Children’s Lit Ain’t No Child’s Play!

This December, my darling sister gifted me a Kindle Paperwhite. Even though I was initially skeptical about how well I’d be able to put such a thoughtful and expensive gift to good use, things worked out just fine. In fact, the more I realized its benefits – cheaper e-books, readily downloadable and available, zero storage space, built-in Vocabulary Builder, enabled reading in the dark – the better I warmed to it. In the last six weeks, I managed to finish 3 books – P Sainath’s Everyone Loves a Good Drought, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! And Paul Beatty’s Booker prize winning The Sell-Out.

So far so good, I told myself, faintly reminiscing of the delectable ordeal of visiting a book store, running my hands over the cover, soaking in the smells – typical bibliophile stuff – but keeping the positives in mind, it all seemed fine. Until I visited my old friend,  Poetry Workshop facilitator and Head of Circuit Creative, Meena Divakar. I told her about ‘my Kindle experience’, and although she seemed agreeable, there was something rather peculiar she brought to my notice.

Now Meena happens to be one of those inspired women who have passionately made the inculcation of reading among children and adults alike, her mission. I had started a poetry workshop with her generous support last year. Currently, she runs a reading club for adults (on Tuesdays), and for children (on Fridays) from a gorgeously done Book Boutique – which has witnessed many talks and conversations on important issues initiated by her.

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Manipuri journalist Chitra Ahenthem’s illuminating talk on the state of affairs in the North East (Aug 2016)

So here we sat, while she showed me some of the latest entrants in her boutique – Circuit Creative serves as a distributor for primarily children’s books – and one by one I was handed down books that only made me wish I was born five or six years ago – as a childhood spent among these would surely have been a fascinating one.

Usually when children’s books are placed in the hands of an adult, the first words coming to our mind are, ‘oh! This is a children’s book, this must be too naive and simple!’

There I was, sitting and sifting through Nathan Kumar Scott’s The Great Race (illustrated by Jagdish Chitara), Anushka Ravishankar’s Excuses Excuses (illustrated by Gabrielle Manglou), and the extremely funny Gajjapati Kullapatti and thinking to myself, wow! Writing and illustrating children’s books must be a very special art/talent in itself – the painstaking design, the brightly done art work, the juxtaposition of picture and illustrations, the deceptively simple narratives that steer clear of moral didacticism – all of it bespoke of a higher order talent. I was simply amazed at how beautifully these books were crafted.

I wondered, what are the prerequisites for a book to be termed as a ‘Children’s Book?’ Esepcially if adults too seem to like it (like myself here).

Does it have to include a simple plot, brightly done illustrations, speaking/vocal animal characters, a child protagonist, a moral at the end – I am not too sure.

I remembered Alice in Wonderland, Jungle Book, Aesop’s Fables. Closer home, there were Jataka Tales, Akbar – Birbal stories and the works of Tenali Raman – looking back, I realize none of these books were ‘child’s play’.

In fact, as I have grown up, I realize these books have grown up with me – in meaning, depth and complexity. I use some of these, such as Jungle Book, in my Group Dynamics and Organizational Behaviour classes for naval officers.

So then, is there really such a thing as children’s literature? I would like to believe there is. But evidence suggests otherwise.

Heraclitus said, one doesn’t step in the same river twice. Picking an illustrated copy of Macbeth both took me and didn’t take me to my MA thesis days, simultaneously. It was and wasn’t the same Macbeth I knew – this one done in bright colours, smiling as he held his sword seemed more humane, and probably a little less given to folly.

Such is the duality, the temporality of the written word coupled with an illustration, and what we make of it.

“These Ankush” she says emphatically, “are the kind of books which can’t be put into a Kindle.”, said Meena.

“I agree”, I said, running my hands over this rich, grainy paper, showing the hearty caricature of an elephant.

“But sales have dropped considerably. Earlier also, people wouldn’t buy. Now things have plummeted even lower”, she said.

“Why, because of Kindle?”

“Yes. The thing is, converting such books will rob them of their beauty! Look..”

She showed me a few others. Here, I leave you with glimpses of what I saw and read.

 

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Mala and her Silver Anklets

 

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Gajapathi Kullapathi

If you have a child, or are still somewhat of a child (I am!), and would want to whet your imagination with something exquisite, something that is more than a banal game of Temple Run, feel free to reach out to Meena at Circuit Creative at circuit.india@gmail.com to know more about titles, authors and the latest on this, or check out their website here.

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Book Boutique at Circuit Creative

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