A majority of us are often nostalgic about our childhood and the books we read then and the stories we heard. However, children’s texts are not necessarily what adults deem ‘literary’. Children read story books, comic books, joke books, picture books, children’s magazines and Pokemon cards, watch television, movies and animated shows, play video games, -- and attempt to relate each of these to their lives.
Should we allow children to ‘waste’ their time reading all the above, or should they only read ‘good’ books?
I like to think of children’s books as the foundational texts of a society.
Every culture has its foundational texts. These are the texts that have helped shape a worldview, a system of ethics, helped mediate the relationship between the individual and society, or the individual and God. Epics like the Iliad, the Ramayana, scriptural texts like the Bible, the Quran, the Gita, legal texts like the constitution of India, the UN Declaration of Human Rights all these belong to a certain culture, and arise from the wisdom of the people, just as they contribute to people’s wisdom.
Similarly, there is a group of individuals here in our society who have their own foundational texts, who draw from these texts to make meaning of the world they live in, who return to these texts time and again, even when they travel from their world into other worlds, who remember their foundational texts with pleasure and longing as long as they live.
I am of course, speaking of children and the books they read. Most of us tend to remember the stories, we read, the songs we heard, the tales we were told, as children. The words, emotions, characters, we encounter in these stories songs and songs become a part of our everyday vocabulary and the way we look at the world. They awaken our imagination and help us live other lives, travel to other worlds, explore the universe. They help us in our meaning-making. I read somewhere that geniuses like Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page and others all loved reading science fiction as children. The act of reading helped them open their eyes to different worlds and different ways of doing things, and they could draw upon the vast reservoirs of their imagination to create the unique products they are famous for. So you see, it would be awesome if more children read, and read more, even though some parents and teachers may dismiss children’s books as silly and insignificant.
Don’t ever forget, children's books can actually contribute to the conceptualization of a better society!