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Children’s Books in India: Real Worlds and Ideal Worlds Deepa Agarwal

Real worlds and Ideal worlds

Dec 15, 2014



Deepa Agarwal

In children's literature in India, we tend to focus on the ideal rather than the real.
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  • 1. Childrens Books in India:Real Worlds and Ideal Worlds
    • Deepa Agarwal

2. Childhood As an Age of Innocence

  • But trailing clouds of glory do we come
  • From god, who is our home:
  • Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
  • William Wordsworth
  • in Ode, Intimations of Immortality

3. Childrens Reality in India

  • Vast social and economic divides.
  • Tradition and religion are powerful forces.
  • A host of problems affect the young but books ignore them.

4. Most Childrens Books IgnoreReal Life Problems

  • The reasons are:
  • Conservative mindset means that taboos still linger.
  • Hidden censorship prevents authors from being realistic .

5. Whats Right, Whats Wrong

  • Focuses on real issues:
  • Lack of access to good education
  • Child labour
  • Gender discrimination
  • HIV/aids
  • Disaster
  • Hunger
  • Some writers and reviewers found it unsuitable for children

6. A Parent Found This Depiction of a Teacher Objectionable 7. Shantis Friend

  • Exploitation of a child domestic helper not an acceptable topic.
  • Changes were requested because it was felt it might upset readers.
  • The child had to be transformed into a poor relation.

8. ThePanchatantraThe Monkey and the Crocodile

  • The theme of friendship betrayed.
  • In the end the monkey parts company with his false friend, the crocodile.
  • In a contemporary story the traitor would repent of her/his actions and the relationship be restored.

9. King Vikram and the Vetal

  • Gruesome setting.
  • Gory ending.
  • Extremely popular with children, parents and publishers.

10. The Death of the Saintly Prahalads Wicked Father Hiranyakashipu

  • Writer and critic Nandini Nayar comments: I cringed at Prahaladscalmness in the face of the horrible death his father suffers.

11. Target Encouraging Realistic Stories

  • A number of stories that addressed the real problems real children faced were regularly published in this magazine.

12. Manisha Chaudhry, Editor with Pratham Books Says:

  • It really depends on the treatment of the issue.
  • The authenticity and empathy that the writer feels or exhibits a lack of.
  • Children sense out insincerity very fast.
  • I would not reject a manuscript because it deals with a painful aspect of reality. If it brings up something in a way organic to the book and talks to children naturally, I'd go for it.

13. Suresh Readingat Pratham Library

  • No adverse reactions from the children or theBal Sakhis (childrens friends), librarians or parents.
  • I can say this with some certainty as we get feedback through questionnaires and at meetings
  • Pratham runs 4000 libraries across 14 states of India Each library services 150-200 children.

14. Angry River by Ruskin Bond

  • An amazingly calm portrayal of a village girl, Sita coping stoically with calamitythe destruction caused by a flood.

15. A Village by the Sea byAnita Desai

  • A sometimes painfully realistic story about two poor children Hari and Lila trying to survive in adverse conditions and growing in strength and maturity.

16. Growing Up by Devika Rangachari

  • A realistic depiction of middle-class life.
  • Credible characters
  • Real life situations
  • Actual problems children face.

17. No Guns at my Sons Funeral By Paro Anand

  • The making of a boy terrorist in Kashmir
  • Compelling, even terrifying clarity.
  • Climax as brutal as any television image of a terrorist attack.
  • End strikes a positive note.

18. Paro Anands Comments

  • We don't live in an ideal world.
  • Today's young are more willing and able to confront reality and deal with it.
  • Found it too much to handle when the hero, Akram is made to kill a puppy and a kitten during his training.
  • Human deaths were somehow easier for them to handle than the animal deaths.

19. What Do Children Say?

  • Q. Should stories always have happy endings?
  • Purva,11not alwaysthey should show humans as they truly are.
  • Saloni, 9sometimesI wish books would be more real.

20. Children Say

  • Radhika, 10sometimesthey usually show the world as a better place than it is.
  • Tanya, 8alwaysthey should show the world as a better place but make us think.
  • Dhruva, 9sometimessometimes they do have children who seem real like us.

21. Nandini Nayar, Writer and Critic Comments

  • To write books that conclude with all strings tied off neatly, no loose ends visible, is unrealistic.
  • This does not happen because of the kind of 'safe' topics that writers in India stick to.
  • Children are protected from reality, so serious subjects are a taboo. And so is anything like a reality check in the form of open-ended books.

22. Alison Lurie inDont Tell the Grown-ups

  • Though there are some interesting exceptions, even the most subversive of contemporary childrens books usually follow these conventions.

23. Alison Lurie inDont Tell the Grown-ups

  • They portray an ideal world of perfectible beings, free of the necessity for survival and reproduction: not only a pastoral but a paradisal universefor without sex and death, humans may become as angels.
  • The romantic child, trailing clouds of glory, is not as far off as we might think.