From contemporary themes to illustrations rooted in the Indian aesthetic, Surya Praphulla Kumar gives us a glimpse of what’s new in the world of children’s literature.
Books have found a strong sense of identity, with themes becoming inclusive, mirroring experiences that most children can identify with. “We’ve started to explore brave new worlds, not shying away from topics like single parenting, death, divorce, the differently-abled. The younger generation are quite with it. When these topics stare them in the face from TV and films, why portray a reality that is not concurrent with the ones they are familiar with?” asks Vidya Mani, the managing editor of Good Books and co-founder of Bengaluru-based book club, Bookalore.
Another encouraging trend is the moving away from didactic stories. While the classics like the Panchatantra and retelling of the epics can be charming, author Manjula Padmanabhan stresses that they also contained “strong messages, like maintaining the rigid structure of traditional society”. “I think it’s important to break out of those moulds,” adds the author of Mouse Attack and Mouse Invaders, who is currently working on a picture book feauring a familiar orange cat named Pooni. While Deeya Nayar, senior editor at Tulika, agrees that there’s less of “talking down” to children, she believes there’s “lots of room for improvement, especially when handling sensitive themes. There is a need to focus more on quality.”
With children exposed to every kind of media, the need of the hour is variety—from fiction to bi-linguals. At Pratham Books, they believe the 373 million children in the zero-14 age group deserves books—in English and their mother tongue. “Neuro-linguistically it’s been proven that once a child is fluent in the mother tongue, in which books play a major role, thereafter he/she can pick up reading in any other language easily,” shares Manisha Chaudhry, editorial head at Pratham, adding that non fiction is currently picking up. “Young children love to read about nature, inventions, strange phenomena and the like,” she says.
For parents who’d like their children to start reading young, children’s book writer and city-based storyteller Praba Ram has a few tips. “Have books around the house. This will pique their curiosity and interest. I’d also suggest reading to them for at least 20 minutes a day,” she says, adding, “Take them to a library and buy them books regularly. Also, get them to attend storytelling sessions. Another option is exploring books online. Pratham Books has story writing options for children (storyweaver.org.in), which will get them engaged.” According to Bookalore’s Vidya Mani, fun interactive sessions—like the ones they organise with authors and illustrators, with music, creative writing, art and crafts, and more thrown in—are another great idea.
Penned by renowned Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam, the travelogue-cum-photo journal catalogues his crazy journey—from the icy wilds of Tibet to verdant Bangladesh, down one of the mightiest rivers of the world. The coffee table book for children talks about changing cultures, languages and what you encounter on the river.Look out for this book in the Pratham Books store in the next few weeks.