New Delhi: While a bevy of authors are writing gritty fiction for children across age-groups in the country, for a large section of young readers here literature
remains limited to Panchantra, Amar Chitra Katha or global best-sellers such as Harry Potter.
Paro Anand, a prominent author for children and young adults, says it has been a struggle to bring the genre to the mainstream, and the fight still continues.
"There is a growing awareness that Children's Literature is not a side show, it is in the mainstream now. I have been fighting this for a long time. In the beginning children's writers were not even invited to big literature festivals.
"After much struggle, a separate tent meant for children's literature was made a part of big literary festivals. But then it started off strictly for children. It was one of the only opportunities for children of less privileged backgrounds. It was great. But it was very closed off," says Anand.
The author says the fact that writers of children's literature are not considered mainstream needs to change and demands more "prominent platforms for panels" to discuss the serious business of children's literature. Paro lists out three reasons why it is a greater challenge to write for children.
"Firstly, you are writing in a state where for younger children atleast, the person who buys it is not the end user. Parents or school libraries take this decision for them.
"The second challenge is that it is a very new territory to be known as Indian children's literature. Even now when you go to a book store and ask for Indian children's literature, you are guided to Panchantatra, Mahabharat for children. The shelf space that you get is also small," says Anand.
The final challenge, she says is writing about new, difficult and gritty subjects including religion, sexuality or patriarchy, and then getting it past editors, parents, or even schools so that the book reaches children.
"When I had written the book, 'No Guns at my Son's Funeral', we went back and forth about that title, because it was a dreadful title especially for a younger audience.
"We had actually changed the title to 'Kashmir the other side of Childhood'. But the night before it was going into print, I decided against it and we retained the original
title. And it became the fastest selling book for young adults and teenagers," she shares.
Despite calling it a challenging task, Paro loves the "danger" of writing for teens and young adults, calling them the "toughest audience".
"Writing for teens and young adults they're the toughest audience, they are very critical. The moment they feel that you're trying to teach them something; that's it the book is shut, probably in the dustbin."
"If they feel that you're one Auntyji trying to be cool, the book is definitely in the dustbin. I love sitting on the edge, the teetering, not knowing whether I'm going to fail or succeed," she says.
Paro says the "tight space" of writing and maintaining the fine balance is the reason that some of the best books come out for this age-group.
Actor-writer Nandita Sen, who recently came out with 'Mambi and the Forest Fire' says that as an author for children, her primary responsibility is to find a way to engage and entertain while competiting with television, ipads and digital media.
Sen feels that children's literature can be used as an effective tool to bring children closer to reality.
"Children's books have a very special capacity to use fantasy, by which I do not mean an idealised idyllic work. You can really use fantasy to bring children closer to reality.
"I don't believe in preaching in children's books or any books in any format. And especially for children, you cannot be didactic, but you can find very inventive and sensitive engaging ways of drawing or creating characters which children can reach to," says Sen
For instance, her latest book 'Mambi and the Forest Fire' is about self-confidence and embracing one's own identity while celebrating diversity.
"I think it is a very important topic in India now, and indeed anywhere in the world. You can write in non-preachy ways to sensitize kids to matters that are a part of their reality.
"Privileged kids often are disconnected from the larger reality they live in. I don't believe in sheltering kids too much. I would like to explore topics like sharing, hunger, inequality because you can find this around you," she says....