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Reading the small print

Children’s literature steps centre-stage at a two-day discussion at Kalina University, reports Meher Marfatia.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2009 17:00 IST
Hindustan Times

A two-day conference Learning Wisdom at their Knee: What Literature for Children Teaches Us opens at the Kalina University campus today. It ties in with a fresh idea — a paper on children’s literature in the new M A Hons. curriculum offered by the English department from June this year. Although universities the world over dedicate complete postgraduate programmes to the subject, this is a welcome first here.

Papa don’t preach
Charles Ferrall from New Zealand presents a keynote address on The invention of adolescence in Victorian and Edwardian Literature.Topic to be covered include the morally ambivalent characters of Roald Dahl, the part played by legend in children’s writing and how young people can effectively dramatise writing. English teacher and author Bubla Basu is part of a panel discussion with other children’s writers. She sees a definite change in genres. Magic realism reigns and there is a growing trend away from moralistic talking down to kids. “If there is a message, it’s smartly smuggled into a story rather than being hammered in hard,” she observes.

But Basu also finds far too much action-oriented text for children, compared with deeper, more emotive writing of earlier authors like Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde. “Now restless characters keep moving and everything that happens is aggressive or invasive.”

Identity search
Interestingly, for all the Judy Blumes and Jacqueline Wilsons currently popular, Basu feels Enid Blyton shouldn’t be easily dismissed. “She wrote conversation brilliantly. Dialogue is so stilted today, it’s as if no one is listening to the way kids really talk.” Specific books will also be taken up to focus on vital issues. Siriporn Sriwarakan of Thailand will explains myth-making for racial harmony in Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider.

English professor Shefali Shah plans to use books by Randa Abdel-Sattah, a writer from Australia of Palestinian-Egyptian descent, Does My Head Look Big in This? and Ten Things I Hate about Me examine identity crisis and change in a 16-year-old heroine. Set in Sydney, both look at negotiating ethnic identity in a white society.

Conference coordinator Coomi Vevaina hopes to reflect similar concerns in the children’s literature paper introduced this year. Its announcement has already created quite a buzz among academicians and students alike.

Editor and writer Santhini
Govindan involved with collating the content of the paper, stresses, “Good books mould lastingly. They are the best way to teach the next generation peace and democracy in a global situation which needs these ideas understood.”

First Published: Jan 19, 2009 16:59 IST