Books lead the way, helping children look beyond their own lives and abilities
Clichéd as it sounds, words can move worlds. Authors, backed by publishers, are finding heart-warming ways to introduce serious issues to children: disability, gender, mental health, physical well-being. They help parents and teachers begin a discussion. Here, books that talk sensitively, of disability.
Tulika has started conversations on disability through several titles. “Books are meant for everyone, and this includes all kinds of children,” says Radhika Menon, the publishing director. She credits this increased awareness, even among publishers, to organisations that worked for such causes. Children, she feels, are naturally empathetic, so it’s important to tap into that, and sensitise them at an early age. In an acknowledgement of discrimination that runs deep, she says, “There are all kinds of childhoods,” some that see the worst of caste and class biases.
In Tulika’s Kanna Panna, little Kanna is the hero when the lights go out in a cave-temple. The visually-impaired protagonist leads everyone to safety. The story by Zai Whitaker inverts the notion of disability. Zai explains what inspired her: “As a teacher at the Kodaikanal International School for 18 years, I had students with a range of cognitive, physical, and personality challenges; how they dealt with these fascinated me. So the idea had been brewing in my mind when Tulika requested me to write a story on this theme.”
Zai feels it is “very, very important” to talk to children about disability. “We must talk to children, and parents, through books and otherwise, about the experience of being handicapped, of how to productively respond to people with disabilities, about their achievements and adventures, and everything else around.” Because, ultimately, it is children who play an important role in creating an inclusive society, she feels.
To help children with disabilities in their social interactions, Zai feels that parents and teachers should listen, so that shame never becomes a part of their inner worlds. Shame is toxic, she says, “and is passed on to the child, contaminating their social interactions.” Books help us all to revisit the way we think, help us question our belief systems, and give us fresh perspective on life itself. “We then focus, and are proud of what children can do, rather than what they can’t.”