Saturday, January 08, 2005

Writing for Children

Part of my New Year's resolution about blogging was that I would try to avoid consecutive negative posts. It's difficult when you read things like this right after blogging about Alberto Gonzales. I'll leave it to people like Democracy for Virginia to write about Virginia's ridiculous proposed bill requiring women who suffer miscarriages to report it to the police within 12 hours, failing which they could be imprisoned for upto a year and fined $2500 for their heinous crime. This ranks as a class 1 misdemeanour, along with statutory rape, arson, stalking, and bomb threats by minors. (Considering that you intend to leave it to other people to tell the story, you managed to write quite a bit! - ed.)

What I am going to blog about, then, is C.S. Lewis' wonderful essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children. I read this in Cleveland; it was appended to a lovely edition of The Chronicles of Narnia. He explains why good writing for children is good writing for adults, which is why we enjoy at fifty the stories we enjoyed at twelve. The essay is such a gem that I went out and bought the book because I had to have it, and couldn't find it anywhere on the Internet. If it weren't copyrighted, I would host it myself. As it is, I've typed in a large part of it to email to friends, but beyond that, I cannot in good conscience call it personal or fair use. What I can do, though, is to reproduce the conclusion:
Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, "I loathe prunes." "So do I," came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table. Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funnny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the proper meeting between man and child as independent personalities. Of the far higher and more difficult relations between child and parent or child and teacher, I say nothing. An author, as a mere author, is outside all that. He is not even an uncle. He is a freeman and an equal, like the postman, the butcher, and the dog next door.

Readers are invited to name their 3 favourite children's books (or series, or authors) which still appeal greatly to them. Only books written for children count; not books which you happened to enjoy as a child because you were precocious. The 3 I'll list are (not necessarily my favourites, and in no particular order):
1. The Chronicles of Narnia themselves
2. Most (if not all) of Edith Nesbit's work
3. Richmal Crompton's William books

What are yours?


Deepak said...

enid blyton's faraway tree
little house on the prairie

Anonymous said...

Alice in Wonderland

Ruskin Bond's stories and poems for children.

I still discover gems from him...his latest collection, A Little Night Music, has been called "sheer delight". And going by this tiny poem called All is Life, i want to lay hands on it as quick as possible.

Whether by accident or design,
We are here.
Hold on to times of pain and strife:
Until death comes, all is life.

(I don't know whether this fits exactly into your category of Children's books...but nonetheless :))

And didn't touch upon the omnipresent comic book (or the more exotic "graphic novel"). I always used to and still enjoy the likes of Tintin and Asterix. But I guess comic books have come a long way since the likes of Amar Chitra Katha, and the more popular ones that I spot now with most of my young cousins look as glossy and action packed as cartoon network, and most definitely lack the charm of their predecessors.


Deepak said...

Indu, none of those books are purely for children!
Alice in wonderland certainly not.
I cant speak for all of Ruskin Bond's stuff, but if room on the roof is any indication, there's some adult-eration required there as well.

Anonymous said...

yup...I know. I did feel they wouldn't fit into the category of Children's books per se (in the sense they aren't meant to cater only to that age group). But these, I felt, are books that children and adults would love, but interpret and enjoy them in different ways.

When it comes to the children's books I enjoyed and grew up with (and still would like to re-read), most of them are in Malayalam, by writers who are rather unknown outside (Sumangala's stories, Kunhunni's poetry etc etc).

Nitish said...

Bless you, Ditch... the 'Faraway Tree' series were a complete joy. :-)
Oh, and I should probably add 'The Wind in the Willows.'

Nitish said...

Oh, and you're right about the comics, Indu. Besides Tintin and Asterix, there are our very own Indrajal comics. When we go to Kerala, my father still enjoys reading his old collection of Phantom and Mandrake comics.

I'm not a big fan of Tinkle any more, though. It certainly appeals much less to me now than it used to. I think it's partly because the quality of the magazine has gone down. Still, I'll never forget Shikari Shambu, Kalia and Chamataka (who reminded me very much of the Wily Coyote) and gang, or Uncle Anu's science club, for that matter.

Deepak said...

you know, indu, i wish i could say the same thing, but me(like nitish) being a fraud mallu, english is the only language i could ever read in for pleasure. I wonder sometimes how much i'm missing out on.

Indrajal comics were amazing. Especially mandrake. mandrake was cool. tinkle, well i still remember some of them fondly. there was this slightly obscure magazine called chandamama which was actually astonishingly good especially the tales of king jayabalan and his courtiers.

and of course most of our generation learnt the mahabharatha from amar chitra katha.

Anonymous said...

This is late and I expect noone's listening anymore, but what about:
1. Charlotte's Web, and E.B.White in general (particularly The Trumpet of the Swan)
2. A lot of Enid Blyton: she had a lot of nice series - The Wishing Chair series, the Faraway Tree series, the Malory Towers and St.Clare's series, the Five Find-outers' series, and others too (I remember a personal favourite - not part of a series: The Family at Redroofs).
3. Watership Down, by Richard Adams.


Nitish said...

Trust you to include Watership Down, Lachu. You never told me what you thought of 'More Tales from Watership Down', btw.
I haven't read 'The Trumpet of the Swan' yet... must get around to it. We already had the Faraway Tree series, but I'm not sure how much of her stuff I'd still enjoy reading. Which one was 'The Family at Redroofs'? The title sounds familiar, but I can't place it. That tends to happen to me with Enid Blyton's books

Deepak said...

wasnt it the 'trumpeter swan'? that was such a cool story ! i remember my teacher ms. Ho reading that out to us. which reminds me of charlie and the chocolate factory.

also, btw watership down has way too much allegory to make it purely a children's story.

Nitish said...

Should allegory disqualify a book? The Chronicles of Narnia are full of it!

Anonymous said...

oh to think I enjoyed it so much and never realized. What allegory are you referring to?! :-) I really enjoyed the fact that this chap just up and wrote a 500 page adventure book about rabbits, and in *deadly* earnest (with footnotes adn all:-) )
And Nitish, the Family at Redroofs is the one about this happy family settling into this new house and then troubles happening to them but they're all nice folk and they pull in together beautifully and make it through (Molly, Peter, Michael, Shirley were hte children I think, and Bundle was the dog and Jenny Wren was the housekeeper - hmm, no wonder I don't have much memory left over for remembering academic details..)

Anonymous said...

whoops, another thing: no Ditch, it wasn't the Trumpeter Swan, precisely because this was about a Trumpeter swan that *couldn't* trumpet and so its absurd father stole it a trumpet from a shop:-) Remember?

Nitish said...

'Jenny Wren'! I remember a Jenny Wren from Enid Blyton... none of the other names rings a bell, though.

On the other hand, there was also a Jenny Wren (real name Genevieve Renshaw) in an Asimov short story titled 'Think'; perhaps I'm mixing them up. It's funny, the things one remembers... I haven't read that story in years.