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     Volume 4 Issue 44 | April 29, 2005 |

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To Lure Children back to Books

Shamim Ahsan

Reading books is not exactly a favourite pastime with today's children. Many attribute it to the emergence of the more attractive sources of entertainment like satellite channels, computer games, chatting etc. However the incredible success of Harry Potter all over the world however seems to belie the notion. If anything, the amazing following of the book, has proved that the appeal of books has not been altogether lost on children, no matter how much today's children are under the spell of television and computer.

In our context there is another reason. There are not many books, or at least many good books, for children. Whether the situation is due to the scarcity of good writers or the unwillingness of the publishers to publish children's books is a big question. Perhaps it is both. Very few prestigious publishers exclusively publish children's literature. Most of those who do treat it as a side business. Recently, a positive change seems to be taking place some publishers are doing books exclusively for children. Though they are still very small in number their presence was felt during the Ekushey Book Fair at Bangla Academy premises. For the last three or four years a small area has been earmarked for publishers who mainly bring out children's books.

Progoti Publishers is one of the youngest members of this small and rather isolated club. Though still in its infancy -- it was established only four years back -- the publishing house has already made a name in the children's books arena. What distinguishes Progoti from others in the same business is its efforts to be innovative and bold enough to experiment with subject matter, as well as the shape of the book. Progoti is arguably the first publisher to bring out pop-ups and die-cuts. This year Progoti has achieved another milestone by publishing the first comics in Bangla, Surjer Din by the most popular novelist of the country, Humayun Ahmed. It is not an original story though. It is re-written by Ahmed himself from one of his earlier juvenile novels, Surjer Din.

The story is about the tumultuous days preceding the liberation war in 1971. Ahmed narrates those defining moments of history through the experience of a 13-year old, Khokon. In the course of the story that approximately covers the nine-month long liberation war we see how two innocent boys Khokon and his friend Sajjad are transformed into adults; how reality makes valiant freedom fighters of two minor boys.

The renowned cartoonist Ahsan Habib, who also edits the popular magazine Unmad, has illustrated the book. Habib has this uncanny ability to make drawings look so simple that it seems anybody can do them. The synchronisation between the text and the pieces of drawing has been handled well. Sometimes one can just watch the drawing and understand what is happening without reading the text at all. Comics have the proven ability to draw young readers. The first comics in Bangladesh Surjer Din, done by the most popular novelist and the most popular cartoonist, have the merit to be popular with the readers as well.

Among other notable books by Progoti this year include Ahsan Habib's Ami Unmad Na, a collection of essays that had been published in Unmad over the years will be a good collection for Unmad fans. Then there is also a book on magic, Aro Kichu Magic Shikhun, and fairy tale story book titled Alauddiner Aashchorjo Prodip. There is also Esho Rong Kori, where a picture is drawn on the left page and on the right only the outline is done, so that a child can colour by following the other page. Progoti is presently working on a dictionary, of course for children, reveals Asrar Masud, the proprietor of the publishing house, not to mention many more fun books for children.


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