It is said that literature reflects the life and times of the period during which it is written and children's literature is no exception. In fact, this genre may be safely called the barometer of its times as the child's mind sees the world as it is, unlike the adult mind which is corrupted by social niceties and graces.
Those who have been avidly following children's books over a period would have watched in fascination as common children's themes like school, peers, family and friends took on sinister overtones as the years passed by. Our generation grew up on simple Enid Blyton books where the plots were simple and the situations never stressed your brain. We read about doughnuts and lemonade for breakfast and porridge for lunch. We believed that these were exotic dishes till we were told that porridge was nothing but sweetened milk and doughnuts were an extension of the bread family.
We watched Nancy Drew and Hardy boys' battle thieves and criminals whose maximum imagination stretched to stealing artefacts out of the country. For those of us who loved the ‘desi' flavour, there was always good old Swami and his friends in Malgudi. We compared Swami's antics with those of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and were unable to decide who was smarter.
We sympathised with David Copperfield and Oliver Twist. Our hearts bled for them when they had to undergo trials and tribulations at the workhouse. At the same time, we fantasized about how life would be in Malory towers, Saint Claire's and Riverdale high. Betty, Veronica and Archie represented the limit when it came to love in relationships. We never had the inclination to look beyond it.
Today, it is a different ball game altogether. Our villains of yesteryear could well be the saints of today. For villainy has acquired new dimensions. Today's villains and heroes want not just to conquer the world but also establish their supremacy in the nether world of which we were blissfully unaware.
Our Harry Potter belongs to the mysterious world of magic, Percy Jackson fights dark and sinister forces that are outside the realm of this world, and Artemis Fowl himself is such a complex character that it becomes difficult for ordinary minds to understand him.
We are feeding our children on a diet of such complicated literature and we expect them to behave like ‘children'. We want them to enjoy such childish pleasures as hiding a marble in the pocket, stealing mangoes from the neighbour's backyard. Yet we expose them to heroes who display no childlike qualities but are instead grown up adults.
Let us give our children a taste of our childhood. Let them read about picnics being held in the open sun, about schools where there are lovable teachers like Miss Grundy. Let them read about ‘plump' Chet Morton without immediately being subject to a tirade on childhood obesity. Let them read about mysteries in the neighbourhood that will open their eyes to their surroundings, instead of talking about a world of half humans, half animals with its own weird set of rules.
In short, let us give back our children their ‘CHILDHOOD.'
(The writer's email id is: sivaramsharada@ yahoo. com)