It is rightly said that “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” Unfortunately, with the advent of technology and bombardment of electronic gadgets, the love for reading books is registering a marked decline. With the desire to revive and rekindle this dying interest amongst children, Dr. Monica Khanna has taken up the initiative of writing fiction for the kids. Her latest book “”Peek a Boo Manya” aims to create a familiar world that Indian children could identify with and relate to – a world that is not pure fantasy, but rather a real world with characters that they interact with in their day to day life – family, friends, relatives and teachers.
“I grew up on a staple diet of books. Books were my favourite companions, and were as important to me as food and water. In those days, we did not have any gadgets to play with. Hence, books and outdoor activities kept us busy. Books gave me a new perspective on life – they taught me about politics, sociology and human psychology, and enriched my world. I was very disappointed to see that the present generation of children does not read much. It disturbed me to watch them playing on their Ipads and watching inane programs on TV. I wanted to revive the dying habit of reading amongst children,” says Monica.
“My ten year old daughter also played an important role in my decision to take up writing children’s fiction. I encouraged her to read from an early age, and she wanted me to tell her a new story every night before she went to sleep. As I began telling her stories, I became aware of the kind of stories she enjoyed and decided it was time to share the stories with other children,” she adds.
Monica feels that the habit of reading needs to be inculcated early in life. “Once the foundation is laid, it becomes a habit,” she stresses.
In her opinion, observation and participation can play a very important role in inculcating the habit of reading books in children. “When children observe their parents reading, they start taking an interest in reading themselves. Moreover, children enjoy spending time with their parents; and reading can be incorporated into their daily schedule as an activity they do with their parents. Children start looking forward to this time, and it enhances the parent-child bonding. Through my childhood, I remember reading everyday with my parents – and those memories are special even today,” says Monica.
With Ph.D. in English Literature, Monica has work experience of around twenty years in the field of academics as well as in journalism and business. However, what is closer to her heart, is her desire to make today’s generation realize the importance of books. “I strongly feel that children should get more exposure to the world of books. This could be done by joining a lending library, or simply exchanging books with their friends. I have started a book lovers’ club in the residential complex where I stay. I get the children to come together once a week to read stories. We then enact the stories. This makes it more interesting for the children, since they enjoy turning the story into a play script, complete with characterization and props,” she adds.
Talking about “Peek a Boo Manya”, Monica says, “The book is a collection of fifteen short stories that revolve around an eight year old girl, Manya. The world of Manya is a familiar world that most Indian children would be able to identify with. While exploring children’s literature available in the market, I had found books by foreign authors that Indian children would not be able to relate to, because of stark differences in culture and value system. I wanted to create situations and characters that an Indian child could identify with. Manya learns from her experiences and interactions with the significant others in her life, and becomes wiser and more mature. However, the book does not set out to preach, and is not moralistic in its approach.”
“Peek a Boo Manya” has received very positive and encouraging response from children in Mumbai. “They love the character of Manya, and can associate with her because she is like them. She is not a super girl with fantastic powers living in a fantasy world. She is exactly like them, with similar concerns, going through similar predicaments. Since the book is written in a simple and easy to read style, I have had complaints from parents that their children are refusing to put the book down. I received a photograph of a child who even took the book to the bathroom to brush his teeth!,” says Monica with a smile.
Besides this book, Monica has also penned another book “Deconstructing Motherhood” which basically deals with the concept of motherhood in Indian culture. “It argues that women do not necessarily possess an inherent desire to become mothers. Rather, they are conditioned into choosing motherhood. The book explores various contradictions and theories on motherhood,” she informs.
As regards her future projects, Monica says that while she is working on a couple of ideas, but she would want to continue to write for children. “Children’s literature is a neglected field, and yet the most important,” she stresses. And rightly so, for after all, ‘Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’ and ‘Today’s readers are tomorrow’s leader’.