As an editor of a children’s magazine, my primary job is to commission articles. There are many senior writers whose work I enjoy. Then there are writers I feel whose ideas, style of writing must enrich the body of children’s literature. Because of the purity of their expression. They are just writing what they think with such honesty that it seems they are talking to us. They are engaging us in a conversation.Such articles, stories are missing in children’s literature because the moment one talks about writing for children, they immediately assume the position of an adult. They write down to children.
E.B. White has famously said, “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.”
Then the basic rules of writing such as ‘Show, don’t tell’ are seriously flouted. The attempt is to explain every possible word used in the text is explain, which makes it an excruciating read.
Beverly Clearly says, “As a child, I disliked books in which children learned to be ‘better’ children.” Children’s literature in India is full of such texts.
More recently, a very dear friend of mine asked me to translate a story for children. Saying ‘No’ was not an option as she would then think of me as too high headed. The story writes down to children. Children are not unaware or silly beings who do not know what goes where. In fact, they are very observant of not just their natural surroundings but also of human behaviour. That’s how they learn the rules of society. It does not see children as reflective beings. It also tries to teach good behaviour to children. The story is on environment. Why do you have to write a story on it? Why can’t you just write about deforestation? The idea of deforestation used in the story is also dated. That is not how we are presently thinking about environment. We have moved way ahead. A text on Greta Thunberg and other (Indian) children environmentalists would have made an interesting read for 6 years-olds too. They would be able to identify with child activists and identify their agency to act.
How does one explain this to writers of children’s literature?