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     Volume 9 Issue 13| March 26, 2010|

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Writing for Children

Elita Karim

Educational institutions in the country today are working on developing skills in children.

Children in our country are taught to become high achievers, especially when it comes to securing the top most position in their yearly exams at school. However, educational institutions in the country today are also working on developing skills in children, such as writing, illustrating and visualising their imaginative ideas to put them forward in real life.

Recently, a two-day seminar and a creative writing workshop was organised by the Department of English and Humanities of Brac University and Nayantara Communications at the university premises. The seminar revolved around the theme of exploring the magical world of childhood through children's literature, where university professors, students and well-known writers spoke and presented their papers.

The event had a two-fold purpose, according to Tabassum Zaman, lecturer of the Department of English and Humanities. “This was done to encourage and motivate children to engage in creative writing as well as to create an opportunity for us to know how children's minds work,” she explains. While day 1 was spent sharing ideas and presenting papers, day 2 had quite a number of children between the ages of 9-11, attending a children's creative writing workshop with Shamim Azad, Ali Imam, Litu Sakhawat, Syed Rashad Imam Tanmoy and Abdul Halim Montu.

On day 1, several professors, students and experts spoke on children's literature, namely, Kaiser Haq, Professor of English, Dhaka University, Shamim Karim, Professor of Psychology, Dhaka University, Firdous Azim, Professor, ENH, Shamsad Mortuza, Associate Professor, Department of English, Jahangirnagar University, Zareen Rafiuddin, Student, ENH and Durba Islam, Student, ENH.

According to Firdous Azim, children's literature seems to be flourishing in our country -- the special day for children in the Ekushey Boi Mela is a good example of this. “However, though the standard of publications has gone up, and many writers try their hands at children's stories, I still feel that compared to other countries, including India, we need to be more conscious of what would attract children,” she reasons. “This is true specially in the case of production -- not the quality of the writing, but the publication as a whole. The vast array of rhymes and stories that we have in our culture really forms a wonderful repository for children, and I think that every generation discovers these stories anew. Hence we need to be able to produce these stories to appeal to today's children in various forms -- television, computer games, comics and so on. The growing demand as is evinced in all ways needs to be met more creatively and imaginatively.”

Many believe that children's literature in our country, despite the rich culture of storytelling leaves a lot to be desired for. Even though children's storywriters are doing quite well in the country, other elements that make a piece of literature all the more complete are usually left uncared for, like illustrations, paper quality and including plenty of colours amongst others. At one of the sessions, Ahsan Habib, writer, cartoonist and editor of the monthly satirical magazine Unmad said that even though the country has several young cartoonists working in many spheres of the print industry, there are many well-known publishing houses and popular Bangla magazines who prefer to bring in cartoonists and illustrators from our neighbouring country, India. “I have nothing against the foreign illustrators,” says Habib. “But this is also one of the major reasons as to why our own illustrators and cartoonists are bring sidetracked or ignored.” Habib also stressed on giving illustrators and cartoonists a priority, instead of making them work on a last minute basis, which has sadly become a part of our publishing culture. “Cartoonists and illustrators can also work for a living by drawing just like writers do by writing,” he explains. “If they are paid properly and regularly and given enough time to complete an assignment, the quality of illustrations and cartoons will definitely develop in our country.”

Day 2 was filled with a lot of activities for children, who were brought in from different Bangla medium and English medium schools.

The particular session also included popular writer Anisul Haq, who read out from one of the many children's books that he has written. “A child's imagination is beyond an adult's comprehension,” he said after finishing with his story. Ahsan Habib, who also is a writer of children's stories, quipped that children like to believe themselves bigger than others, both in size and age. “Keeping this in mind, I have written several stories for children with children characters as protagonists,” he said.

The session also had Litu Sakhawat, Head Writer from Nayantara Communications, explaining the way his team works with individual scenes on the popular children's television show, Sisimpur, and eventually dramatises them further to hold on to a child's attention. “Even for a 2-3 minute scene, we have to come up with an appropriate expression, sound and dialogue to go with the action and make sure that humour becomes an integral part of the scene,” says Litu. “Even if the scene is about learning an alphabet or number.”

According to Christina Rozario, Associate Project Director, Nayantara Communications, Sisimpur is the kind of show where children can truly be themselves. “It is here that they think, work, and act in their very own ways,” she explains. “In fact rather than being a show 'for' children, Sisimpur is a show 'about' children. Three to six year olds who watch Sisimpur are not viewers of Sisimpur, they're actually the citizens of Sisimpur! While writing the scenes, it is kept in mind that Sisimpur is targeted for television. Therefore, we have to keep in mind aspects such as visualisation, type of props to be used, the set, costumes, lighting conditions, the type of music to be produced, the characters that may enter and exit the frame, humour, educational objectives, physical comedy and much more.”

The session also had papers by Rabeya Hossain, Researcher, IED, BRACU and Rasheda N. Wassaay, Supervisor, Senior Section, South Point School.

Day 2 was filled with a lot of activities for children, who were brought in from different Bangla medium and English medium schools. “The children were from classes 3-5, which I think is ages 9-11,” says Firdous Azim. “What we tried to do is to take away the 'competitive' aspect, and to mix students from English and Bangla medium schools in the city. We had a total of 29 children, and the stress was on free expression. We have ended up with a bilingual product, and we hope that as a university department that teaches English literature and language, as well as media studies, we have got a glimpse of how our children are developing and how their thought processes are being framed.”

By the end of the day the children, who were grouped into three, produced creative fiction of different shapes and content, says Azim. The children were asked to let their imagination run wild and finally three bilingual sets of wall papers from three groups were produced, each unique in its own way.



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