This website, designed as part of a larger research project, presents a visual and bibliographical
documentation of nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengali children’s books.
Children’s books – as researchers and critics have observed - are almost always regarded as
“frivolous and ephemeral”. In Bengal too, where children’s literature has a rich two-hundred-year-old print
history and has been a staple part of a popular culture and a thriving publishing industry, the genre has
attracted little critical attention and has remained largely neglected in research and archiving.
Under an Arts Research and Documentation programme for 'critically assessing constructions of a
cultural tradition', the project concerns the history and development of an indigenous children's
literature in colonial Bengal. This particular area of print has rarely been considered as part of
the cultural traditions that are used to critique and review history. Nevertheless, as a field
gaining in popularity in a changing climate of colonial influence and nationalist endeavours, as a
discipline involving parents and their wards, teachers and students, schools and homes and public
and private spheres, the genre did involve and reflect the politics of power and control as also the counter tendencies of unrest and opposition.
The website features a reprographic and bibliographic documentation of Bengali children’s books from
its incunabula to the early decades of the 20th century. It is a work in progress and at this stage, reflects
around 150 volumes of juvenile publications, either as individual entries or as part of the composite pages.
These include alphabet books, primers, readers, school-texts, advice books, fables and moralities and a
large section of what can be collectively termed as a ‘leisure’ or an ‘entertaining’ literature for children –
ranging from folk and fairy tales, mythological narratives, original fiction and children’s verses to
juvenile periodicals and books on popular science. The research documents books from sixteen libraries
and private collections located in West Bengal, Bangladesh and UK. New pages, introducing fresh titles
will be uploaded from time to time.
Through a sampling of Bengali juvenile literature from its inception in the early nineteenth century to a
versatile genre in the twentieth century, the archive attempts to trace the trajectory and to outline the
patterns of children’s books in Bengal. As a documentation work, it tries to bring in to focus many old
and forgotten texts that are scattered in various libraries or personal collections. This record is also a
small effort to help preserve evidences for those books that are crumbling to a state beyond repair.
One of the main aims of carrying out this project in the medium of English (in spite of the various
difficulties involved in translation and the cumbersome technicalities of transliteration) is to overcome
the language barriers at the national and international levels – something that we need to do consistently
in a multilingual and multicultural country like India and to initiate a dialogue in the comparative
histories of children’s literature and childhood with the rest of the world.
Last but not the least, this public domain database is not only a catalogue of old books and a survey of
past heritage. It hopes to draw the attention of researchers, teachers, writers, illustrators, performers,
and publishers to these treasures. Many of these brittle volumes are specimens of outstanding
publications and illustrate high standards of book production and artistry. These extant masterpieces
can inspire us to find new ways to work upon, revive and reinvent this rich tradition.