Lessons from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content – by Karadi Tales
Manasi Subramaniam writes an excellent post (Potato Chips and Arsenic) about her hopes for children’s publishing in India. She says…
One really important topic that I connected very deeply with was the question of mass versus class. In the words of Liz Rosenberg, American writer and reviewer of children’s books:‘Potato chips are really popular. They’re not healthy or good in any way. But they’re still really popular. There’s a lot of junk out there and obviously people love it. But the important thing to remember is that you can’t really live on it. So what you need to ask yourself is this: Do you really want to be known as the guy who made potato chips or the guy who made beautiful wholesome meals? While you can’t completely ignore the sensational stuff like the Twilight series, you just need to be aware that it isn’t great literature. And you can’t overdo it either. Because then you’re just eating arsenic!’It’s important for us to realise that content really is king.The thing that really struck me about many of the publishers that I met in Singapore (from all parts of the world) was their sincerity. They all genuinely believe in creating beautiful books – and they love their books too much to ever allow them to be ruined by bad design or gimmickry. Most importantly, they believe that whatever they do it needs to be done well. No successful publisher creates books half-heartedly – everyone reiterated this at some point or the other.
Among several other things, I was keenly interested in trying to understand why Asian content doesn’t always work in the Western market and what we can do about it.From these sessions and from others, I’ve gathered three valuable suggestions on how a book can be made more ‘universal’.Firstly, it’s probably time for us to stop moralising. Asian content tends to be didactic and heavy on morals. This is something that doesn’t work for an international audience. This deep moralising is, I think, one of the remnants of our fable culture – we like to end stories with a moral.Research has also shown that anthropomorphic characters (talking animals) are passé. Asian content tends to give animals human characteristics and often even has animals and humans interacting with each other.Another suggestion was to stop regurgitating the same stories over and over again. Folklore and myth may have been important at some point. But in creating multicultural content, international publishers are more interested in contemporary stories than in old folktales.
Why is it important for a child to be exposed to good picture books? Aside from the obvious factors of imagination, creativity and artistic development, Susan talked about how a child connects words with pictures and automatically starts reading between the text – that is, the child sees things in the pictures that are not a part of the text, and begins to create a world that is not just textually depicted. Each picture is certainly worth a thousand words, says Susan, and for early readers, it’s better to let the artwork do the real talking.
Susan added that the two questions that a publisher should ask before choosing a story are: ‘Will this story capture the child’s imagination and interest so that she will actually want to interact with the story?’ and ‘Do the illustrations go beyond the words so that each page is a world of discovery for the child each time she reads it?’
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