Play and Playthings in South Asian Children’s Literature

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
Titas Bose
contact email: 

Children’s literature and material cultures of childhood have always enjoyed a long-standing relationship. In Anglocentric contexts, it is well studied how toymakers and children’s book editors worked hand-in-hand during the “Golden age of children’s literature” to construct a joint children’s market for books and toys (Masaki 2016; Field 2019). However, even though playing, with its various aesthetic, pedagogic, material and cultural meanings, constitutes an important element of South Asian children’s book cultures as well, this phenomenon has remained rather understudied in the academy. 

To begin with, Lockean ideas of playful education reached nineteenth-century India as a part of colonial experiments with education. This led to the inclusion of play in the formal curriculum and textbook content during the colonial period in India. Moreover, Indian children's journals in the 19th and 20th centuries not only extensively advertised toys (of foreign and indigenous make), but also regularly included mental puzzles, analytical games, math problems and visual riddles, thus making ‘playing’ a part of the reading process. 

Beyond the intended pedagogical objectives focussed on developing particular skill sets, play and playthings are significant instruments through which children are subtly conditioned into their social worlds. Usha Mudiganti’s recent work Toying with Childhood (2022) studies literary references of toys which were used to establish an ideal image of innocent childhood in British and American contexts. This ideal image was of course gendered, and conformed to imperialist notions. However, children, as agential beings, are hardly passive recipients of dolls and other playthings, and the social meanings they carry. It would be curious to see what social scripts (to borrow from Robin Bernstein) tend to emerge from the literary depictions of dolls, toys and games in South Asian children’s texts. Finally, playing, with its emphasis on performance and creativity, could definitely also be a tool by which children resist adult-imposed social and cultural structures.

Thus, grounding ourselves in the geographic area of modern South Asia, we invite papers that can look at "play" from various perspectives. Topics include, but are not limited to -

How does the book as a plaything interact with the pedagogical discourse of colonialism?

How do postcolonial children’s books view folk games versus imperial games/sports?

How do games and sports in indigenous children’s books negotiate with existing and changing patterns of gender, caste and class?

What types of linguistic play and innovations emerge in children’s books as a part of processes of decolonization?

How do South Asian children’s books explore playing as an intellectual and aesthetic mode through which children interact with different human and non-human characters?