Project Chatterbox

 Anne Shirley exclaimed,

“...Am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn’t talk? If you say so I’ll stop. I can stop when I put my mind to it, although it’s difficult” (Montgomery: 19).

 

From Anne of Green Gables to The Diary of a Young Girl, literature is full of overt and covert accounts of fictional and real ‘chatterboxes’, mostly girls, and their intolerant, silencing adult guardians or educators. The history of children’s literature is intrinsically bound with this history of curtailing children’s voices. As children’s literature is usually written by adults, historically it has reflected the adult sentiments/norms of silence and discipline, compliance and meekness, mute subservience and unquestionable obedience expected of children. Fortunately, this is changing. There has been a shift in children’s literature in the past two decades.

 

For instance, contemporary children’s literature in English, especially across South Asia, concerns itself with entertaining, educating and sensitively sensitizing the child about previously forbidden taboo concepts such as political violence, caste, gender and marginal sexualities and encourages children to participate in social issues, to question, assert and raise their voice. This departure from previous traditions of children’s literature occurs in tandem with female authors and girl characters increasingly coming onto the scene.

Yet even today in many households children, especially girls, are raised under the notion that they should be seen and not heard. The label ‘chatterbox’ on the girl-child is rich in presumptive weight as the patriarchal myth that women talk too much, belies the underlying, sinister agenda that women must be silenced. Evidently, a study of children’s voices in literature is incomplete without an acknowledgement of the problems of access, economy, gender, race, class, caste and able-ness. Such a study would cut across all domains from childhood and developmental studies, to literature, literacy, disability, gender, race and cognitive studies. Taking inspiration from women’s/ gender studies movements, the aim of this project is to document children and youth authored literature in the form of a Special Series of the CCYSC titled, “Project Chatterbox.” The objective of this project is to map the real and fictional voices of children and young adults - how they imagine, create, order and affirm their place in the world through their use of language, how they think, speak, act or react to social issues that matter to them, how they evade or resist “unthinking compliance with adult desires”. (Gubar 43) This is an intentional move to curate content developed by young people which is distinct from reading representations of children or childhood within literature. 

This project is an attempt to map the instances of children ‘speaking up’ as represented in the literature of childhood, across cultural, geographical or disciplinary boundaries or genres (children’s/YA literature, comics, picture books, fairy tales, etc). At the same time, this project also aims to curate a material and visual culture archive on South Asian children’s literature. This means that we are also soliciting submissions in the form of a series of magazine or book covers, photos of fictional characters, short audio clips or read alouds of instances of or performances by chatterboxes, books in innovative formats such as Tarabook’s matchbox books and other primary resources to build an archive alongside analytical or academic writings. 

We especially invite contributions from East and South Asia, for opinion pieces, general long-form writings, visual essays, comics and other creative formats, exploring the stories we tell children, the stories children tell and tracing the liminal spaces between these stories, where children’s voices reside. Following are few of our suggestions for creative formats:

  • An illustrated catalogue of the various chatterboxes in fiction (meaning a list of garrulous fictional characters accompanied with their hand-drawn sketches/portraits)

  • A graphic rendition of a short excerpt from a story cataloguing instances where a child protagonist is being teased for being a chatterbox or rewriting a sequel or alternate ending to their stories. Contributors could even re-imagine their favourite chatterboxes, opening up radical possibilities to subvert the existing narratives. 

  • A photo essay in which photographs are appropriately placed with quotations from children's fiction (for instance, one could be a photograph of Anne's words "paper has more patience than people" scribbled in the page of a diary and a pen placed beside; a collection of such images with appropriate quotes would make a single photo essay)

  • Reality vs Art: We can take up real instances of chatterboxes (being discriminated against, or raising their voices to resist, or joining protests or bunking classes to campaign against climate crisis) and fictionalise them in comic format or with accompanying illustration(s). One such example would be this graphic rendition of a canonical story Ahona Das drew for The Delek Archives, where reality followed fiction closely. https://thedelekarchives.wordpress.com/2020/08/14/jackfruit-justice/amp/

  • A study of the ways in which speech, voice etc has been represented in children's fairytales and what that reflects on the society of that time

  • A study of rewriting of fairytales from a feminist perspective and how that departs from traditional injunctions of silence and subservience and reorients the message we give children through literature (eg: Politically Correct Bedtime Stories and Rupkatha Samagra by Nabaneeta Dev Sen)

The maximum word limit is up to 1500-2000 words for written contributions and a maximum of 10 pictures for visual entries (especially sequential art). Send your entries to childyouth2020@gmail.com by the 02nd November, 2020. In case of queries, feel free to write to us or contact Ahona Das on behalf of CCYSC at ahona02121996das@gmail.com. We are specifically interested in the stories of errant girls, who swallow the red hot words of their silencers to breathe fire and speak their mind. They will not be quiet.

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The Critical Childhoods and Youth Studies Collective (CCYSC) is a network for scholars and practitioners engaged in the field of research on and with children and youth across South Asia and beyond. 
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