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Talking Animals Is One But Literate Animals in Children's Fiction?

Updated: 4 days ago

Are we taking imagination a little too far?




Children's literature has umpteen story books featuring talking animals. The legendary Three Little Pigs and other memorable titles such as Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne, Tigers of the Taboo Valley by Ranjit Lal and so on are incredibly delightful reads that have kept me captivated as a reader over extended periods of time. I did not pause to think how can animals talk like us? That somehow did not matter in the world of imagination. Aren't books a window to a world that we may know nothing about? These titles served not just as a window but paved the way for thought provoking conversations based on them. For instance in Tigers of the Taboo Valley, the reader gets a fairly good idea of how endangered tigers are thanks to human activities in the forests, through an incredibly entertaining story. What's a better way to convey an important and memorable message? Similarly the Winnie The Pooh stories offer simple, heartwarming messages for any age.


'What day is it?' asked Pooh.

'It's today,' squeaked Piglet.

'My favourite day,' said Pooh.


Does it really matter that this is a conversation between two animals? Doesn't the message conveyed a lot more important than who said it? Their heartwarming characters in a beautifully woven story does the job in the most impactful manner.


Books written for older children tend to be far more impactful when the animal's voice is used to convey a message. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, was written at a time when there was growing awareness and interest about animal welfare. Written from the horse's point of view, sympathetic readers were able to understand what the horses went through at the time. This work of fiction helped reflect reality from the point of view of the horse.


Animals talk in story books. The purpose varies depending on the story. It could be simply entertaining or it could convey an impactful message, a message that somehow seems to be conveyed better by a talking animal(s) instead of a human being.


Talking animals may be justified. But animals who can read and write?

The mouse in the very beautiful book The Cheshire's Cheese Cat- Dickens of A Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright learns to read and write thanks to a little girl. That skill helps the mouse to save his entire clan from what would have been a horrifying massacre in the world of mice. How does his reading and writing skill help in averting a disaster? That is something you would know if you read this marvellous book. Could the message be- education is important. See how it came in handy in averting a potential disaster? Perhaps. For me as a reader this book was more than the intended message. It was the intricacies of the plot, the beauty of the language, the unique characters who made this tale come to life. I read this book about five years ago. But I still remember it fondly and I would love to go back to it. That's what counts, isn't it?


At the Young Readers' Club, one group is reading Homer On The Case by Henry Cole. Homer is a homing pigeon who is also a self taught reader. He likes reading newspapers and keeping track of gossip and news in general. This skill helps him keep up to date about events in which a lot of food is likely to get littered. Little does he know that the information that he seeks will land him in a crime scene of mysterious robberies. He has witnessed several robberies. He can't fly away. Though Homer can read, he cannot converse with humans. But he must help the humans nab the culprit. How? Some readers found it amusing that a bird can be a self taught reader and reads newspapers. Others found it bizarre and questioned the possibility. Discussions followed and together they came to the conclusion that went in the lines of "Well this is absolutely not possible. But given the plot of the story, this choice makes for an interesting story and leaves ample room for suspense."

"In the world of imagination if anything is possible- flying cars, children travelling into space unattended, hanging candles in the dinner room etc., why can't a pigeon be self taught and read newspaper?"

"Well this is absolutely not possible. But given the plot of the story, this choice makes for an interesting story and leaves ample room for suspense."
"In the world of imagination if anything is possible- flying cars, children travelling into space unattended, hanging candles in the dinner room etc., why can't a pigeon be self taught and read newspaper?"

Paves the way for questioning, observation and learning:

A five year old saw the illustration of the sun in his story book wearing sun glasses and smiling. He asked, "Why is the sun wearing sunglasses? How can the sun smile?" The parent who shared this said that she was at loss first, looking for the right response. Then it came to her. She said, "Now that you mention it, it is odd that the sun is smiling and wearing sunglasses. Perhaps the illustrator was having fun while making this picture. Being a story book there is room for imagination, isn't it?"


"Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere!"
- Albert Einstein.

Imagination and the advent of technology:

There are several instances to pick from to show imaginative ideas that appeared in fiction eventually became a reality later on. Here is an interesting and commonly known technology- video conferencing. Video conferencing as an idea perhaps first appeared in science fiction way back in 1879 in Punch Magazine. "A mother and father “set up an electric camera-obscura over their bedroom mantel-piece, and gladden their eyes with the sight of their children at the Antipodes, and converse gaily with them through the wire.” Fast forward two centuries, this is a concept that even children know thanks to online schooling. Back in 1870s, it would have simply been a nice case of fantasy and nothing more.


 

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Both weekday and weekend batches are available at the Young Readers' Club. While this program is for the 8-11 age group, the Young Writers' Club program for the 12-14 age group offers a weekly platform to read and discuss curated articles from the news, observe writing approaches and practise one's writing skills.

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