We often look to books to help our children expand their world view, but we limit this expansion to fantasy, creativity, and wild imagination. Why do we leave out harsh reality?
An immensely popular parenting book I once read suggested we take our children to the grocery store when we shop for fruits and vegetables so they understand where the food they eat comes from. See the problem? Turns out kids did too. They wanted to know the origin story of the lady’s fingers and tomatoes they were eating. They were curious!
We agree that most of our children lead very sheltered lives, far away from the harshness of climate change, poverty, rural living and what is reality for millions of children daily. Shouldn’t our young city slickers at least read about them?
That’s why I loved the StORI series, and was absolutely intrigued by the entire gamut of themes the books deal with.
Meeting real life
Chennai-based publishing house Karadi Tales and veteran journalist P Sainath’s publishing house People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), have come together to create Stories of Rural India (StORI), a series based on people living in rural India, disenfranchised people and communities, and the challenges they face in everyday life. These books, told from the perspective of children, aim to bridge the urban-rural divide and put a face to mere statistics that we read about in the news.
The stories are endearing and very often unputdownable. While they are written in a style that is perfect for readers aged 10 and above, these books also work well when read out to younger children.
If you are trying to draw the attention of your children to the plight of farmers and climate change then these books will help you start strong, meaningful conversations. In No Nonsense Nandhini, author Aparna Karthikeyan bases her character of Nandhini on Chandra Subramaniam, a flower farmer and single mother who rises above personal tragedy to achieve her dreams and create a good life for her family.
Karthikeyan believes this is a novel way to teach children about adversity and hope for the future. “Chandra’s real-life story is filled with action & drama, of her turning adversities into advantages,” she said. “Given that kids are inheriting a world that is both uncertain and rapidly changing, what could be better than reading about a single woman farmer, who emerges victorious, and giving a speech in her kids’ school? It was a pleasure adapting her life – with her permission – into a fictionalised tale.”
In Ammini Against the Storm, author Vishaka George adapts her article for PARI into a story highlighting the effects of climate change, the effects of switching to cash crops, and the massive storm that resulted in immense natural and personal loss for farmers in Wayanad district of Kerala.
In Versova Vortex author Subuhi Jiwani tells the story of Karuna and Naomi who go in search of their babas when they haven’t returned from a fishing trip. As members of the Versova Koli community they are acutely aware of what happened in the aftermath of Cyclone Tauktae and they worry when they see a storm brewing. Jiwani interestingly includes the story of the local deity Hingladevi, bringing in an aspect of local folklore as well.
In No Ticket, Will Travel Jiwani tells the story of migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh going to Kochi in search of work. With their traditional occupation of farming hit by a massive crisis, families are forced to take treacherous journeys, sometimes to another state just so they can earn a little money.
Keeping hope alive
And it isn’t just stories of farmers and climate change.
StORI also covers issues like children coming together in Sittilingi valley in Dharmapuri to make their own school in Coming Home, children with HIV learning that friends can live and bond together in House of Uncommons, a young girl dreaming of being the first girl from her village to study past class 4 in Jamuna Begs To Differ, and many such inspiring stories from rural India.
The beauty of these books is it keeps hope alive. Very often as parents we shield our children from the news or newspapers because we are afraid of the implications it will have on their mental health. We forget that children are on the receiving end of violent crime and natural disasters daily and we overlook what it means for them to rise above their circumstances.
Since these books are written from the perspective of children, they become instantly relatable. The children in these books are naughty, have dreams, play pranks, and care for their siblings just like the readers. They face adversity, learn to rise above it, and leave the reader on a note of hope for a brighter future.