Their world is huge, luckily sans boundaries, bright, intriguing and spontaneous, allowing absurdities of all kinds to exist. Their horizons are fleeting, giving space to dragons, fairies, elves, wizards, goblins and unicorns, to rabbits that talk and broomsticks that fly. Their sense of adventurism make them scale mountains, drink potions that do wonders and imagine frogs that turn into princes. Their world is the world of pure innocent fun. And their literature is as a colour-riot as their world. Perceived as adults in the making, their books deal also with the issues of environment conservation, child labour, differently-abled and relationships – to name a few.
Children’s literature in India is a subaltern field, only now beginning to attract its long overdue attention. While literature in English for adults attained an enviable position with the likes of Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Kamala Markandaya etc winning awards, critical acclaim and giving structure to the literature from the subcontinent, children who had an interest in reading books beyond their prescribed syllabus for decades took doses of Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, Mills and Boons i.e all work of foreign writers and the translations of Panchatantra, Jataka Tales and Amar Chitra Kathaein from Indians, leaving much to be desired in the field of children’s literature in English in the country. The only significant name and very significant for that matter is of Ruskin bond who has been prolifically and tirelessly writing delightful short stories for children.
For a long time, children books by Indian writers confined themselves to the genres of mystery and adventure, with some historical fiction, school stories and a few biographies in the field of non-fiction. Writers like Arup Kumar Dutta wrote path-breaking books like his environmental mystery The Kaziranga Trail (published in 1978) that won first prize in the Children’s Book Trust competition for children’s writers. Nilima Sinha’s Chandipur Jewels (1979) and its sequels, also awarded by Children’s Book Trust, still mesmerize children. Dutta’s work has been translated into Japanese among other languages. Deepak Dalal continue to enthral the young with titles like Ranthambore Adventure and others in the series set in Ladakh and the Andamans. Shashi Deshpande’s detective book 3 Novels: A Summer Adventure, The Hidden Treasure and The Only Witness, Rohini Chowdhury’s jungle adventure White Tiger, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s historical adventure Victory Song are among the other titles that have occupied a space in the bookshelves.
The past few years, however, have seen the germination of writers who have started to write enthusiastically for the young readers, raising hope that the genre will soon acquire a promising shape. The success of children’s literature festivals has given the much needed boost, diverting the little minds and eyes from the gizmos to the world of...