COMMUNICATING with children is no easy task -- writing books for them is even harder. In a conversation with a child, there is scope to answer the hundreds of questions that are asked. But a story book must be able to get its message across clearly. There are no second chances: if the black print on white page does not make sense, it has a good chance of being lost.
Moreover, in today's age of video, getting children to read is another effort altogether. You are more likely to spot children clutching Nintendo video games than books. Children watch He-Man and GI Joe on the TV screen with an interest and involvement that is scarcely reproduced when they read.
So, why should a child turn the pages of educational story books? After all, they've had enough of textbooks for the day. The importance of getting children to learn the basics cannot be denied. But it means more than simply putting facts together and stringing them with pictures. A book for children should be able to attract and sustain the interest of a child.
Lifeless adventure To this end, Dilip Salwi both succeeds and fails. In his 4-booklet set on the elements, Salwi introduces children to air, water, soil and the sun through simple and short tales. But in Meet the Planets, what could have been an exciting adventure through the solar system turns out to be a dull and lifeless passage.
In the Meet the Four Elements series, each of the elements is presented as a character whose role and importance is narrated in story form. The booklet on the sun tells us of the chilling effects on earth when Mr Sun decides he's had enough and takes a day off. The story on water takes on a sci-fi hue with Zeto, a character from a faraway planet, and his earthling friend Tina riding in his spaceship to the ends of the earth in search of clean water. Madame Air, tired of being an invariable body of gases, wants a change to keep up with the times. But she abandons her mission when a squirrel tells her that people are already changing the composition of her gases. In the last booklet, Bachchu has a nightmare about the soil fairy, which convinces him that there's more to soil than just dirt.
The stories are well-illustrated in colour and make for a fairly good introduction of nature's elements to children. But Salwi could have gone a step further by blending the 4 booklets into one and explaining the interaction between the elements. By separating the elements, children just might get the idea that the elements act independently of each other.
Meet the Planets is not half as interesting as the booklets; it is lacklustre and requires a deliberate effort to read. Romel, a student, goes space trekking in a dream and encounters the planets. One by one, they pour out their histories to him. But somehow, the very idea of a planet talking about itself doesn't jell well. And this is more so when each planet's narration turns out to be a dreary monologue, interspersed with "Ha! Ha! Ha!" and "Sob! Sob! Sob!" and interrupted occasionally by queries from Romel.
Video is better Salwi also blunders when he starts Romel off by taking him to the moon, which by no stretch of imagination is a planet. Other planetary satellites are dealt with only with their planets and not separately. Although Salwi has done well to dot the history of the planets with facts and provide various interesting tidbits, he fails to arouse curiosity.
Even the illustrations and photos are few and poor. There are no colour photographs of the planets and their unique characteristics, which would have caught the eye of children and helped them remember better. Instead, the book features only some dull, patchy photos in which some planets are virtually indistinguishable from others.
Read Meet the Planets? A video would undoubtedly be better.
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