Print Edition - 2014-06-21  |  On Saturday

Books never get old

- Nhooja Tuladhar
Books never get old

Jun 20, 2014-

Picture books for children have for years been considered a great resource in aiding child development and learning and as a form of wholesome entertainment. But in recent years, the world-wide sales of these books, especially in the United States, has declined because—according to a 2010 New York Times article by Julie Bosman—more parents are encouraging their children to read chapter books with fewer pictures and more text. Modern technology, which has increased access to information, could be another factor. It is altogether a different story here in Nepal, though. A country that is yet to establish a full-fledged reading culture has seen a visible growth in illustrated reading material for children in recent years.

Shantadas Manandhar is one of the first editors of children’s literature in Nepali. The 80-year-old, who is also a writer and an illustrator, is credited with having initiated, in 1979, the publishing of Baalposh, a magazine that featured poetry, short stories and other articles for children. “We used three-colour woodblock prints to do the magazine. It was a grand feat back then,” says Manandhar, referring to the decade prior to the introduction of offset printing technology in Nepal. A lot has changed now, with publications from organisations like Room to Read and Kathalaya mass-producing high-quality images printed on laminated paper. The plastic-coated paper pages used in their books are a delight for children as opposed to the news-print paper that was previously used (and is still used in government-commissioned textbook publication). Plus, these books don’t tear easily and are ideal for younger children.

Just like with adult-literature, there is the need for much planning and brainstorming to produce a quality literary work for children. That’s why Room to Read hosts workshops for writers and illustrators, which they hope will help produce picture books that kids from around Nepal can best relate to—work that won’t hamper the kids’ growth in any way. The last workshop, held in Pataliban last month, hosted an eclectic group of veterans and budding illustrators.

“During the workshop, we ask the artists to pick from a set of stories and then let them go through it thoroughly. Once done, they start designing the primary characters and then start story-boarding. We then move on to making page dummies, and after a month, the illustrators come up with the final work,” says Shashwat Parajuli, an editor at Room to Read. Apart from the structured routine of the programme, participants also get to learn from their peers, adds Parajuli. Since the workshop hosts illustrators from different generations, the veterans can share with their younger counterparts their years of experience, while the seniors can be inspired by the energy and experimentations of the young.

A participant during the last workshop, Bhawana Tulachan, says that the programme conducted by Room to Read has been helpful for her because she has been getting direct feedback from seasoned illustrators as well as editors, which in turn helps her improve her craft. Her last published work was Jhusulikira Le Kasari Khola Taryo, written by Santosh Neupane. The work is not ink-drawn nor coloured with water-based paint, like conventional children’s book illustrations are; all the images are collages done with different kinds of coloured paper stuck together to form the compositions. Because the style keeps away from the almost-clichéd style that has been practiced for some time now, the book succeeds in creating a fresher form. The illustrator has refrained from bothering about anatomical or figurative intricacies but has placed an emphasis on the expressions of the characters and the moods of the scenes. The objects in the book have been reduced to more basic shapes, and this rendering perhaps helps children understand better how basic shapes can be put together to form more complex entities.

Children’s book illustrators in Nepal have varied approaches. “If it’s a humorous story or if it’s fantasy-based, I generally opt for a more stylised, cartoonish approach but if it’s a socially relevant story, I try to keep the illustrations as realistic as possible,” says Yuwak Shrestha, a freelance illustrator who has been working in children’s literature for about two decades now. The artist, who graduated from Lalit Kala and also trained under senior illustrator KK Karmacharya, says that it’s imperative that an illustrator have the ability to provide the text with relevant imagery. “Kids from rural areas and from the cities relate to images in different ways. To a city kid, the word ‘rice’, for example, could bring up the image of a sack filled with grains, but for a kid from a village, the same word could mean fields of rice plantations. So it important for an illustrator to be sensitive to these issues and keep in mind the target audience,” adds Shrestha, who believes there are no rules set in stone for working with children’s texts; he does say, however, that common sense and general knowledge, apt execution-skills, creativity and imagination, and a basic understanding of children’s psychology is important.

Manandhar believes that the art used in children’s literature should not devolve into the abstract and should not contain anything other than what the story intends to describe, but Tulachan’s illustrations speak otherwise. She also focuses on elements other than the primary characters, and this attention to tertiary detail makes the work more engaging for the viewers. The background creates a certain ambience for the reader, which the text alone probably wouldn’t have been able to build, and thus opens up paths for a child’s imagination to run free.

Unfortunately, not all books that are being produced cater to the children with such skillful renditions. Apart from books illustrated by Promina Shrestha, Suman Maharjan, Krishna Gopal Shrestha, Kirti Kaushal Joshi and some others, many picture books can seem pedestrian, with illustrations that seem to have been done just for the sake of completing the work. These books work, but the idea is to excel, and with kids, who are the future, we can’t be more careful. But this is not always the fault of illustrators alone. Sujan Chitrakar, an associate professor at KU Art, says that in most cases artists are constrained by the story given to them and the guidelines set out by the writers and the publishers, which unfortunately restricts the illustrator from working freely. “I stopped doing picture books because I felt like there was not enough freedom, but I’ll start again when I come up with my own story,” he says.

Yuwak Shrestha expresses similar dissatisfactions and also says that he has a couple of drafts that he wants to craft into children’s stories that he will illustrate. Tulachan stresses on the need for more imaginative stories involving more fantasy, which would give an artist the freedom to explore and experiment more.

Although the future of picture books isn’t entirely certain—since modern technology and moving pictures are taking over—it’s likely that in the case of Nepal, the books will fare well for now because apart from a few major cities, the rest of the country’s children should certainly be able to make use of them. Besides, in a way, these hard copies are irreplaceable: because they make for great storytelling mediums that engage all the senses and faculties of the kids—the kids can take in the pictures as their guardians narrate the stories, and they can touch the pages and even smell them. “A still image has its own charm,” says Yuwak Shrestha. “You can’t get the same feeling out of a film or an animation, even if you pause them. These books are like paintings, works of art.”

Published: 21-06-2014 08:58

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