These books take gender-sensitivity to children in heart-warming ways

March 11, 2019 01:37 pm | Updated 01:37 pm IST

Mansi Poddar

Mansi Poddar

Remember the popular Tamil rhyme ‘Dosai amma dosai’? It talks about how amma makes five dosas for appa , three for the brother, and so on. Children have been singing it for years and subconsciously internalising that ‘ amma makes dosas ’. She does, but Appa can, too. And so can the brother, perhaps under adult supervision. Which is why Tulika’s board book Dosa Amma Dosa says nothing about who makes the dosa . For a society free of gender bias, one has to start with children.

In Sadiq Wants to Stitch (Karadi Tales, ages seven to nine), by Mamta Nainy, the protagonist is a little boy who is a gifted embroiderer. His mother, though, is hesitant to encourage him, since it’s mostly the women in their community who are involved in the craft. “When we received this manuscript, we were instantly drawn to the gender angle,” says Shobha Viswanath, the publishing director and co-founder of Karadi Tales Company.


Writer Mamta says she chose to write on a boy because she felt that there were many titles that debunked gender stereotypes for girls. She was careful not to be preachy, and focussed on telling a “good story”. “Children are curious and more accepting of the differences,” she says, adding that it was important that she got the message across “in a way that gives them the means to think, analyse and come to their own conclusions”.

Karadi Tales’ A Pair of Twins (ages seven to nine) too has gender at its core — the story is about how Sundari, a young girl, the daughter of a mahout, is suddenly faced with the task of leading the Dusshera procession in Mysuru with her female elephant. Her father, though, is hesitant, for he feels it’s his son who ought to take on his role. In the end, Sundari goes on to create history. “We want to show that girls can become mahouts, and boys can embroider, if that’s what they want to do,” adds Shobha. She believes in starting these conversations early.

Mamta says that at present, India has a lot of children’s titles that talk about gender with empathy. But then, in the real world, things are far from neutral. Shobha says that with retail stores “colour-coding their aisles for boys in blue and girls in pink”, “children absorb messages about what girls ‘should’ do and boys ‘shouldn’t do’.” This seeps into their reading habits too. “Both boys and girls are open to reading books with strong male leads, but boys are less likely to seek out stories featuring a strong female lead,” explains Shobha.


Gender is a complex idea for a child. But books break it down. Kolkata-based psychotherapist Mansi Poddar agrees. Books, she feels, “sow the seed for a shift in mindset”. She says that it’s important that parents read and talk about such issues with children. A reader herself, she says that books have helped her “deal with issues”. She explains that apart from developing imagination, books help children “understand and process complex abstract ideas”. It’s heartening to see that writers and illustrators have taken it upon themselves to do so. In Let’s Go (Tulika), illustrator Rajiv Eipe keeps things real, with a salwar -clad mother on a bike, with her daughter riding pillion. On the roads he sketches, there are no rules about who should ride what.      

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