If you could ask the writers of the greatest children stories in the history of literature, they would tell you that they have never thought of their readers – the children – as any less intelligent than adults. Which is why, if an adult were to pick up any well written children’s book, he or she would enjoy it as much as a child did. In fact, the openness of a child’s mind makes a writer’s job much easier.
At the same time, you dare not try to fool them, because they will quickly latch on to an inconsistency or a plot loophole and demand an explanation. Trust me, I know! In telling bedtime stories to my 3 year old, sometimes, after an exhausting day, I take refuge in shortcuts. It doesn’t work.
One night, after an extremely exhausting day, I proposed to him, for my own selfish reasons, that he should tell me a story instead, just for a change. He readily agreed, and the story he told me was so fascinating, that it made me forget all my weariness and sit upright in bed. Make no mistake, my child is in no way any more intelligent than any other child. I firmly believe that all children have something which, over the years, and in the grinding of life, an adult has perhaps lost to a very large extent – and that is imagination. Also, and this is very important, a child’s capacity of summoning his imagination at his will is far, far greater than that of an adult.
Sadly, I do not see as many good children’s stories these days as I would have liked. And the principal reason for this is that authors make the mistake about which I have written in the opening sentence of this post – they think of their readers as inferior in intelligence as compared to adults. A glaring example of the diminishing importance that people seem to attach to children’s literature can be found in the vanishing art of illustrations. God knows the amount of hardship I had to go through to find a good illustrator for my book, ‘The House By The Lake’. It is also worthwhile to note that I finally found my illustrator in Chile!
The standard of the writing also tells a similar story. In my growing up years, I used to read a children’s magazine in Bengali called ‘Anandamela’. Some of the novellas and stories I have read in that magazine were so brilliantly written, that even when I read them today, I enjoy them thoroughly, and not merely because of nostalgia. When I read the same magazine now, I realize that the standard of the stories have fallen drastically, and I have come to learn from trusted sources that the readership of the magazine has also suffered. And this brings me to a very important point.
No one reads books these days.
We often hear people saying this. Booksellers are shutting down, publishers do not seem to be interested anymore and the general state of affairs in the world of books is quite sorry. We are very quick to blame the advent of the internet and the ever-decreasing amount of time in people’s hands for this.
I would humbly beg to differ. Things are no different to what they were twenty years ago. The amount of time that people had to pick up and read a book may have been more then as compared to now, but do note that even then, it was ever-decreasing. That phenomenon is not new, nor will it ever be. Even then, newer and newer things and glittering media were making their way into our lives, taking away a share of the time that we would have otherwise devoted to reading.
Why, then, are reading habits waning? I offer an explanation: it is because we do not write good children’s books anymore, at least not as many as we used to.
You see, it is the child who grows up to be an adult. If a child has been denied the opportunity of reading good books, in the natural order of things, he or she would never inculcate a habit of reading. And when this child grows up, the lack of this habit will stay with him. I hope that we do something about this. I hope we consider children as equals, and we write good stories for them, and introduce them to the wonderful world of literature, lest we should wake up one day to find ourselves in a bookless world.
Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is an author and translator. His books include “14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray”, “No Child’s Play” and “The House by the Lake”. Bhaskar is also the Founder of ArtSquare (www.artsquare.in) – India’s largest online art portal. Bhaskar lives in Bangalore with his wife Sweta and sons Ishaan and Emon.
Image Courtesy: Pixabay