Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My friend Babar

While negotiating my way through Bangalore's busy Commercial Street some days ago, I overheard an exchange between a mother and her young son. To the mother's suggestion to visit a bookshop, the boy replied, "But all they have are the same old fairy tales and Harry Potter." The plump, pale boy typified today's urban children. He probably lived in an apartment and had no trees to climb or grassy nooks to explore. In all likelihood he spent his evenings doing homework and playing computer games.

I, too, grew up in cramped partments in urban sprawls. But my father filled the house with books. Not content with what he found on shop shelves, he ordered more. While my parents were away at work, I curled up in my favourite sofa with Babar, the Little Elephant. Dear, cuddly and muddle-headed Winnie the Pooh and his friends and 'raletions' kept me company through many a lonely day. I loved the delighful river rat, the pompous Toad and all the other creatures populating The Wind in the Willows.

Exploring my school library led me to more treasures. Call It Courage, books by James Thurber and E.B. White, The Jungle Book, Black Beauty, The wizard of Oz, The Swiss Family Robinson, Tom Sawyer, the memories overwhelm me.

My son grew up reading my well worn copies of Babar, Robinson Crusoe, Five Little Peppers, Little Women and other books. When he wanted more, I scoured local bookshops in vain for Winnie the Pooh and other old-time favourites only to find the shelves filled with activity books, encyclopedias, fairy tales and classics retold (my child was an advanced reader for his age and would have preferred the originals).And there were the usual bestsellers. Nothing wrong with such books, but I sensed something sadly amiss in the paucity of choices.

Why do commercial interests take precedence in the type of reading on offer to children? Books that 'sell' occupy prominent display space and parents buy them. The same parents later complain that their children do not want to read. When we foist certain books upon children hoping to advance their intellectual capabilities, do we also not stifle their creativity for lack of ample choices? Why not allow them the freedom to make friends with Babar or Curious George?

11 comments:

Max Babi said...

Monideepa,
Finally I landed here....
well not only commercial intersts, another serious problem which your junior doesn't have but most kids have is short attention span. Cartoon network is ruining their reading habits; Sigh... times they are a-changing !
cheerz!

monideepa said...

Max,
Thanks for dropping by. I feel, the short attention span is at least partly the result of kids not having imaginative options. some parents do put too much pressure on their kids to excel in studies and certain activities. Such kids would see books as something dull which is thrust upon them against their wishes. If such children were allowed to browse and choose a book they LIKED, there are chances that some of them might get hooked to reading.
Attentions spans are limited for things we do not find itneresting. If children were given more choices and readign was not made to appear like a chore, they might actually like it.

Atyllah said...

You should read The Inner Minx's post about the child who is unable to speak at all because he's never had to, he's only interacted with the TV. Tragic. What are parents doing to a generation of children.
It's interesting to note that many of the old classics are coming back into print - I spotted a number of my childhood favourites at the bookstore recently, so there is some hope, Moni :-)

Lotus Reads said...

What a nice, thoughtful post. Am glad I discovered your blog whilst surfing. I think today's kids are inundated with things to do. The TV, the internet and a multitude of extracurricular actitvities call out to them on a regular basis, so much so they can hardly make time to read. When we were growing up we didn't have those distractions. We got our first TV when I was 12 years old, by then my reading habits were well and truly formed.

Will visit again.

gautami tripathy said...

I landed up here from Max's blog. Glad I did.

Children today do not want to read. But I always make sure I gift my nephews and nieces books. I have cultivated their reading habits and my brothers are kind of grateful to me for that.

monideepa said...

Thanks for your comments, Atyllah and Lotus. I feel if more parents and teachers allowed children to choose books for themselves, there's a chance that more of them would learn to love reading.

Minx said...

Interesting post Moni. I have had wuite a few rants on this subject as books for children is near to my heart.
Love of books and reading is the magick that a parent passes on to their child, very few find it without being shown the way in the early years.
Times have changed and we should move along with them but I have noticed of late that a lot of the older titles are appearing back on the library lists - there is hope!

monideepa said...

Thanks, Minx. You're right, we should change with the times. But I feel that books are eternal.

Bob Sanchez said...

My son had many of the same friends you did, Moni; he spent many an hour with Babar and Winnie, and with such books as Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. He watched television, but we limited his access to it, and we read to him until he was 10 or 11 and asked us not to do it anymore.

Vidya said...

Nice, thoughtful post! And yes, Babar was always a favourite! Mom's and mine, too! : )
Cheers!

Simran said...

Hi Moni,

Great post. Yes, Babar and The Wind in the Willows have always been too of my favorite childhood stories.

I miss the time spent reading with my girls while they were growing up. Guess I'll have to wait for grandchildren to relive the memories.

Simi