Written by Jeevan Mendonsa
Compared to some decades ago, it’s heartening to see that children’s literature is gaining importance in the learning process of children in our country. However, there is still a long way to go. There are still plenty of schools and other spaces where children’s literature is yet to see the light of day. Even in places where children’s literature is given space, one needs to make an objective analysis so as to come to a better judgment. Many school libraries have story books and other publications catering only to children of grade 5 and onwards, not below. When I visited a couple of schools and asked the school librarian about the reason for lack of literature for children of 9 years and below, pat came the reply, “It’s no use. They don’t know to read.” Thus, the activity of read aloud which is seen as crucial in the reading process is unheard of by them. As for children of grade 5 onwards too, the reading of story books and the time given for the same is only tolerated. Story books which form a significant percentage of children’s literature are usually seen as a means of entertainment or a hobby. Period. In reality, it should be the other way around. Children’s literature in general and story books in particular have a crucial role to play in the learning process of children. But for me, that is only the tip of the iceberg. It has a more crucial role to play in the very lives of children.
Denise von Stockar says that we human beings have an inborn need within us to tell stories. All the stories, the myths, the fables and the novels, including those addressed to children are, in fact, the result of this basic need: they help us to live, to survive; they help children to grow up and develop. The human being is an enormous mine of emotions. Story books express this profound characteristic of human beings as a matter-of-fact. Thus, through story books, children have the wonderful opportunity to experience a whole range of human emotions – laughter, sorrow, surprise, fear, anger, etc. Every ache, every pain of the character they identify themselves with becomes their own. Every moment of joy and excitement, adventure and surprise also become their own. One might question this saying that extreme emotions could harm the delicate minds of children. However, gradually, though emotionally involved with a particular character, children would also learn to distance themselves from him/her and enjoy the experience as a whole. Books help children to understand the other person’s viewpoint, his/her feelings and thoughts. Thus, they develop empathy, a quality that is increasingly becoming rare and much sought after in today’s fast-paced, emotionless world. Therefore, story books can play a wonderful role in the emotional development of children.
Story books spark the imagination of children. They challenge children to come out of their small world and enter into a whole new world of adventure and fantasy. Children see infinite possibilities being thrown open to them. This prevents their minds from being stuck and restricted. It keeps their minds fresh and open to innovative and creative ways of doing things. Thus, books harness the creativity of children.
What I have described are just few of the many ways in which story books can play a crucial role in the lives of children. As library educators, we are committed to do whatever is possible within our means, little though it might be, to ensure that story books gain their rightful place in the lives of children we encounter.