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Children's Literature-Trick or Treat?

Geeta Doctor

Once upon a time, not very long ago, a small girl asked for a doll. It had to be a very special doll, with golden hair and blue eyes, whose name, the little girl deci­ded in advance would be Gwendolyn. So the shops were searched until Gwendolyn was found. Her eyes were pools of copper-­sulphate blue, her hair stuck out of her head like a fountain of golden spikes tied with a red ribbon and the little girl was at first delighted. On closer inspection how­ever Gwendolyn was found to suffer from two grave defects. A quick look under her frock revealed that she wore no underpants, but worse, when she was turned around it was discovered that her hair grew only in front of her head. At the back Gwendolyn was quite hopelessly bald. When printing books for children, Indian publishers are inclined to get caught, like Gwendolyn, with their pants down. They seem to be afflicted with what can only be described as a Gwen­dolyn syndrome, printing books that appear to look alright and sound alright but are sadly lacking in imagination. The only thing that can be said for, them is that it is a condition that affects not only publishers but parents, writers, teachers, booksellers as well as the children, who like the little girl have been conditioned to expect only a doll with golden hair and blue eyes. One tends to blame the publishers more since ultimately it is their lack of concern, or desire to improve, that cheats a child from getting a book that he can really enjoy.               Enjoyment here implies more than just getting to know the main points of a story which most people seem to think is the only purpose of a book. To begin with a book should be aesthetically satis­fying. A child should be able to touch and feel a book and find pleasure in the way it looks, since an ability to read is not one which develops automatically but one which has to encouraged by creat­ing a link in the child's mind between reading and pleasure. ‘I remember trying to bite into it’, says Maurice Sendak, famous American writer and illustrator or children's books, about his first impres­sion of a book. ‘I've seen children touch books, fondle books, smell books, and it's all the reason in the world why ...

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