A nation’s literature is traditionally seen as a reflection of the values, tensions, myths and psychology that identify a national character. Bendict Anderson defines nation as ‘an imagined community’. He maintains that the members of a nation never know each other, meet or hear each other, yet they still hold in common an image of who they are as a community of individuals.
How is a ‘common image’ passed on to children (and to people in general) in India? One of the ways in which an image is transmitted to a nation is through literature. Sarah Lorse (1997) writes that national literature are ‘consciously constructed pieces of the national culture’ and that literature is ‘an integral part of the process by which nation-states create themselves and distinguish themselves from other nations’. For young readers, national literatures play a crucial role in developing a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, of knowing who they are. In 1950, Australian author Miles Franklin argued that ‘without an indegenious literature people can remain alien in their own soil’.
Identity is not just a positive self concept. It is learning your place in the world with both humility and strength. It is, in the words of Vine Deloria, “accepting the responsibility to be a contributing member of a society”. Children also need to develop a strong identity to withstand the onslaughts of a negative hedonistic and materialistic world, fears engendered by terrorism, gender discrimination, and the pervasive culture of poverty that envelops many cities.
Many of us have grown up on books written by Enid Blyton. Every page in the book thrills and delights. Today Rowling’s Harry Potter has the same effect, setting children on the path to reading. Bookshops today are filled with titles by foreign authors. However, it is the elite children in big metros who can relate culturally to the characters and settings in these books and can afford to buy them....