Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Musings from a book fair

Frankfurt Book Fair (2007) - After days of trying to keep up as our editorial director wheeled and dealed with distributors, publishers and sales agents from around the world, I finally got a chance to explore some of the thousands of exhibitions at the world’s biggest book fair.

I stumbled across a hall reserved exclusively for children’s books, and I was amazed by the extravaganza of colour, gimmicks and packaging on display.

Under the influence of coffee and orange juice (or should I say kaffee and orangesaft), my bitter inner child awoke as he realised how deprived he had been. I don’t remember my middle-class parents spending a baht on fancy activity books with stickers, magnets and sound effects; they only bought textbooks for school.

Yes, they did value education; however, to them, education did not include fun or bright packaging.

The hall was full of adults making deals and drinking wine in the fairy-tale setting. Standing there made me realise, business and profit aside, how important books are in shaping young minds, and I was particularly pleased to come across a book about a young girl named Camille, whose series of illustrated tales were a language unknown to me. From what I could gather, the book recounts how she befriends a black classmate, playing seesaw with him. In return for her hospitality, the boy offers Camille a candy. A lovely little story, isn’t it?

Perhaps children’s books shouldn’t be called children’s books, but rather books produced by adults for children. Then again, it is our obligation to teach children new things we weren’t taught when we were young, for the world is ever changing. (Perhaps the next mum-and-cub polar bear tale should include a thing or two about the effects of global warming?)

In contrast to the happy-go-lucky themes found in children’s books, most grown-up books are damn serious: genocide, wa, etc. Plus their pages are full of small letters. Boriiiing!

The contrast between adult’s books and children’s made me wonder: if everyone had read Camille’s story, would the world be a better place by now? I believe books are meant to educate readers’ souls and minds. How do we then go from decades to centuries without any real progress? The world seems to be a darker place with each passing day. After who-knows-how many years of passing on our mistakes and virtues from generation to generation through literature, shouldn’t we be making progress? Or are we just innately violent and cruel, no matter how many books we read?

-Pornchai S

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