BY PRIYANKA SHAH
New Delhi– Over the past ten years, discussions about the value of diversity in children’s books have become more popular. Books can be a potent teaching aid for concepts like equity and empathy, according to experts and educators. The world is diverse; there are individuals leading different lives everywhere, even in the same neighbourhood or classroom, so we need children’s books about diversity.
Every child deserves to be seen, heard, and accepted for who they are, as well as to be reflected in the books that are made available to them. This includes encouraging kindness and inclusivity, honouring diverse cultures, appreciating the beauty in shared experiences, and encouraging genuine self-expression. For children to know that they are not alone in their experiences, it is a blessing that more and more writers are writing inclusive books. In honour of International Women’s Day we look at female writers of children’s books from all over the nation. In their works, they argue that differences should be embraced rather than despised or mocked.
MUKAND AND RIAZ
Written by: Nina Sabnani
Ages: 5-10 years
About the book: Set in the days of turmoil, leading to the partition of the country, Mukand and Riaz is based on a true story of a friendship between two children. The boys are inseparable and share many experiences together, such as eating their favourite foods, riding bicycles and visiting each other’s places of worship. However, one thing that Mukand is very possessive about is his red cap. As the political situation becomes ugly, violence mars the city. Riaz’s family offers a safe haven to Mukand’s family and helps them escape on a ship to India. As the ship leaves the shore, Mukand throws his beloved cap to his friend as a gesture of an everlasting bond of friendship and love.
About the author: Nina Sabnani is an Indian animation filmmaker, illustrator and an educator. She is known for her films which blend together animation and ethnography. Collaboration with diverse ethnic communities as well as storytelling with words and imagery have been her research interests. Sabnani has taught for more than two decades at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. She is currently a professor at the Industrial Design Centre (IDC), IIT Bombay.
PUHOR AND NIYOR’S MURAL OF FAMILY STORIES
Written by: Pritisha Borthakur
Ages: 5-13 years
About the book: Puhor and Niyor’s Mural of Family Stories is a powerful progressive children’s book that aims to inspire curiosity, raise awareness, instill compassion, entertain, and show a unique glimpse of the diverse kinds of families found in any community. The book begins with an introduction to Puhor and Niyor, two brothers making a mural, telling the stories of different families. It shows Puhor and Niyor’s family as being a nuclear family, with a mom and a dad. These twins demonstrate there are all sorts of families – children with two moms, two dads, a single mother; a multiracial family unit; foster and adopted children; pet parent and more – none more important than another, and all of them are beautiful in their own unique way. The story progresses with adding to the mural an illustration of each unique story. In the end, the small community, made up of various kinds of unique families, teach each other about different types of people every day, and to not judge others based on their race, gender, sexual identity, disability, or anything else. They embrace their differences and paint a beautifully coloured mural, as beautiful and colourful as the community itself.
About the author: Pritisha Borthakur is a journalist, brand strategist, and mother of twin toddlers. She is passionate about works that will make a profound impact on the society. She actively writes on subjects such as mindful parenting, gender equality, LGBTQIAP+, mental health, and startup culture among others. She has over the years worked with numerous reputed advertising, communications, and media organisations, both nationally and internationally. Her works have received several prestigious awards and recognitions. Borthakur has to her credit three poetry books and a children’s book. Her first self-directed film was a documentary called “Wake Up Call” based on one’s fight against HIV.
KALI AND THE SNAKE
Written by: Zai Whitaker
Ages: 4-10 years
About the book: The story is about a boy, Kali, who belongs to Irula tribe of Thiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu. The people of Irula tribe are famous as snake catchers and Kali’s father was one of the best in the tribe. Kali’s classmates think this is strange and weird. Kali hates school for he has no friends. For the first time in his life, Kali becomes aware of his being different. He wishes his father were an ‘ordinary’ bus-conductor or postman instead of a snake-catcher. He worries that others will see him eating fried termites (his favourite snack!) and laugh. Until one day when a rat snake enters the classroom, and Kali does what he knows best.
About the author: Zai Whitaker grew up in Mumbai, in a family of naturalists which included the renowned “Bird Man of India” – Salim Ali. Her work spans different fields, from children’s literature and education to wildlife conservation. She has also served as a principal in a few schools. Zai, over the years has written several inspiring novels, stories, and poems for children. Whitaker now lives and works at the Madras Crocodile Bank near Chennai, which she helped the ‘Snake Man’ Rom Whitaker set up almost 40 years ago.
Ages: 4-9 years
About the book: Different Differenter is an activity book for children that thoughtfully addresses everyday skin colour consciousness and bias in a way that’s easy to understand. Children’s rich observations and questions about colour, caste, and race elicit accurate yet straightforward responses. This art-and-craft-based book takes you on a playful and creative discovery to find answers that work for you and your family; while creatively introducing facts of history and 15-plus new words. It’s a beautifully-illustrated, educational tool that sets the context for hard conversations about self-awareness, colour, and identity. Subjects in the book include biology of skin (melanin); culturally-related aspects (food); colourism’s social impact (bullying) and solutions (bystander intervention).
About the author: Jyoti Gupta is the founder of The Colo(u)rism Project; a former TEDxWomen (2012) and Jaipur Literary Festival (2017) speaker; and a racial literacy educator. She analyses and makes media for social good, particularly on colourism. Gupta currently facilitates workshops at schools, in higher education, youth organisations, maker spaces, and thought leadership spaces in the U.S and India.
CHUSKIT GOES TO SCHOOL
Written by: Sujatha Padmanabhan
Ages: 5-10 years
About the book: Nine-year old Chuskit longs to go to school like her brother. It is almost impossible for her in her home town of Ladakh, as she cannot walk, and has to use the wheelchair to go anywhere. How would it be possible for her to cross the rocky, hilly terrain over the river and up the hill to the school? It becomes possible only because her friend Abdul recognises her need, and ropes in the school and all the children to build a levelled road up to the school. A heartwarming story about recognising and doing what the society needs to do to make life easier for those differently-abled.
About the author: Sujatha Padmanabhan is a trained special educator and has worked with children with multiple disabilities in Delhi for 10 years. She has been associated with the work of the Namgyal Institute for People with Disabilities in Ladakh since 2001 and is a member of Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group. Sujata primarily writes on disability and environment; and has authored several story books for children. (IANS)