Very recently, I came across Neil Gaiman’s article, “why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming”, and I couldn’t help but nod at each word. Being a bibliophile has many advantages; for one, you’re never afraid of solitude because the books in your bag are always there for company. But being a bibiliophile seldom comes across by accident; children must be introduced to books, and the right books, at the right age. Here are some of our recommendations.
My journey with books started as early as seven, and has not paused for a second since. Today I will speak about the onset of this journey, the initiating stages of this love where little books of huge stature found space in my library: Children’s books.
Roald Dahl, Oscar Wilde, JK Rowling and many more have found their creative juices flowing by writing stories not for adults but for children. Fairy tales of yore found space in our lives for centuries, but it was this new breed of writers who took many by surprise. Their Cindrellas were not dainty or mellowed or helpless, their evil characters had redeeming shades of grey.
Who does not remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl? Willie Wonka’s shady undertones of evil made us shudder and yet his ways endeared him to us all. Children’s books suddenly found them being discussed in higher circles, they were not dismissed as bed time reads anymore. Wilde and Dahl saw themselves written about in literature and history.
So much so that when Salman Rushdie underwent a rough patch in his life (as mentioned in his autobiography Joseph Anton), he went on to write a children’s book called Haroun and the Sea of Stories to break his writer’s block.
George Orwell had written Animal Farm as a kids’ fable. But then it was only when many stumbled upon its inner meaning, that his sheer intellect was discovered. It took me three reads at different times of my life to finally realise how intelligently it was explaining the world of communism. At a mere hundred pages it is also one of my favourite short novels.
In recent times, it has also figured out to be one of best tools to understand leadership in corporate life. Look back, what was thought to be a children’s fable book is now looking to be an adult’s guide map. And yet despite proving themselves over and over again, children’s book received a step sisterly behaviour far too long. Until one day a woman changed it all.
A story of love, courage, family and friendship took the world by surprise by its simple narrations. From the ages of five to fifty all became hooked onto her writings. This Whitbread prize winner not only made its character famous, it also made her the richest author in the world.
What is it that makes the best children’s books so endearing and yet so deep? Look back at all the names mentioned. Writers of these books took time and energy to build a strong plot. A plot not plausible in a normal world and yet demanding a space in our minds at all times.
A child’s imagination is very wild and it needs to be tamed not by restricting it but by meeting it. Alice needs a wonderland to be comfortable in and Dorothy needs her tinman with no feelings in this life. As adults we lose this sense of wonder and amazement and our books can satiate us with the usual, regular dramas of life. But a child needs something that can beat them at their own game, that is creating a world of their own.
A sense of engagement. Having said that the books need to be different, they also require familiar grounds. For example, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Secret Seven series became such a major hit because the family ties or the school holidays fun, that was often the backdrop, was a reality for all readers at that age.
Though I personally feel that style of writing being simple for all genres is an important point, this is especially so with children’s reads. Their understanding depends majorly on their own reading and many a times asking an adult to help them comprehend takes away the charm of the story. Let books be their own thing, something they learn and practice in their own time. For most bibliophiles, book reading is a lonely activity.
Characters you cannot forget. More often with children’s books the story is often neglected as opposed to the characters. For this I have my own theory, kids have a short span of attention time and remembering a story or plot may be tedious or not worth their time. But a Charlie or Matilda can never be forgotten. The characters create an ever lasting impression which makes them a constant companion in children’s heads. Famous five or other such series may have evaporated as mysteries but we never forget George and Timothy.
Children’s books are here to stay. For years they have percolated the ways of adults only to finally capture their attention. Initiating you into the world of books and more, forming an odd nostalgic read in nights to come.Go pick one of these, gift it to that young doe eyed girl or boy, watch them get bugged by this addiction for life. Trust me years later they would always remember you as the guardian of the old Alice’s rabbit hole.
If there was a children’s book you would always recommend which one would it be?