative

To address the elephant in the room, we all know how there has been a huge change in how we shop nowadays. With the click of a button, we have things delivered at our doorstep. There were times when one had to wait for weeks to buy a particular book and now with the online accessibility, things have become super easy which is obviously a Plus.
On the other hand, the whole charm of a ‘Day Out at the bookstore’ is getting lost somewhere. I remember in our school, for sports day, the child who won a gold medal, also won a voucher for this bookstore round the corner. It was such an experience to visit the store, spend hours reading blurbs, staring at illustrations and finally being able to buy your most favorite pick. One has to experience the beauty of it to appreciate it.

Changes I would like to see

Never underestimate the power of good intonation. I suggest, more, more and I can’t stress enough as to how many more story-telling sessions are required on a regular basis for children to inculcate the best habit there is - Reading! We as parents today are more aware of how important it is to read so we should support our kids and make it a fun experience for them, while they’re at it.

Favourite children’s authors

For her imagination and child friendly rhyme scheme, Julia Donaldson is my all time favourite children’s author.

Arefa Tehsin, The Globetrotters

Changes over the years

A shift from the lesson/moral oriented stories. A lot of new authors have emerged writing on challenging issues - be it on one’s sexuality, the caste and class divide, terrorism, war, mental illness, nature conservation, having a single parent or even death. The books that are available for kids in India are finally reflecting their own cultural space.

Children lit fests like Bookaroo that happens in several cities across India and has in its outreach even in the smaller towns, and Neev Lit Fest in Bangalore are helping immensely to spread the love for books by Indian authors.

The positive and the negative

A positive change is that the Indian literature for children is richer and more nuanced than ever, reflecting not just the Indian plurality but also the unfamiliar.  

Not a negative of the change, but we are still to have more trend-setting authors in India like Enid Blyton was in our childhood. Also, the children’s literature continues to have a secondary and pocked-sized space in the mainstream literature festivals across India.

Changes I would like to see

More schools and parents encouraging books by Indian authors, not just in the English language but in the vernacular as well. The children’s literature in India has not got its due. And, at some point of time, it would be great to have the children’s literature flowing from the east to the west.  

Favourite children’s authors

Paro Anand, Ranjit Lal, Ruskin Bond, Richa Jha, Anushka Ravishankar, Natasha Sharma, Deepa Agarwal and many others.

Vani Mahesh, Journey to the Throne

Changes over the years

The new literature for children is definitely bold and realistic in portraying emotions and preferences. That's great but at the same time the literature for teens is also getting darker and apocalyptic. Humour needs to make a come back. Illustrations across the genre of fiction are now taken seriously. More than the book covers, they are art. This is a great trend since it is an impetus to artists as well. 

The positive and the negative

Most often authors write on topics that inspire them.  Creative processes cannot be based on feedback. The same holds true for YA literature, except here, authors have to be conscious about what not to feed the young minds. Increasing number of children's litfests are doing a wonderful job of opening up the world of books to children. The possibility of a child picking up a book after interacting with an author is very high. 

Changes I would like to see

Certainly the various lists of books must be popularized at least in school libraries. Visiting a library should be encouraged since it is becoming almost a forgotten event. A library is where a child or teen discovers the genres or the authors they like. Media focus and maybe even celebrity endorsements on books and reading will show the children that it is an activity worth pursuing. 

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