This was a panel discussion involving children and Young Adult fiction writers.
Paro Anand, whose fiction deals with gritty themes, keeps her young audience in mind and writes sans poverty, violence or sexuality. But she allows for a reality that defines itself, especially in her book, No Guns At My Son’s Funeral. This book includes real stories of children who wanted the author to share their joys and sorrows with the rest of the world.
Lakshmi Devnath creates a mélange of mythology and history to bring out the lesser known stories of the 5th century in her book Poorva. This is achieved through the story of a kid who slips past the frame of time into an interactive fantasy, being invisible to all who lived at that point in time. All her love and passion for Carnatic Music, too, finds reflection in her books.
Marie Munkara claims that books for adults can involve sex and swearing but writing kids’ books is a taller order. They require not just the right use of words and language, but a level and maturity of story that connect to the audience.
Rohini Nilekani added to the discussion by stating that much more has to be done on reading and platforms for distribution.
The difference between books for the young and for adults were delineated by Paro Anand by emphasizing that stories with hope are generally preferred by the young. Apart from the appropriateness of language, diction must also be chosen tailored to children.
Commenting on how to begin the creative process, Marie Munkara said she just decides to feel good when starting to write a book. Then this message gets transmitted to every reader. Lakshmi was of the opinion that every author needed to get into the skin of the protagonist, especially since this discussion was about how the voice of the protagonist had to be defined.
The panel subsequently moved to discussing the need to focus on illustration, alongside the text. This is what attracts young readers, as their books combine illustrations with a hundred words as opposed novels that span 250+ pages for an adult. The book, Shringeri Srinivas written by Rohini focuses on illustration with particular zest. Lakshmi mentioned that in one of her briefings with the illustrator, she had to strike poses to define what she wanted. Paro finds that there are always two parallel and complementary stories authors targeting a younger audience must weave– one in words and the other in pictures as portrayed in her book Wingless.
“A good book is for everyone to read. I don’t want an 8-year-old to read a book with a protagonist who is 8-years-old”, exclaimed Paro. She gave examples of the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series that appeal to all ages.
The discussion ended with a Q&A session. Some of the thought- provoking questions dealt with how books could be selected by kids, instead of their parents procuring them alone. Also, matters like societal issues and social acceptance of gay rights were tough subjects that have a place but are difficult to introduce into children’s books.
The authors agreed that no book can be genre specific for a writer and that one’s writing can never be categorized perfectly.
While parents go after morality, knowledge and history in books, young readers interpret their books in other ways. There is, of course, an over- emphasis on romance in young literature. Though it is considered forbidden in Indian culture, romance does add a shock factor that continues to wow young readers.
The highlight of the event was the launch of Andaleeb Wajid’s Back in Time and Lakshmi Devnath’s Poorva-Magic Miracles and the Mystical Twelve.