“The hypnotic influence of the television has a telling impact”

Children cannot be blamed if they are not interested in children’s literature. The people to be blamed are teachers, writers, illustrators and, to some extent, parents, says NBT’s National Centre for Children’s Literature head Manas Ranjan Mahapatra. Designated as Editor, he oversees all publications made by the national centre.

Talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the two-day workshop on ‘Creative Writing and Illustration Art’ being conducted at the Vijayawada Book Festival Library, Mr. Mahapatra said children were reading the printed text less because of television and several electronic gadgets that had come up.

Reading was also on the decline because of the challenge of modern life. People had less time to read because they had to commute long distances. “At the end of the day, one is too tired to read and the idiot box is always there to hypnotise you at home,” Mr. Mahapatra said in an insightful observation.

Children’s literature needed to be more “interactive,” he said. Stating that books should be as attractive as the other media, he recalled how, as a child, he and his siblings vied to read the Chandamama, which was published in 14 different languages.

“I used to waylay the delivery man and take away the Chandamama before he came home, because I wanted to read it before my elder sister, who always waited for it at the house,” Mr. Mahapatra said.

Ancient tradition

India, along with Greece, had an ancient storytelling tradition. Panchatantra, which is over 5,000 years old, is some of the finest children’s literature (literature written for children) in the world. Both the Indians and Greeks used stories as a mode of education. So, all education was in fact children’s literature.

The great Greek teacher Aristotle told stories about the greatness of India to his disciple Alexander. These stories were the origin of the great General’s fascination for India, Mr. Mahapatra said.

Asked if children could get interested in the allegorical Jataka Tales, he said there were no boundaries for children’s literature. The Jataka Tales were written for the entire civilisation, he said.

Fantasy, suspense, and adventure were very important ingredients of children’s literature. Though there were no illustrations, the Harry Potter books were a great success because they had these three ingredients. These books also had “continuity” that was so important for the development of characters, Mr. Mahapatra said.

Comics such as Amar Chitra Katha were also promoting children to read literature.

He said Chhattisgarh was using graphic textbooks to get children interested in subjects. There were at least 40 graphic textbooks. More graphic novels should be developed and published, he said.

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