OTHERS

For the fun of it

PREMA SRINIVASAN

Scholastic has been consistently concerned with "reading education" by making available a whole range of children's books to Indian school children. Peter Hunt, researcher of children's literature, has remarked with great insight, "What a culture thinks of as childhood is reflected very closely in the books produced for its citizens." Among the four books written for children the one entitled Horses to Vijaynagar is written by an Indian author Monisha Mukundan. The other three texts offer different reading experiences transmitting some universal cultural values and certain other specific sociological trends.

Among the lot The Sixth Sense - Secrets from Beyond by David Benjamin - sounded pleasantly eerie and the back cover said that it was a new mystery inspired by the award winning movie, The Sixth Sense. This is encouragement enough for even the casual page turner and the book is bound to have takers. Five teenagers vanish and Cole Sear who possesses the sixth sense, is the only person who can get to the bottom of the mystery. The mystery unravels, as boys both dead and alive, undergo a series of spooky adventures and Cole Sear emerges triumphant. The missing boys return home, the thugs responsible for the mystery are caught and there is happy reunion in the families concerned. An ideal fairy tale conclusion but the story does not involve the reader or communicate a valuable literary experience but can be classified as a "time pass", a term, which literary enthusiasts are likely to dismiss as trivial.

The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes - Reach for the stars by Anne Mazer is good fun to read. Abby Hayes is a likeable girl who is star struck, hoping for the lead role of Wendy in the school production of Peter Pan. Being a down-to-earth child, she is aware of her strengths and weaknesses and her habit of writing a diary makes the story move in a consistent pattern. Finally although she does not get a part, she is involved in the production completely, as she is asked to rewrite the script of Peter Pan, to suit the school situation. This she does so well that Abby, much to her own surprise, receives a tremendous ovation, for her contribution, after the play. Abby becomes a star anyway and all the more lovable for her modesty and buoyant spirits. This will go down well with the teenagers who may recall Blyton's Malory Towers and O'sullivan Twins school stories, which are full of similar pranks and funny episodes.

Coping with friends by Peter Corey is laden with friendly advice about handling all types of friends. This is light hearted in tone and we are informed that there are still more to come in this series about Coping with parents, teachers, school, family and pets. Children who want a break from fiction may settle down with this reader-friendly book to enjoy some good-natured banter and lively illustrations.

Horses to Vijay Nagar by Monisha Mukundan is an interesting slice from history. Two orphans, Manuela and Ferdinand, escape from their village in Goa and find refuge in the kingdom of Vijaynagaram. The story follows a pattern of adventure and intrigue in a plausible fashion and the children are fortunate to find sanctuary in the royal court of Vijaynagaram, assisted by good luck and helpful friends. The story is well written and the careful attention to local colour makes it authentic. The long journey from Goa to Vijaynagaram and the pomp and circumstance of prince's palaces, are described with an eye for detail.

Children's books may be the result of inspiration or may be merely manufactured to suit popular demand. But only if they attempt to communicate a wholesome literary experience reading becomes a worthwhile exercise. Young people today are fortunate as international publishing houses are bending over backwards to provide a wide variety of reading material in order to woo them back from the electronic media. The discerning adult needs to pick and choose books of substance from the assorted reading material available today for children.

The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes - Reach for the Stars by Anne Mazer; Rs. 70.

The Sixth Sense - Secrets from Beyond by David Benjamin.

Coping with Friends by Peter Corey

Horses to Vijayanagar by Monisha Mukundan; Rs. 60.