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Seven Children's Books of 2019 About Social Justice

 

Our favourite childhood stories tend to stick with us forever. For children who grew up on a steady diet of Panchatantra or Jataka Tales, animals are prominent characters in the books they loved. More than the animals’ adventures, one remembers the way that the stories made one feel, and the lessons they taught. There were lessons of curiosity, persistence, discipline, risk-taking, and problem-solving that reinforced values of friendship, empathy and compassion. Growing up, one realises how much power these stories hold and how they shape one’s understanding of the world.

Looking back, it's easy to notice how children’s books have reflected attitudes in our society about diversity, power relations among different groups of people, and various social identities. The visual and verbal cues children pick up from books influence their ideas about themselves and others. Books can reinforce positive values, and teach accurate information about people of various identities. Books about social justice often allow children insight into what it feels like to encounter discrimination. To raise responsible children, we need to teach them about people outside their immediate family and neighbourhood. On the other hand, some children grow up not seeing themselves represented in any of the books they read. It is important to fix this so that children from various backgrounds can see their lives reflected in the stories they engage with.

Young Zubaan hopes to create socially conscious and politically responsive books for children of all ages. This commitment has led us to seek out books that inspire conversations about social justice and encourage children’s passion and action around the anti-caste struggle, feminist organising, LGBTQ rights and environmental protection, among other subjects. Here is a list of our favourite children’s and young adult books published in 2019 from India, that explore social action and foster critical-thinking:

 

1. Guthli Has Wings 

Age Group: 6+

Category: Picture Book

Guthli Has Wings

On the face of it, Guthli is like any other child; she talks non-stop, loves to draw fairies and has a chicken for a friend. However, she becomes very upset when she isn’t allowed to wear a pink frock for Diwali, and is asked to wear her ‘boy’ clothes. Published by Tullika Books, Kanak Shashi’s latest book Guthli Has Wings attempts to familiarise children, parents and educators with the concept of gender identity. Gender identity, a complex subject that has multiple connotations has been broken down to suit the understanding of a child. In an interview with The Hindu, Kanak explains how she developed the concept in 2010 when she was working with school children, and among many other things that struck her, the performative aspect of gender drew her attention, “This whole process starts fairly early in life — probably right from the moment an infant starts perceiving the world and forming ideas about it. I just wanted to create something that subverts this whole process.”

 

2. Ten Indian Animals You May Never See in the Wild

Age group: 8+

Category: Non-fiction

Ten Indian Animals You May Never See in the Wild

This book tells the survival stories of ten of India’s rarest animals. A few have made a heroic comeback from the very brink of extinction; others have not been so lucky and are spiralling to their inevitable doom. Award-winning novelist Ranjit Lal writes an engrossing account of how human activity has driven so many beautiful animals out of their natural habitat. A part of the new non-fiction series — The 10s — published by Duckbill books, this book is perfect for children to understand that the need of the hour is to coexist in harmony with the natural world.

 

3. My Country, My Government

Age group: 10+

Category: Reference

My Country My Government

What does the Prime Minister do? How are judges chosen? In My Country, My Government Rohini Oomman takes on and breaks down the complicated functioning of the Indian government into bite-size nuggets of information. From the formation of the Indian Constitution to today’s election system, this book tackles complex subjects in a clear, easy-to-understand way with exercises and explanations. Learning about the way the government works can help awaken a child’s sense of social responsibility. An experienced and well-known educator, Rohini has put together an informative guide which helps children understand how the government functions, while also helping them realise how politics governs every aspect of life.

 

4. Maa (Hindi)

Age Group: 12+

Category: Fiction

Maa

Kancha Illaiah Shepherd, a well-known political theorist and anti-caste activist authored Maa, which details the story of a young professor at a university. The professor, who belongs to a shepherd community, fondly recalls how his mother fought against caste atrocities and mobilised the people of his community to rally against the discriminatory and casteist attitudes prevalent in his village. Published by Eklavaya, Maa has been illustrated by Lokesh Khodke and Shefalee Jain. It is an essential read for parents, educators, teachers who wish to sensitise young children about the caste-system and for young adults who wish to read an inspiring story of how a lower-caste woman mobilised her community to struggle against inequality.

 

5. The Case of the Missing Water (Multilingual)

Age Group: 12+

Category: Fiction

Case of the Missing Water

In the middle of summer, the tank in Ranj’s village dries up and the villagers are left with no water. Most families have left the area and classrooms in the school that Ranj attends are half-empty. There is only a dried-up stream running through the village, the birds and animals have left too. Frustrated at the state of affairs, Ranj and her friend Sapna have fixed their mind on finding the missing water. Will they succeed in their mission? Find out in this book written by Shalini Srinivisan and illustrated by Upamanyu Bhattacharya.

 

6. Pops

Age group: 10+

Category: Fiction

POPS

Seven-year-old Varun has never met his father and only seen photographs of him in the wedding album. Varun meets his father ­— the Man —  for the first time in the court after his mother files for divorce. When the court mandates that the father meet Varun every month, he is scared and angry. But why does the Man keep bringing gifts for him? Why does climb trees like a monkey? Why does he keep saying 'Pop! Pop! Pop!'? As if Arun could ever start calling this strange Man 'Pops'!

Published by Duckbill books and written by Crossword Book Award winner Balaji Venkataraman, this book delves into the complex emotions experienced by a child when his parents are estranged. It is also a great reminder for children who come from single parent families that they aren’t alone and loving families come in all different shapes and sizes.

 

7. Behind the Lie

Age Group: 10+

Category: Fiction

Behind The Lie

Behind The Lie

Valli and Ramesh live under a cloud of fear because of their father, who has a frightening temper. Their mother suffers the brunt of their father’s violence and is unsure about how to escape the vicious cycle of abuse that she is stuck in. Will this ever change for them? This is a moving story about how a family fights domestic violence with some quick thinking and a little help from their neighbours. Written by Asha Nehemiah and illustrated by Aindri Chakraborty, this book is extremely relevant for children who have undergone similar experiences as it can help them identify the triggers or situations in which the triggers or situations in which domestic violence may be present. And reading a story of how another child came forward and sought help may encourage other children to do so, too.

Queer & Here: Your Reading List for Pride Month

New York’s Stonewall Riots of 1969 saw members of the LGBTQ+ community clash with the police in what is widely known as the catalyst for the modern queer rights movement in the United States. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, two trans women of colour, were the main organisers of Stonewall riots. They protested against arbitrary raids and arrests by the police, targeting the queer community in New York. Their legacy of fighting for the rights of marginalised communities of colours, the LGBTQ community, people living with HIV and drag queens, have been recognised throughout the years. Though the Stonewall riots are sometimes seen as the starting point for the assertion of queer rights across the world, the queer community in every country has its own distinct history of fighting against homophobia and sexism.

 

In her book Queer Activism in India, Naisargi N. Dave proposes that India’s first known gay protest was organised outside of Delhi police’s headquarters in 1992. The first queer demonstration also occurred in Delhi in 1992, when two hundred delegates walked out of the International AIDS Conference to protest the Indian government’s stand against homosexuality. The first effort to decriminalise same-gender sex in India, came in 1994, with a petition filed in the Delhi High Court; that same court was the first in India to decriminalise same-gender sex in 2009 (though this decision was later reversed). With the Supreme Court in India reading down the archaic Section 377, which criminalised sexual conduct ‘against the order of nature’ in September 2018, queer narratives and literature are fast gaining prominence. However, queer literature in India has existed before the Supreme Court’s 2018 verdict. Scholars such as Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai collected over 2000 years of Indian writing on same-sex love in their collection Same-Sex Love in India. A Lambda Literary Award finalist, this book showed how important it is for non-Western cultures to develop a critical vocabulary and formulate context-based theories which are unique to the Indian subcontinent.

 

Fierce FemmesLiterature is an important lens through which to examine cultural shifts, as it is, in many ways, a microcosm for our society. Positive portrayals of same-gender love are slowly becoming more mainstream. Kai Cheng Thom’s Lambda finalist Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is one such book and the latest addition to Young Zubaan’s list of kickass feminist books for children and young adults. (find the link to our web store at the end of the article). For this year’s Pride celebrations, we have curated a list of five books which pertain to the truth of living as a queer person in the global South, or as a queer person of colour in the North.

 

 

  • Cobalt Blue - Sachin Kundalkar

CobaltBlueTranslated from Marathi by acclaimed novelist Jerry Pinto, Sachin Kundalkar’s novel traces the story of a mysterious tenant who captures the hearts of two siblings Tanay and Anuja, when he arrives as an artist looking for lodging in their family home in Pune. The novel pairs interior monologues from Tanay and Anuja, both addressed to their beloved boarder, who charmed each of them before leaving without any explanation.

 

Published in Marathi in 2006, Cobalt Blue is ahead of its time in its representation of queer love. The moments shared between Tanay and the tenant are not written to satisfy heterosexual voyeurism, but realistically depict the joy and agony of love. A tale of rapturous tenderness and fierce heartbreak, Cobalt Blue with its experimental narrative style and daring imagination is a frank exploration of a gay life in India; of people living in emotional isolation and attempting to find intimacy against all odds.

 

  • A Life in Trans Activism - A. Revathi

A Life in Trans ActivismPublished in 2016 by Zubaan, A Revathi’s second book traces her life, and her work in the NGO Sangama, which works with people across a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations. It narrates the tale of how she rose from office assistant to the director in the organisation. The first half of the book describes her journey as a trans woman, as she becomes an independent activist, theatre person, actor, writer and organiser for the rights of transgender persons. Later, Revathi offers insight into one of the least talked-about experiences in the gender spectrum: that of being a trans man. A Life in Trans Activism emphasizes the ways in which the trans identity intersects with other identities, and how these intersections contribute to unique experiences of oppression and privilege.

 

 

 

  • Babyji - Abha Dawesar

 

BabyjiBabyji is a daring coming of age story of 16-year-old Anamika Sharma, a student in New Delhi. Abha Dawesar’s second novel details the exploits of Anamika as she romances three women, juggling her studies and her lovers while attempting to finish school. The story is set against the backdrop of Mandal Commission's recommendations in 1980, which proposed the doubling of seats for backward castes. An upper-caste woman herself, Anamika uses her academic expertise and sexual prowess, to liberate herself from the Brahmanical mores of the society that she inhabits. Babyji is a brave exploration and moral enquiry into what it means to be a growing woman who is coming to terms with her own sexuality. This novel is the winner of the 2005 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and of the 2006 Stonewall Book Award for Fiction.

 

  • The Devourers - Indra Das

 

TheDevourersIndra Das’s debut novel is a love story between two shape shifting werewolves, Fenrir and Gevaudan — a gay couple — and their companion, a young Muslim woman called Cyrah. The shape shifters exist on the margins of society: they wander into Shah Jahan’s empire, fleeing persecution in their homeland. Alok Mukherjee, a Bengali professor of history who narrates the novel, is still reeling from an engagement that was broken off after his affairs with other men came out in the open. The Devourers refuses to be pigeonholed into a single genre; it borrows tropes and writing devices from dark fantasy, speculative fiction and science fiction. A chilling saga that spans across various centuries and continents, this novel showcases Das’s incredible prowess with language and rhythm. The Devourers won the 29th Annual Lambda Award in LGBT Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Horror category.

 

  • Sister Outsider - Audre Lorde

SisterOutsiderA collection of speeches and essays by a self-described “black lesbian feminist warrior poet,” Sister Outsider is considered a ground breaking work by Audre Lorde. This book contains a great mix of ideas and tones; it has poems, interviews, journal entries, and speeches interspersed with aphorisms. It proved to be an important and necessary tool in the cannon of progressive theory when it was first published in 1984. Lorde’s work centres the experience of black lesbians and critiques a mostly white, academic community of second-wave feminists for overlooking blacks, gays and women, as well as the elderly and the disabled in their theories.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S: The South Asian edition of Kai Cheng Thom's novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir is now on sale on our website.

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