‘A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up On purpose to a life beyond life.’
We seldom realize, in thinking about human culture and history, how much we depend upon the written word for all we know about the past. Civilization is actually synonymous with writing and for all modern archaeological techniques, it is still writing alone that tells us how people in ancient times lives, worked and thought. Pictures, carvings, sculpture, clay vessels, and many other artifacts give us some part of the story, but only writing establishes a civilization. To take only one illustration, the Easter Island giant stone figures exist, but in the absence of the written word, we know nothing whatsoever about those people or what the statues represent.
Samuel Israel’s delightful and simply explained book about writing and how it developed into books is an excellent children’s primer to make them understand one of mankind’s most miraculous skills. To a child and to all too many adults a book is just a book: good, bad exciting, dull, informative or boring. But any book could come to life in a child’s hands when he understands more about what went into its production.
The Wonderful World of Books gives a detailed explanation of the whole process, from earliest historic times to the present. I can remember the expression of wonder on my children’s faces when we planned to make a book ourselves, when they were seven and eight. They both dictated the stories as I typed leaving spaces and margins for their somewhat amateur illustrations. Then we did the binding by sewing the sheets and the cover-making which was enhanced by a lot of glue in the wrong places. But their delight and pride in having made a book themselves was tremendous.
The little experiment proved very clearly that children want to know how things are made. In· the adult Indian world, so many parents rebuff their children’s eager curiosity with a rather mindless impatience. Perhaps it is because they do not know themselves but want to retain their Illusion of superiority and adult wisdom! But they should know children are seldom fooled. They are only put off. Later discouragement turns to apathy and the bright eagerness of childhood becomes a tarnished thing in the dull adolescent of later years.
It is clear we need more publications like The Wonderful World of Books so that children can know and develop their innate awareness. This is the most important part of learning. To widen our knowledge to reach out to new horizons to think. Books make this possible.
Tara Ali Baig is President of the International Union for Child Welfare.