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Children need inspiration from the literary works

Betelheim Bruno, one of the most authoritative educational psychologists, has argued that there is nothing as fulfilling and enriching to a child as good literature.

In his phenomenal book, The Uses of Enchantment, he confesses that of all experiences he has gone through, nothing parallels the enchanting lessons he learnt through listening to fairy tales. To him, good literature has a therapeutic effect on the minds of children.

In view of Bruno’s assertion, I state there is no time the Kenyan child has needed literature of hope and reconciliation like now.

Let me explain: We are just emerging from the most traumatic period in our short history. Following the flawed last year’s elections, our children have been exposed to some of the most disturbing images. Some have actually been victims of post-election violence. In their innocence, the children are oblivious of the magnitude of hatred now harboured in adult minds and hearts, yet they are deeply affected by what they saw happening.

We can argue that our children are traumatised. What they witnessed is, to say the least, repugnant to their innocent sensibilities. The long-term effects are too painful to contemplate. That is precisely why mitigating factors are essential if we have to rehabilitate our children to lead normal lives and grow up as well adjusted individuals. They have to be taught to relate effectively to other people as human beings.

Children need not grow up harbouring hatred against other people. If they do, they will become maladjusted adults unable to respect human life and dignity. This is a recipe for future chaos. To guarantee our future and that of our children and grandchildren, concerted efforts must be made to restore order in children through literature.

We have to consciously provide literature that will present, to the child, images and models for emulation. We need to give children literature that will help them find meaning in life. It should be the kind that will help them restrain from violence or from instigating violence.

A cultured person is a balanced mind. Such a person hates cruelty, injustice and oppression wherever it is found. At the darkest hour, such a person does not swerve from a certain minimum standard of decency and fair play.

We have to provide good children’s literature, which will bring grace and wisdom to their hearts and enchant them. Our obligation is to provide literature that undermines stereotype and instils the spirit of reconciliation in them. Such literature would help inculcate a democratic spirit. It should help children recognise the infinite possibilities of human fallibility and implant the highest ideals of our age. It has to teach them that money appeals to selfishness and always tempts its owners irresistibly to abuse it.

Grace and wisdom

To me, the greatest challenge to publishers and creative writers is how to intervene in this crisis. We urgently need an ideological strategy. We have to produce books that will restore hope in children. These books, while reflecting on the reality and without duping the child about evils done, have to mirror their emotional landscape. The stories have to aim at instilling a sense of our common humanity and destiny.

My experience, while writing for children, informs me that good children’s literature does not just teach, but has, at the same time, to be entertaining and arouse curiosity in the children. It should aim at eliciting empathy and sympathy in the children. Besides, good children’s literature enriches children’s lives while stimulating their imagination. Overall, it helps the children develop intellect and clarify disturbing emotions.

Difficulties

We writers have to give full recognition to the children’s difficulties and suggest solutions to their problems within the creative realm. Our works have to reflect a clear ideological position that imparts values of peace, harmony, care, justice and reconciliation. We must help children gain confidence in their society and people. In order to do so, we have to give full credence to the crisis facing the country. The controlling thesis should be to promote confidence in children to face the future with hope.

While creating literature for children, we have to remember children are sensitive. They know good and bad literature. That is precisely why we need to be honest in depicting the crisis.

Also, we should not ignore the value of magic and fantasy in the making of children’s literature. It is this aspect that opens up possibilities in children’s imagination.

What I am postulating is not really something out of the ordinary. It can be done. Our publishers have, on several occasions, taken the initiative and become proactive in moments of crisis. They have produced a series of books that focus on various issues that affect society. At the moment, what is needed is literature of hope and reconciliation.

By Egara Kabaji