In recent times, children’s literature has become a distinct genre. Before the success of Harry Potter, the market was glutted with "issue books" that described serious and important subjects for children. But there were few books about things that children responded to from an imaginative point of view.
Earlier, books such as Treasure Island, Round the Moon, Kidnapped and Gulliver’s Travel were not apparently written for juvenile readers. Now abridged (or simplified) versions of Great Expectations, Tom Sawyer, A Tale of Two Cities are considered good readings for children.
Children’s literature has yet to flourish in Nepal. Some of the major factors are: the reluctance of parents to consider children’s books as essential expenditure; the absence of well stocked libraries for children; and reluctance of publishers to invest in non-profitable book production. Consequently, much of children’s literature in Nepal consists of books written by foreign writers.
The genesis of story writing for children lies in the long tradition of Nepali folk tales. Drawing on mythologies like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, classics like Panchatantra and Jatak Katha, modern creative writing for children could have been very rich.
Projects like Room to Read have been devoted to children’s literature since a long time. This organisation specialises in colourful books having simple stories in Nepali and English for very young readers. Another publication house called Ramailo Kitab publishes books for teenagers. Books for children are being published, nevertheless, we have to admit they are rather scanty.
An Indian king in the 4th or 5th century hired a teacher to teach his three young sons who had driven earlier tutors to despair with their lack of learning. The new teacher devised animal stories that were blended with knowledge and wisdom. The book of fables became known as Panchatantra or the Five Discourses.
And in the West, there was Aesop, the supposed creator of many Greek fables, and Phaedrus in first century Rome. They were masters in fable telling. Behind these childish themes, there are biting satire and wry revealing human weakness and wickedness. At present, very few writers indulge in children’s literature. Not that the market is small, but because authors find it hard to understand the child’s mind.
Writing for children needs special techniques, such as appropriate themes, fantasy, transmission of values, language and illustration. Children are disparate groups, and each age group has a special need. A different approach is necessary for each age group. Themes for various age groups have to be varied as children’s needs and interests differ according to their age.
Books for small children (2 to 3 years) have to be lively with colourful illustrations and very little text. Children within the age group 4 to 6 years like to read as well as to be read. Simple stories of animals, fairy tales and real life stories are the ones they admire most.
Children 7 to 10 years old make up the most eager age group. Adventure, humour of a slapstick kind, interesting and dangerous situations make them want to know what happens next. History, geography, general knowledge and science can be introduced into such stories unobtrusively.
From the age of 10 to 15 years, children become voracious readers. It is here that the Western writers have recognised the distinction between writing for boys and girls.
A child likes to escape from sordid realities of life into his world of magic and miracle. This is the reason why the writers of children’s books use fantasy. Not only do children live in a fantasy world of their own, they also find it easier to enter into others’ fantasy. The influence of magic pervades through oriental stories just as much as through European folk tales of Grim Brothers and Anderson. The deep underlying morals in such stories are sure to spring to the memory of a child reader when he/she grows up.
Children’s literature has been not only a source of entertainment but also a means of transmitting moral and social values. Folk tales, fairy tales and fantasies have always carried lessons for children.
The purpose of children’s literature has a double function. While it entertains the reader, it also teaches something, helps one to understand the norms of the society.
Writing for children is more difficult than writing for adults. Nowhere is this more evident than in the matter of language. Language does not only mean vocabulary, sentence structure, syntax and grammatical correctness, but also tone and style. Imagery must be fresh, avoiding verbiage, and the writing has to be tight (discarding the same word many times and finding one or two words for several). In addition, important illustration enlivens the text, prompting children to go through it.
For a children’s book to be meaningful, it must help the reader to develop morally, spiritually and socially. When children are able to identify themselves with the main character or characters in a story, it grips them.
Schools are mushrooming, but why are books not doing so? I am not talking about the books taught in the classroom.
(Source: The Rising Nepal)