Jerry Pinto describes children as the “nightmare readers”. “If they don’t like a book, they put it down. Adults may continue to read a book that has been deemed good; they may want to boast about having read something. Children don’t care,” he points out. Pinto is one of the 60 authors in attendance at the fifth edition of Bookaroo, the children’s literature festival taking place in Delhi over this weekend.
Not only are children nightmare readers, but books have to compete with the glowing screens of televisions, mobiles and video games for their attention. So, how do authors grapple for a child’s much-sought attention?
Ovidia Yu is one of the authors in attendance. On Saturday, the Singapore-based author participated in a workshop aimed at showing children how they can transform their ‘ordinary’ lives into something extraordinary on page. “The best way for children to gain an interest in writing is for them to see adults they respect and admire give priority to reading. Otherwise, they will view reading as a sort of ‘childlike’ habit that they must put aside once they get older,” explains Yu. Author Frane Lessac, the author of over 35 books for children, who will be teaching kids how to make their own picture books in the afternoon today, agrees. “Kids just want a good story,” Lessac says. “The workshop I participated in earlier this week was an affirmation of that. No matter what their background or mother tongue, children clap and scream and laugh at a good story. It’s a universal language.” With entry to all events being free, Bookaroo is expecting over ten thousand attendees this weekend. Pinto has a convincing argument for why children might like reading adventure and fantasy books — it’s a short-cut to adulthood. Sampurna Chatterji, the author of several books for children, has an approach at the other end of the spectrum from Yu and Pinto — don’t force it. “If kids realise reading is subversion, reading is transgression, reading is a whole universe of unexpected thrills, chills and spills, they’ll read of their own accord, simply because they love it, and not because it must be swallowed under prescription,” she says. Hopefully, Bookaroo will breed a small but determined army of literary transgressors.