Can kids write, and do their voices matter to an adult? Authorship is usually considered to be the domain of the latter and the word author conjures up the image of a grown up. When we club children and books together, it is only to goad the former on to read more because it is good for them.
We do not think of them as creators in their own right, as purveyors of something entirely fresh and original. Writing is something they are supposed to aspire to, not something they can seriously pursue in the present.
After all, they cannot perform feats like writing ten pages without punctuation errors or churning out something so abstract and incomprehensible that we are forced to applaud it as ‘great writing.’ And have they seen enough of life to write something of interest? What do they know of life, we ask; and by doing so, we at once give more credit to the insights of a jaded adult and discount the experiences of the young.
Zuni Chopra, who wrote The House That Spoke at 15, said in an interview to The Telegraph “when I went to Goodreads to read the reviews about my book, a lot of them were like, ‘You know for a whil,e that it was written by a 17-year-old just kind of deterred me from picking it up…’ and I was like, ‘Firstly, I was 15 when I wrote it and did it really deter you? Did it?! Oh, I am so sorry about my age!'”
Adulthood is supposed to be the realm of the sure-footed. Once you arrive there, you are supposed to be able to make better sense of everything around you. We never admit the ridiculousness of this notion to children, nor reveal to them the farcical nature of the world of grown ups.
Yes, we want children to write. But it is just another injunction to excel at something in the long list of things we want them to be good at. Writing has, at last, become fashionable and therefore has acquired pride of place in this list. It is not frowned upon anymore because authors are now stars.
A writer is now considered successful by the standards of the world. They are no longer the lonely figure in opposition to the diktats of society. To use the words of Shelley, authors are no longer “like a poet hidden/in the light of thought”; they are public personalities, as much in the limelight as any other celebrity.
There is a case to be made for the value of writing by children. It is a means of correcting the skewed power relations between children and adults. It is the latter who are the custodians of right and wrong in every walk of life, which they then proceed to impart to children.
If literature can be defined as the representation of truth, then we believe that this truth can only be accessed by the adult consciousness. We do not think that the opposite may be true, that adults can derive a lesson or two from children and their stories.
But an essential rite of passage of adolescence is a shattering of the stable image of the world as we know it. It is confusing and feels akin to a multitude of voices arguing in one’s head. One discovers how elusive truth is. Why don’t we admit as much, instead of posing as an all-knowing adult? Why don’t we invite children to be our equals as creators and the legislators of the world? A child often sees far more than an adult and an adult is only a confused child in some ways. They can be equals in the realm of literary creation.
Children’s writing can be emotionally powerful in a way that an adult reflecting back on the same years and dismissing them as stupidity may not be capable of. And they are not untouched by the darker aspects of life. Their vulnerability only makes them more susceptible to it.
The Diary Of Anne Frank is a perfect example of this. Her colourful yet poignant letters are memorable not only for their heartrending account of the tragedy from the point of view of the persecuted but also because they describe the story of a misunderstood child trying to make sense of the world and failing to connect with the adults around her.
When her father came across it after his return, he was driven to admit, “I was very much surprised by the deep thoughts Anne had, her seriousness — especially her self-criticism… And my conclusion is, as I had been in very, very good terms with Anne, that most parents don’t know, really, their children.”
It’s clear that adults have much to learn from children. So let us all come together to celebrate the marvellous vision that can conjure an elephant inside a boa constrictor.
And kids as well as adults would do well to remember Jerry Pinto’s words, “Children are so used to having someone waving a finger in their faces saying, ‘Be a good child, now. Be a good child’ that they think that’s what you’ve got to do when you are talking… [I want to ask children] can you write about being in the kitchen with your mother and making idli batter? Can you talk about going outside and playing in the rain in the red mud of your village? Can you talk about your dog or your pet or your cat or your imaginary friend?”