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|Volume 11 |Issue 30| July 27, 2012 ||
Reweaving Folklores and Fairy Tales
In traditional Bengali folklore of the arduous but naive tiger and the cunning fox, it is the tiger who works hard to grow potatoes and sugarcane; but ultimately the fox manages to grab the cream of the harvest as he is better informed about which part of which harvest is lucrative. In the storybook published by the World of Children's Books (WCB), this tale has an interesting twist at the end, completely different from the traditional version. In the WCB book version of the story, the fox who had everything to gain from the deal, consoles the disheartened tiger saying that since they both had worked hard, they should share the harvest equally. So the tiger and the fox share the potatoes and the sugarcane equally between them. In another story, when the stork helps the tiger in taking out the bone from its throat and the tiger wants to return the favour, the stork seeks only friendship. The message runs across the other books.
WCB is a dedicated publishing house for children's books. It specialises in publishing books that are developmentally appropriate. This means, the text specially the words, the number of words in a sentence, the number of sentences on a page, the font size, the illustration and even the size of the book must be appropriate for the age group of children for whom the story is written.
WCB produces books for children from age 3-12 years. The company has published to-date, since its inception in 2004, over 255 titles of children's books. Of them, about a 100 are in English and the rest are in Bangla. While some of the books are published through a co-publishing arrangement with foreign publishers, others are home grown original titles.
The selection of books ranges from pre-school age reading schemes to classic fairy tales and adventure stories as well as moral stories. All of these are available in both English and Bangla. The Bangla classic collection includes adapted Aesop's Fables, folktales, trans-creation of the witty and absurd tales by Sukumar Roy and Upendra Kishore and stories of the Liberation War among others.
Shamsee Hasan, the WCB Chairperson and a dedicated educator, reflects, “I spent many years of my life in the UK. There, children from an early age grow up with books. At home and at school, children have access to all kinds of colourful and interesting books. There are little books, regular books and big books. Some have illustrations only, others have very little text. Most parents and all teachers read out stories to the children. The children gradually work their way up from reading schemes to fairy tales to adventure to fiction and science fiction. As a result, reading comes to children naturally. We would like every child in Bangladesh to have hundreds of books.”
“In advanced countries, often the publisher, the author and the illustrator work together. They discuss the story, the illustration, the cover, the size of the book, the type of paper to be used, the nature of binding and the print-run. Everybody takes responsibility for the book. Here in Bangladesh, things are different. Success of a publisher often depends on its ability to influence the market and ethics in publishing is perhaps seen as a highly exaggerated virtue.”
How did it all start? Shamsee Hassan informs that a few years ago, she was working for Unicef and was stationed in Nepal. Mahmood, her husband, used to visit her every few weeks. Kathmandu has some beautiful bookshops and both of them inevitably ended up in the children's corner lazing and reading through piles of story books. One afternoon when her husband was depressed, she reminded him about his dream to make thousands of wonderful books available to the children in Bangladesh. He came back to Dhaka, set up the company and started travelling across the broader region of South and South-east Asia to look at what was being published in the world of children's books. That's how it all began.
Unicef and NGOs are their steady buyers followed by major outlets and the February book fair.
The major challenges in publishing books for children relates to problems regarding copyright, market tampering and illustration. The real challenge, however, is people's attitude. Books are still not seen by parents as the best gift for children, and everybody expects books to be beautiful but very cheap. Understandably, all this do not add up to good business.
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