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Small wonder

Santhini Govindan finds creative satisfaction in writing stories for children

For Santhini Govindan writing is a passion — Photo: Satish H

LONG BEFORE J.K. Rowling waved a wand and made children's fiction a lip-smackingly lucrative proposition; Santhini Govindan was weaving stories for the little tykes. Santhini started writing stories when she ran out of stories to tell her children. Santhini is from Kerala, studied in Chennai and is now based in Mumbai teaching creative writing to undergrads in K.C. College - the lady sure has been around!

Talking about her tryst with children's fiction, Santhini said, "I was lucky that my first story, A tale of Tuffy Turtle, won a prize in the National Competition for Writers of Children's Books held by the Children's Book Trust."

Now with over 20 books to her credit in every genre from "fantasy to adventure except science fiction," Santhini is lending her expertise to the US based Highlights for Children. "Highlights in association with Lotus Learning believes in fun with a purpose."

When Highlights needed an Indian to help choose material relevant to India, Indian writers were invited to send in their work. In 2001, Santhini was the first to be selected to attend the Highlights Creative workshop for Writers and Illustrators in New York.

Describing the week-long workshop as "intense and great fun," Santhini commented she got invaluable help and tips at the workshop. Santhini writes for the international edition of Highlights magazine apart from conducting workshops in the country spreading awareness about Highlights programmes for children, which puts a new spin on learning - she was in town for a workshop.

"Children are under pressure right from kindergarten. Highlights aims to kindle curiosity with educational toys. It is a holistic programme that ensures that children will not think of learning as a burden."

Santhini endorses Howard Gardiner's theory of multiple intelligences. "There are different kinds of intelligences - quite simply different strokes for different folks. A child may not excel in conventional skills like, say, science or math but might have a gift in other areas. The theory of multiple intelligences recognises these aptitudes."

Describing writing for Highlight as "fun," Santhini said, "It is an island of good, clean fun. Children are exposed to so much violence and sex in different media, I think it is good to create an unpolluted world for them." And what about the violence in Harry Potter with its uncomfortable echoes of xenophobia, dictators, torture and death? "Children instinctively know the violence in Harry Potter is in the realm of fantasy". They know it is not true, Santhini said.

Talking about Highlight's strong anti-violence stance, Santhini said, "I had to rewrite the Panchatantra story about the snake that ate up the crow's eggs as they objected to the snake eating the eggs. So I rewrote it with the snake smacking his lips as he went up and down the tree! I am sure snakes do not smack their lips but Highlights was okay with my reinterpretation!"

Santhini is of the opinion that "it is more difficult to write for children as they have a shorter attention span. Adults might persevere with a book even if it is boring hoping that it would get interesting later. With children, however, you have to capture their attention from the word go."

"Writing children's fiction has helped in other fields as it has taught me to simplify things."

While Santhini comments that we have "Rowling to thank for reviving interest in the printed word," she feels that "Harry Potter and Enid Blyton cater mainly to the urban audience. There is a vast market out there for children's fiction and there are many talented children's writers in India. They need to be encouraged as there are no opportunities."

"While unlike the West, there is not much money in children's fiction, there is a special joy in helping ignite the creative spark in a child's mind - after all they are the future."

So all of you who have a tale to tell, go ahead and do it, who knows it might be the springboard for the greatest thinkers and achievers of tomorrow.

Different strokes

HOWARD GARDINER, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, believed that children have multiple intelligences— each individual is born with a full range of different capacities and aptitudes. Each person is strong in certain skills and not so strong in others. Gardiner identified seven kinds of intelligences:

  • Word smart: A way with words
  • Number smart: Delights in digits
  • Picture smart: An eye for form
  • Body smart: Excels in sports
  • Music smart: A ear for sound
  • People smart: A friend of the world
  • Self-smart: Go for it

Favourite writers

  • Ronald Dahl
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Edward Lear
  • Ruskin Bond


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