Children’s books work magic in both the intellectual and social development of a child. Literature creates a prototype of the real world and lets the child tour through its wonders while being tugged under their blanket. Books are the easiest and the most fun way to guide a child in navigating their role in society and grow up as a free-thinking individual. However, to let stories work its magic, we must know how to pick the right books for the young ones.
While choosing books with interesting synopsis and beautiful illustrations, one must look closer and keep an eye on a few things.
- Stereotypes alert!
You often stumble upon stereotypes in children’s literature which are either overtly or inadvertently woven in the story. Etching stereotypes in young minds not only impact their tolerance and empathy but also affect how they view themselves with respect to the expectations that the world burdens on them through the books. Stay away from books labelled as ‘stories for girls’ and ‘stories for boys’. It is a myth that boys like to read books with a boy lead and vice versa for girls. In fact, having books with diverse central characters will help the child empathise better in the real world. Another stereotype that might be common in Indian books is that of caste/profession. The Brahmin is too often wise and good, the Vaishya or the businessman is too often cunning and selfish and so on. Stereotypes can be found in fables too. The wolf is always evil and the deer always innocent. It is safe to say that rather than trying to weed out all the stereotypes or altogether ban certain books, it is much simpler and advisable to consciously pick books that depict different scenarios and effectively reduce the chances of stereotypes making a home in the young minds.
2. Culture, tradition, us and them
Literature is a means through which culture and traditions have travelled through generations. It might be tempting to choose books that are based in your culture so that the child learns to identify with your values and ascribe meaning to the world with the same lens as yours. Yet, it is also important to have books from other cultures. Having books from different cultures with different looking characters who have different problems to overcome, will prevent the child from excluding people of different races and culture. Humanizing and relating to people who are in some way different than ourselves is the surest way to an open mind and a caring heart.
3. Values and biases
It is said that art mirrors society but children’s literature begs to differ. A child’s world is different from an adult world and books for children try to capture that. In these books, there is a conscious effort of shielding the child from violence and suffering. Children’s book themes are positive with the intent of imparting values and instilling hope. However, it is also important to make sure that these don’t germinate into biases. The world depicted in children’s books has unsaid laws like – ‘Elders are always correct’, ‘Hard work guarantees success’ and ‘Only a good, obedient child is liked by everyone’. These biases should not be repeatedly hammered through books. It is important to have stories that show the flaws in these rules every once in a while.
The underlying and most important criterion in choosing the book is that the book should be enchanting. Reading time is a fun activity and nothing should ruin that. An amazing way to impart real-world wisdom is by adding unreal fantastical elements in stories. Mythical characters, magical creatures, super-human special powers and demons allow children to experiment with different ways of seeing the world and give them a greater sense of freedom and confidence to be whoever they want to be.
There is nothing that a good story cannot teach and there is nothing that a candid discussion post storytelling cannot fix. Here’s hoping you fill your bookshelves with amazing, diverse children’s books as each story is a new world that you offer your child.