How storytelling for children has evolved | Art-and-culture News


Today, there is a fantastic range of children’s books, for ages 0 to teens, with parents taking out time to find the right ones for their kids. More than that, sharing and discussing the books has become of prime importance. “Quantity time, not quality time, is important,” feels educator, naturalist, and writer Zai Whitaker.

The age-old maxim of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ cannot be taken for granted because children question what happens in stories far more than they used to, pointed out author Deepa Agarwal who writes both for children and adults. “They are not passive listeners. Even folktales which used to be readily accepted as they were, require explanations and logical justifications. A storyteller needs to rewrite the script to capture the attention of her audience and make sure the narrative and characters have credibility, especially now that the electronic methods of storytelling with startling special effects are grabbing the attention of the young,” she said.

How early is too early when it comes to initiating reading?

Reading about other beliefs, different cultures, and ways of life not only broadens the mind but promotes understanding and empathy. “The commonly mentioned benefits like gaining knowledge, increasing vocabulary and communication skills, improving concentration, enhancing creativity and reducing stress cannot be emphasised enough too,” said Deepa, who has written books like Folk Tales Of Uttarakhand, and The Teenage Diary of Nur Jahan to name a few.

Parents should begin as early as possible by letting babies handle cloth or vinyl books, sing lullabies, repeat rhymes, and read aloud to them. “This develops a lifelong connection with books. The choice of reading material is also important, and parents should be sensitive to their child’s responses to stories. Reading aloud should continue even after a child has learned to decipher words and sentences as a way to spend quality time with a child,” Deepa said.

Zai’s 18 years of teaching English, and “slyly trying out my writing on my students”, flagged three things for her: that the writing, however simple, should have exciting ‘aha’ moments; that there’s a fine balance between humour and bad taste; that not all children’s life experiences can be successfully represented in literature.

Festive offer

Reading in the times of the internet

As technology continues to advance, we are likely to see greater innovation and stories will be interpreted in numerous ways, providing greater choice to the audience. Despite that, reading should and must be prioritised, authors urge.

“Children today engage with stories not just through print or oral storytelling but an impressive variety of mediums. All this is very exciting, but I feel there is no substitute for the benefits reading in print provides,” said Deepa, who has covered historical fiction to fantasy, retold traditional tales to realistic fiction in her works.

Zai too affirmed and shared, “I continue to say, stodgily and boringly, that there’s no substitute for a book…”

children book reading We need more sports fiction and home-grown fantasy (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Some of the least explored genres for children and why they have the potential to work

Zai who wrote a little play once, shared that it was good to hear from a family that they enjoyed performing it. “Many children love to dress up and perform and there’s usually a role for even those who don’t, when a “production” is being developed. Also, as a teacher, I converted several stories such as Maupassant’s The Necklace into plays, and we had a lot of fun. So, I would encourage writers to look at this genre, this possibility,” said Zai.

We need more sports fiction and home-grown fantasy, Deepa feels as she stressed the need for covering climate change, ecology, and other issues the world is facing like children in conflict zones and displacement.

“Though many excellent books have been written, the young adult genre also needs more representation because exploring teenage problems in books can be a form of support at this vulnerable age. There has been an explosion in non-fiction writing but there is scope for much more,” said Deepa, whose latest book The Arthashastra for Children, an adaptation of Kautilya’s classic on statecraft, uses many examples from world history and contemporary situations to demonstrate his theories.

“I think it is important for children to gain insights into the way governments work, or should work, outside of their textbooks. They have much greater exposure to world politics. More information books about career options, possibly through real-life stories, would also be useful,” added Deepa.

These significant conversations are part of the 15th edition of Bookaroo Children’s Festival scheduled to take place November 24-25, 2023, at Sunder Nursery, Nizamuddin, Delhi from 11 am to 4:30 pm where authors like Zai and Deepa along with many others will hold 78 sessions over two days.

Talking about looking forward to the event, Deepa said Bookaroo is a major event on the calendar for both children and parents. “Meeting their favourite authors, listening to them talk about their books, and getting books signed makes it a special experience for young book lovers. Bookaroo has made an impact on children’s book publishing too because it offers a wonderful opportunity for publishers to showcase titles.”

Zai, who is popular for her work Salim Mamoo and Me, addresses such events as “important spaces”, hugely enjoyed by the whole family… “and that some parents should let their kids choose books, rather than do it for them!”

What needs a revamp?

Children’s book publishing has come a long way. However, considering our vast population and the number of schools all over the country, book sales remain discouraging.

“Children’s books by Indian authors are not marketed as actively as books for adults, because they contribute greatly in building a base of dedicated readers. This becomes demotivating for authors who invest so much of themselves into writing a book,” Deepa said.

There is also the unfortunate assumption that writing a book for children is child’s play, that it is an “easier” kind of writing. “This is something that needs to change. Children’s writing must receive its due as a significant genre,” Deepa concluded.

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