Biswambhar Ghimire (Chanchal)

Nepalese Children's Literature: Past and Present

History of Children’s Literature In Nepal

Nepal, is a mountaineous, and glittering snowy  country in the world has its diversed culture, traditions and customs. It is privileged with different  ethnic groups with the spirit of tolerance, unification and  of its own sovereignty since time immemorial.

According to the 2001 census more than hundred languages are spoken in the country. So, we have a long history of our rich oral tradition of children's literature such as rhymes, riddles, folk tales and also the tales related to epics and religion within our concerned communities. Sometimes the tales from Aesop's fables and Panchatntra also are heard in the four walls of the Nepalese homes. Even now this tradition exists and the grand mothers and mothers tell stories or recite rhymes to their grandchildren and children respectively.

Nevertheless, The history of Nepalese Children's books in written form is short.

Towards the beginning of the first half of the 20th century, books written in Nepali language were almost non-existent. Those that existed in the country were in Sanskrit. Very few Nepali had access to reading English books at home. The first book ever written in Nepali was Byakta Chandrika, a math book by Mr. Gopal DuttaPandey in 1883.  Then the other published book within Nepal and Nepali language was Gorkha First Book by Mr. Gangadhar Dravid, also known as Gangadhar Shastri. with a view to teach childrens some alphabets and numerals in 1892. The information on the publication of other rich laguages such as Nepal Bhasa which is also called Newari and and spoken mostly in the Kathmandu valley by the Newar communities people and Maithili which is spoken mostly in the middle Terai regions have not yet been explored fully.

In Nepal, Jung Bahadur Rana, the first Rana Prime-minister established a first formal English school in 1853. But this school was confined within his  family members and very few elite’s group children around him. After that, Jung Bahadur’s successor Prime-minister Dev Shumsher Rana opened the first public school in Nepal in 1901 with a view to educate the general public children.

Immediately following this, the need for Nepali textbooks published in the country was seriously felt and Mr. Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh, a great social worker,  wrote a series of beginner’s books named Bal Bodh, Achhyaranka Sikshya e.t.c in the same year in 1901. Although a few more books followed, the major intention of these books was to teach alphabets and numerals to children. These books taught children to write some small sentences and acquainted them with numbers, counting methods and small number sums like addition, subtraction and multiplication. In addition to this, these small books attempted to enrich children’s knowledge of keeping house expenses record. Although there were some other people who were also engaged in writing such children’s books before Jaya Prithvi Bahadur Singh, Mr. Singh’s books became more popular and effective than any other in the history of Nepalese children’s books.   

In an organized way, Gorkha Bhasa Prakashini Samiti, a government organization, began publishing children’s books only after 1913. According to the founder chairman of this organization  Mr. Ram mani Dixit thirty-two titles  were published from this organization. Later, in 1933, this organization changed its name and became Nepal Bhasa Prakashini Samiti, which again in 1964 became Sajha Prakashan, a co-operative organization under the Government’s Co-operative Act. It has about 2000 shareholders at present and is acclaimed to be one of the most important children’s book publishers in Nepal.

Besides Sajha Prakashan, Janak Education Materials Center, a semi–government organization, plays a major role in printing children’s textbooks for the public schools of Nepal. It has also contributed some children’s literature books as supplementary to the texts. Similarly, fully government owned Curriculum Development Centre also has been publishing such supplementary children’s books since a very long time ago. Then, there was the Royal Nepal Academy, which has now been renamed as Nepal Academy publishes both literary and non-literary books for adults and children on behalf of the government.

Since institutions set up by the government for the purpose of publishing books are unable to afford the publication of the much needed children’s literature in the country, private organizations and institution have become indispensable. As a result, some big publishers such as Bhakta Book Publishers, Ratna Pustak Bhandar,Sahayogi Prakashan, Educational Book House, and Saraswoti Book Depot started publishing a great deal of children’s books in the early period of the growing of children’s literature.

Though the first effort on organising  a workshop/seminar on children’s literature development in Nepal was made by UNICEF in 1965 events that triggered off the publication of children’s literature books were the International Book Year of 1972 and the International Children’s Year of 1979. Those events made the public aware of the significance of children’s literature in Nepal and promoted the growth of such publication. Then the restoration of democracy in Nepal in 1990 gave a new impetus to the entrepreneurs of the book industry along with children’s literature with new aspirations and opportunities.

Differences between Children’s Books and Children’s Literature

The subtle distinctions between Children’s books and Children’s Literature and Children’s Literature and Adults Literature have always been debated. Quite obviously, children’s books have to be readable to children whether they be text-books or other fact books. Furthermore, children’s books can be a purely imaginative or fantastic. In addition to this, descriptions of children’s books and children’s literature also depend on a country’s socio-economic and socio-cultural background, its level of literacy and educational standard, etc. For example, in America and Europe, books are often written for the pleasurable consumption by the public; but, in Nepal where books are not read for pleasure alone, such a purpose cannot satisfy the necessities of parents and children. Nepal, above all, needs to impart formal education along with knowledge and information to children.

Therefore, most of the children’s books in Nepal carry some messages and try to impart education and knowledge in one way or another. The emphasis here is to impart knowledge and pleasure at the same time.

So, the government never thought it necessary to bring out children’s literature separately and in an organized way in the country. The few books of children’s literature published since the beginning of the history of publication of books in Nepal were simply personal and individual efforts. A significant effort by a great pioneer of this field, Mahakavi Laxmi Prasad Devkota, resulted in the production of Raj Kumar Pravakar (1940), which is now considered the first children’s literature in Nepal. He also wrote Putali (Butterfly) in 1952, Sunko Bihan (Golden Morning) in 1953, Chilla Patharu (Glossy Leaves), etc. Nevertheless, these books were written for Gorkha Bhasha Samiti and included poetry and narrative that could pass as adult literature too.  

Regarding the differences between Children’s and Adult’s Literature, some international writers also have opined that there is no real difference between these two. They say that what they write can read by both adults and children according to their interest and reading capacity. They don’t want to draw any boarder line between children’s and adult’s reading habits. However, in Nepal, some writers and intellectuals argue that children’s capacity to understand, their level of vocabulary and their reading skill must all be considered in writing children’s literature. So, they urge writers to understand children’s academic level before writing any books for them.

Phases of Development of Children’s Book  

Nepalese Children’s Literature can be divided mainly into two phases: first, from 1913 to International Children’s Year 1979 and, second, from 1979 onwards.

The pioneers writers of the first phase are:

Mr. Chakrapani Chalise
Mahakavi Mr. Laxmi Prashad Devkota

Poet Laureate Mr. Lekh Nath Poudyal
Mr. Mahananda Sapkota
Mr. Badari Nath Bhattrai
Mr. Gopal Pandey Asim
Mr. Sagarmani Adi
Mr. Keshab Lal Karmacharya
Mr. Devi Prasad Kafle, etc.
Mr. Madhab Prasad Ghimire
Mr. Krishna Prasad Parajuli
Mrs. Deva Kumari Thapa
Mr. Ramesh Vikal
Mr. Kulmani Devkota
Mr. Dhruva Dawadi and so on    

In addition to these, Ganga Prasad Pradhan and Parasmani Pradhan, both residing in Darjeeling, India, have also contributed a lot to the development of children’s books in Nepal during this period.

In the second phase of the development of children’s literature, many other writers emerged in the field of children’s literature. Since they are innumerable, I here mention only some important ones . They are:

Mr. Krishna Prasad Duwal
Mr. Janak Humagain
Mr. Devi Prasad Vanvasi
Mr. Shanta Das Manandhar
Mr. Parasu Pradhan
Mr. Biswambhar Chanchal     
Mrs. Ranjushree Parajuli
Mrs. Kalpana Pradhan
Mr. Kavitaram Shrestha
Mr. Tej Prakash Shrestha
Mr. Daivagya Neupane and and so on.

Lastly, but not the least Mr. Kanak Mani Dixit is the one children’s literature writers whose Adventure of a Nepali Frog has been translated into eight languages in the world and the book is very popular among the readers.

Issues and challenges

A long and challenging task of promoting children’s literature lies ahead of us. To meet this challenge, it is also important to overcome some of the following hindrances:

•    No clear policy directions: there is absence of policy on books
•    Government’s indifference to promoting children’s literature
•    Focus is on formal education and content of knowledge than reading for pleasure   
•    Literacy Rates: almost 50% adults are still illiterate
•    Poverty: People’s priorities are other than reading and purchasing books
•    Reading Cultures: Nepal has predominantly oral traditions
•    Lack of facilities: inadequate reading and library support
•    Effects of multimedia: Reading is being replaced by TV and radios
•    Nepal’s diversity needs: literatures of other languages (than Nepali) yet to be explored
•    Undefined differences between children’s books and children’s literature
•    Small size market: inadequate market for developing readerships
•    Effects of globalization: control over the market by capital forces
•    Private companies: no attraction to publishers for investment in quality production
•    Coordination: There is inadequate coordination between government and non-government Organizations
•    Uneven distribution: needs of readership are greater in rural and disadvantaged areas
•    Beyond the border: no concrete strategies for exchange of books with neighboring countries

Progress in the Development of Children’s Literature  

Within the last four decades or so, children’s literature in Nepal has made a big progress in terms of quantity and quality both. Number of publishers and publications have been increased and the contents and forms have been better changed.  For example, in about 1971 there were about 15 big publishers in the country who produced  5 or more titles a year. The other smaller ones were very few in number and produced less than 5 titles a year in less quality paper. As mentioned earlier, only Sajha Prakashan, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Educational Publishing House and a very few others published children’s literature books in small quantities. The rest of them produced school textbooks on a large scale.

In comparison with that period, the recent trend has been really encouraging in the field of children’s literature publication. By the end of 2007, there are 200 big and small  children’s books publishers in the country but many of them have published such books a very few. Similarly, the total number of children’s literature titles since the beginning in Nepal has risen to about 1400. The writers have changed their traditional views, contents and forms in writing children’ literature books which were based on teaching morals and giving knowledge previously. Similarly previous children’s literature were based on epics, Panchatantra  and Aesop’s fables. But, these days, writers have imported new ideas and ideals from the west and are trying to give local literatures cosmological shape  

Printing papers seem to be qualitative. Normally 80 grams paper are taking place instead of previous 60 grams paper. Some are using even 120 grams for inside pages and 260 for cover page. Illustrations which were almost non existent in the previous period books are full of coloured illustrations these days.

However, it is a challenging task to continue producing children’s literature books in Nepal where there are many hindrances and difficulties; but, we have to be hopeful of such production in the days to come.  A list of the major children’s literature publishers and titles including the number of copies they publish in the first edition each year, plus the total number of books they have published by the end of 2007 are given below. Note that many of the publishers print a small number of copies in the first edition and then increase this number in the subsequent years according to the market demand.

Name of Publishers      

Number of titles and copies they publish in the first edition (in average)     

No of total titles they published by 2007 (Approximately)  

1. Vivek Sirjansil Sahityik Prakashan
    10 to 15,  2000 copies each             

2. Ratna Book Distributors  
    5 to 10, 2000 copies each

3. Sajha Prakashan    
    5 to 7, 3000 copies each

4. Curriculum Development Centre     
    6 to 8, 5000 copies each

5. Room to Read
    15 to 20, 6000 to 15000 copies each

6. Balkoseli Prakashan    
    5 to 7, 3000 copies each

7. Rato Bungalow School              
    1000 to 2000 copies each        

Future of Children’s Books

Despite the hardships, the future of children’s literature in Nepal appears to be bright.. More promising writers, illustrators and editors are beginning to emerge. More private schools are promoting the reading habit among children even as parents are beginning to understand the positive effects of reading. Various institutions and organizations are also adding their efforts to promote the reading culture in Nepal.

For instance, various kinds of awards and prizes have been established by various organizations and individuals. Nepalese Society for Children's Literature (NESCHIL) and National Section of IBBY, established in 1987 as a non-profit and volunteer organization, is giving such kind of awards every year to the best writers and the best illustrator of the year. This organization also gives award to the best child writer in a similar way. Among other awards are Sajha Bal Sahitya Puraskar by Sajha Publication Cooperative Limited, Balhitkari Puraskar by Salt Trading Corporation and Bal Sahitya Puraskar by Child Services Committee.

Besides, there are also other awards established by individuals. Among them are Nur Ganga Bal Sahitya Prativa Puraskar, Parijat Bal Sahitya Pandulipi Puraskar, and Kavitaram Bal Sahitya Prabardhan Samman. Similarly, Children's magazines and their founders are also awarded. Some schools organise writing and recitation competitions regularly and give prizes to encourage their students to write. They also promote reading books.    

In addition to these, NGO's and INGO's are working in many parts of the country to make books available to children. Room to Read, an international organization is publishing and freely distributing children's books in the community school libraries.

In the same way READ, another international organization, is purchasing books from many sources, opening libraries and giving books to them. Similarly, Children’s Literature Development Centre which is also called Bal Sansar (Children ‘s World) under Himal Assoacition is doing a very good job in developing and disseminating children’s literature books in different parts of the country. Besides, there are other such big and small organizations that are working in the field of children's books and literature.

For example, NESCHIL itself is helping by launching mobile library schemes in two districts of the country with the help of IBBY Yamada Fund Project this year. As, 'Books For All' International programme was launched in  Nepal, it has contributed to creating an atmosphere conducive to promoting the culture of reading in the country. Apart from that, organizations like NESCHIL, Room to Read have been organizing seminars and workshops to writers and illustrators to make them enriched their knowledge in writing good books from time to time.

Options and Opportunities

Although interesting books for children with attractive illustrations and quality are yet to be developed and published, the readership has grown significantly over a period of time. Nevertheless, the government’s policy to develop  promoting readerships is more needed.  We can bring the marginalized and linguistic minority groups to the front. We should make our literature more and more inclusive than it was previously. In this regard Nepal Bhasa and Maithili have their own script, and also their literature is rich. Yet we have to develop them in a very progressive way.

Markets should be affordable for those disadvantaged populations. Besides, positive political climate for education and diversity should be eqully access to all. However, to distinguish between the advantaged and disadvantaged, minority and non-minority and also marginalized and non marginalized population there is a growing need for research and development in the country.

Nevertheless, the ones which do not have their own scripts are trying to bring their literature in Dev Nagari script in recent years. On the whole, the government and respective communities should come together to explore the potentialities and the possibilities to use their rich traditions, cultures and oral literature and bring into effect in written sentences.

However, opportunities for trainings, workshop and seminars for writers and illustrators to such marginalized groups/ communities are either nonexistent or are inadequate in the country. The ones which are held to enhance the qualities of children's literature are mainly emphasized in Nepali languages. Therefore to make the whole country, and whole communities' children's literature rich and prosperous we should go ahead together. To make this idea into effective extending partnerships between Govt and NGO organizations  are very useful. Getting together those two institutions can robust institutional base across Nepal using technologies and its networking.

So far the the inter-country relation is concerned, regional collaboration and international Commitment should be made between and among the countries of the similar nature. Locally appropriate strategies and interventions should be adopted. We should reduce the domination of the west and effects of globalization over the minority literatures and materials and emphasize the oral traditions and literature and put them into words in writing. Then only will we be able to reduce the limited access to reading books among the Nepali people.


Biswambhar Ghimire (Chanchal), Nepal

31st IBBY Congress, Copenhagen 2008

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