Stop, and smell the roses!
By Boski Gupta
Growing up among nature and nature lovers is a blessing not all of us have. Priya Fonseca is one such blessed soul who not only learnt and loved nature while she was growing up, but enhanced those habits even after her marriage. Brought up by nature-loving father and married into the family of Dr Salim Ali (renowned ornithologist), Priya kept her interest in birds and animals alive. With her series of books on national parks, she aspires to pass on this passion to the younger generation. Her first book in the series, Chaos in Keoladeo, would make you wish to visit this national park for sure. Read on to know more about the author and what she thinks on educating our kids about the nature…
As a children’s writer, how difficult or easy it is to reach to your audience?
The decision maker about whether a particular book will appeal to my audience, which is the child 8+ years, is often an adult. So the first step is to let friends, family and guardians understand the content of the book. I think when the book becomes the topic of conversation on the school buses, is when you know you have effectively reached out to your audience.
How did the idea of this book series come to you?
The idea of a series about Indian National Parks came actually from Preeti Vyas, founder of FunOkPlease Publishing who has published Chaos at Keoladeo in collaboration with Penguin. Preeti knew that I love nature, bird watching, scuba diving and travelling. So when she asked me if I’d like to write a children’s book set in an Indian National Park, I agreed.
What is also interesting is that the National Park Explorers series highlights parks that people don’t hear normally. There are about 114 national parks in India and most of us know very little about them. I was excited by the idea of a series that would feature our parks in all their glory to include not just the predators but the trees, birds, insects, sights and sounds. As I had just returned from a trip to Keoladeo National Park, I was amazed by the birds and the entire park experience. I knew Keoladeo would be a superb setting for my story. And that’s how I started working on Chaos at Keoladeo which evolved into a first-of-its-kind book as it is fiction, mystery, adventure, travelogue, encyclopaedia and birding guide all rolled into one. I believe this book entertains, enriches and creates the desire to look at, listen to and observe our natural environment in urban children.
How can we teach our children the importance of nature?
Nurture nature. These two words embody the essence of the National Park Explorer series. Life in the metro very rarely allows us to stand and stare and smell the roses. Our children are mini dynamos too, rushing around at break-neck speed. Who has the time or inclination to look up at the trees or birds?
As parents to young children, we still are the primary influencers and can work together to sensitise our babies to the environment and make them aware of their natural surroundings. It is only through a concerted effort that starts at an early age, that children can grow into a generation of people interested in making this world a more eco-friendly place. Children can be conditioned and taught to appreciate and enjoy the goodness of nature. In our city lives there are ample opportunities to show them the butterflies, earthworms, flowering trees and plants, vegetable plants and common city birds. All the little details in nature we now tend to take for granted have to be pointed out to the next generation, especially as these aspects are very rarely a part of the fabric of city life anymore. Our constant need to sanitize has led to a disconnect with the soil. Our surroundings barely have mud and earth anymore.
Is it more difficult to write an adventure novel for children than adult or vice versa?
As a reader, I like books that are interesting, enriching, engaging, entertaining, well written and well presented. I think anyone who enjoys reading, irrespective of age, wants these when they read. The trick is that when you’re writing for children you have to be mindful of the age group you’re writing for, the kind of language you can use, vocabulary, concepts that you might be introducing, scenes that may be too dark or scary, and at the same time you have to ensure that it’s simple yet exciting enough to hold their attention. So I think writing for children is probably more difficult.
Do you think not much is written for children about the problems we would and they would face in the future?
Most schools are exposing children to the environmental perils facing us today. Magazines and newspapers for children feature information on the topic too. In terms of children’s books, I’d like to see a lot more that feature nature in a manner that make children want to reach out to the books and read them. Instead of painting a picture of doom, if children from a very young age learn to be aware of the environment and the importance of every aspect to our daily lives, then as they grow they will understand how it’s all connected. If they start observing birds and insects in their neighbourhoods, then when they see a tree being cut, they may actually think about what might happen to the creatures who might have nests there and call that tree home. When they plant their own saplings in the earth and have to water them, they may wonder how trees on our city streets grow when they have only concrete around them. When they see trash that comes from human littering clogging our rivers, they will know why our cities flood in the monsoons. It’s only when we look that we can see, when we listen that we can hear and when we observe that we might begin to understand that it’s all connected and that we humans are just a part of the natural world.
What constitutes children’s literature?
Children’s literature should be all encompassing. Fairy stories are just as important as those that deal with day-to-day issues. Of course, I champion fairy stories that are gender sensitive and look out for books of all genres for our son who loves reading. I seek books that promote nature, kindness, empathy, and respect for all irrespective of gender, age, culture, colour, caste or creed. Children should be encouraged to read. And read about whatever they are interested in. As long as the parent doesn’t think there’s any inappropriate content in what the child picks up, let the child read. It could be fiction, nonfiction, picture books, comics, newspapers, magazines, graphic novels or even non-school prescribed digests.
I hope that Chaos at Keoladeo inspires you to look up as the sky and the trees, the flowers, the birds and the insects and inspires you to travel and be curious about the natural world around you.