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Storyteller’s tale

THE WORLD OF WHY NOT Writing for children is no mean task

THE WORLD OF WHY NOT Writing for children is no mean task   | Photo Credit: Photo: V. GANESAN

Children’s writers speak on how to keep the young readers hooked

Storytelling is no easy matter – be your young listener of wizard-kind, a Jedi, hobbit or a muggle, for tales need to be showered with imagination, narrative skills, considerable artwork … and what makes Harry Potter the next best-seller after the Bible: le plot.

The landscape of a child’s tale is full of pitfalls: the target audience has a ridiculously small attention span; is going through the formative years of growing up, perceives a world full of question-marks … and adults as more than capable of answering them.

“I try to reproduce their main concerns, current pre-occupations and excitements,” says Scharada Bail, who began writing in response to a call by the NCERT for stories on national integration. “But I do think that one has to maintain a kind of quality – more than a writer for adults.”

Quality eventually rules the roost, in children’s literature. The general perception of a writer for children seems to be that little effort goes into them. Sandhya Rao, senior editor, Tulika Books says: “People can’t imagine that books for children are produced like others.”

Today’s books for children have certainly progressed beyond simple tales with a pretty moral. “I’m keen on children enjoying a story with the right values – but based in cities and places they recognise,” says Sandhya Sridhar, who has been writing adventure and mystery stories for more than a decade. “Children like knowing what is happening in the here and now.”

But of course, the sheer thrill of waiting for that next instalment of a serial story is now on a steady decline. “It is a pity, yes. For some, the economics don’t work out,” says Sandhya.

E. S. Hariharan, who writes under the pseudonym ‘Revathy’ and has won more than 40 awards for children’s literature in Tamil, agrees.

“There are many writers for adults, but very few for children. It requires more effort, creativity, style… and never come into this field for money. For my part, if Indira Gandhi always had a copy of “Ambulimama” on her table during her regime, that exhibits their power.” However, to see the kind of magical realism stories that were earlier looked down upon, reappearing and enthralling children in channels like Jetix, is a little too much to take. “Old wine in new bottles,” he chuckles wistfully. “The circle draws to a close.”

All agree that, as writers for children, their perceptions are different. “You need to get into their world, think and communicate to them,” reiterates Jeeva Raghunath, storyteller and writer. “That’s why I write in Tamil – I think, feel and understand it better.”

Being identified as a writer for children, no matter how politically correct, does invoke mixed reactions. “I’m often asked if I’m still writing for children, after 40 years,” laughs Hariharan. “I tell them that I always will”. Scharada shrugs. “I’m quite unaffected by such evaluations.” To Sandhya, the knowledge that her stories reach some child in a remote part of the country is humbling. “Just knowing that some child somewhere feels fulfilled, that books answer some need, is satisfying.”

Storytellers, just like stories, do live ever after.

PAVITHRA SRINIVASAN
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