Generally, we can say that Children’s literature in Malayalam is about one hundred years old. The efforts in this field began with the popularity of English education. English medium schools were established in the first decades of the 19th century in Kerala. For the first time, in the place of the traditional Gurukula system, a new kind of education came into existence.
Under the planned and well-organised leadership of Kerala Varma the new system soon became popular. Moreover, Kerala Varma commanded an unquestionable position in Malayalam language, literature and society. But we should not forget that even before Kerala Varma, there was Children’s literature here, though in limited circles, they had their popularity. For instance, the book Cherupaithangalku Upakarartham Englishil Ninnu Paribhashapeduthiya Kathakal (Stories Translated from English for the Benefit of Small Children), only a single copy of the book is available today. It is found that it was published by the British Museum Library in 1824. A limited number of copies of the book have later been published by the Sahitya Akademy.
It is a practice borrowing stories from legends and other sources and re-interpreting those stories for the benefit of the children. This is true of all literature. Malayalam is no different. There have been such works in Malayalam in the past century itself. In 1880 as part of the Madras Government’s publishing programme, Thobias Zachariah wrote Sindbadinte Kappalottam. Yet another remarkable book was T. C. Kalyani Amma’s Aesopinte Kathakal published in 1897. It is a collection of 56 stories. The author of Eithihyamala, Kottarathil Sankunni published Vishwamitracharitam in 1899.
During 19th century, children’s literature published in Malayalam was a few in numbers. They were not of a high standard. As education was restricted, the popularity of these books remained limited. It was only during the later period of the 19th century that children’s literature held ground in Malayalam literature. In about 30 years from 1900 - 1930, more than 300 works came out. In the next two decades, (1930 - 1950) 400, and between 1950 - 1970 children’s literature witnessed a spectacular growth. More than a thousand works came out during the period.
Children’s literature grew in leaps and bounds post – 1970. Based on different themes and re-interpretations, lakhs of books were published in Malayalam. This trend is noticed in the case of children’s magazines. Magazines like Poombatta, Balan, Balarama and Balabhoomi have a wide reach. Persons like Mali, Sumangala, Prof. S. Sivadas, K. V. Ramanathan have made stupendous contribution to children’s literature.