‘What is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’
Publishers all over the country are going in for children’s books in a big way to mark the International Year of the Child. In Delhi alone, surveying the field of publishers specialising in children’s books, the number is expected to be large. The Children’s Book Trust, a pioneer in this field, has scheduled twenty-four titles in English, Hindi and other Indian languages for these twelve months. National Book Trust plans to bring out, in addition to their usual twelve books per year, two special anthologies of contemporary stories (one from each Indian language and illustrated by regional artists) in English and in the regional languages. Thomson Press, which is rapidly making its mark in the field of children’s books, will be publishing nearly twenty-four titles in the lYC.
All this is no doubt very encouraging when one remembers that the children’s book industry is still in its infancy in India. Producing books for children is by no means an easy task and calls for a lot of imagination and, more importantly, the ability for identification with the young mind. Visual impact should be an important consideration. One major drawback children’s books published in India suffer from is that the illustrations tend to be blurred and are not clear in details. Children are quick to observe and point this out. How often one hears remarks like: ‘But where is the elephant’s fourth leg?’ With the talent available in the country, a little effort could easily correct this major defect.
Authors of children’s books would do well to remember always that when writing for young minds untrained in concentration, it is extremely important to catch their attention right from the first line. Children soon tire of long, involved narratives. Creative writing apart, this defect creeps in even when absorbing age-old tales like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are retold. Long-winded genealogies of the characters need not necessarily be given at the beginning but can be gradually woven into the story.
Finally, publishers should pay a little more attention to the size of the books – make them bigger, to give a child something to hold, to possess – even if it means bringing out fewer titles. The little, pamphlet-type books which abound these days are neither practical nor satisfying to the young reader. In this, perhaps parents could help by getting into the habit of buying books – which are not text-books – for their children. For, to produce a hard-cover book with colour illustrations is a costly business. One cannot really blame publishers for being reluctant to publish books that may not sell.
(Vol. III No. 1 Jan/Feb 1979)