The content of children’s stories between reality and fantasy was discussed on Saturday in a seminar held on the sidelines of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival.
Russell Molina, a Filipino children’s book author who has written nearly 20 books, says that he sees a paradigm shift when it comes to children’s stories in his county. “I come from a land whose stories are as diverse as the number of islands. When I was a child, I noticed there are no brown skinned characters like me so I was hungry for my own reality,” he said adding that in the past stories had a more didactic, preaching approach towards children. “Currently, I noticed that there were many stories with the child as the hero, or protagonist of the story. They are no longer just the recipients of the care but they themselves move the story forward. Fantasy here is used to express different ways of seeing reality,” he said.
Russell explains that he uses fantasy creatively to reach his objective. “I usually use fantasy not as an escape but to embrace reality some more. And I use it to comment on harsh realities through metaphors. Fantasy and real life, from my experience as a writer, are not polarized genres but they can work together and push the narrative forward,” said Russell.
Sharing his passionate drive for life and the engine that moves his pen, UK writer Marcus Alexander, who is the author of the Keeper of the Realms fantasy series said that he writes fantasy to encourage children to travel with their minds to worlds of fantasy and to make them always wonder.
“When I was younger I used to devour books and more importantly I had a hunger for fantasy. I remember from a very young age I used to read about these heroes but then I remember looking at the adults around me and thinking they used to live very dull, bland lives. I didn’t want that for myself. I knew life was short and that it passes quickly and I wanted to live like these heroes and heroines,” said Marcus.
And so for Marcus began an adrenaline-packed life of traveling and extreme sports. “That inspired me to write fantasy because it gives me the option to travel in my mind into places that I’ve never been to. I look at children today and they are quite different than children of my generation. When we write for children, we write for the child inside us but that’s not going to work for today’s kids, they’re so vastly different than from what we are. When I write, I try to install a sense of wonder. It’s the wonder that makes me feel alive. I write about fantasy but I try to pack it with wonder. I want today’s kids to be hungry for life like me,” said Marcus.
Discussing the topic as well Jamila Yahyawi, Algerian children’s author, said that when reading a story children are taken into a world created by the author’s mind. “This world could either be familiar to the child or new. If it was new then the child must use his own imagination to understand it. This would trigger various feelings,” said Jamila.
However, she said, the real world is the first world that the author gets his ideas, characters, locations from. “This world is important because this is the world that the child understands. This world is important for writing for children,” she said. Jamila added that when she writes and in order for her to tap into the children’s real world all she has to do was look at the children around her to notice their interests, their relationship with one another and with grownups, their emotions, what makes them laugh, cry, their behaviors, their interactions to others.