The Hindu Lit for Life 2018

In a time of conflict, children have every right to know dark truths

Hard truths (Left to right): Shailaja Menon, Namitha Jacob, Radhika Menon, and Sandhya Rao.   | Photo Credit: S. Narayana Swamy

Unknown words don’t stop the child, a boring story will” — Issac Bashevis Singer. Several sessions at The Hindu Lit Fest were devoted to what exactly makes a story for a young person exciting, thought-provoking and ‘not boring’.

One of the first was between Shailaja Menon (who leads an Early Literacy Initiative at Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and children’s publishers Radhika Menon and Sandhya Rao. They discussed Reimagining Stereotypes: How Representative are Books for Children?

Menon of Tulika Books worried that while children’s publishing in India was growing at a scorching pace, there was the real fear that one was not thinking enough about what kind of stories were being written.

Were children’s books inclusive? Did they address disabilities, physical and social? Not adequately, according to Rao.

“The industry is afraid to experiment and it is business more than real content that rules,” rued children’s writer Malavika Nataraj as she and animator/ illustrator Chetan Sharma spoke on Walking the Tightrope: How Imaginative are Children’s Writers and Illustrators? Sharma felt that the trick lay not just in the character and plot that can fire a child’s imagination, but also in the telling.

Referring to today’s children as “the Strawberry generation — easily bruised”, Nataraj felt that children needed to hear hard truths. “Imagination, fantasy and reality can co-exist in the same narrative,” she said.

But what role does political correctness play in narratives. Paro Anand, Anushka Ravishankar and John Boyne spoke about their individual experiences of writing ‘difficult books’ for young readers. Anand faced considerable flak for her book No Guns at My Son’s Funeral because it was the story of a young Kashmiri boy who turns to militancy. Still, thousands of copies of that book got sold. “Don’t ban books, start conversations about the issue instead,” urged Anand.

Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas about a friendship during the Holocaust between two children on opposite sides of the fence, literally and metaphorically, sold nine million copies. The truth, however inconvenient, should not be messed with, he said.

All the authors were unanimous on the point that if indeed we are living in a time of intolerance, conflict and devastation, children had every right to know about that dark side of their world. “But, no matter how dark the matter of my story is, I always end on an upswing,” said Anand.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 12:51:47 AM |

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