Hundreds of new titles are published each year for children in India, but only a handful of children’s books feature a differently-abled character in the story. And books which realistically portray disability are rare. In November 2016, Parag (a Tata Trusts initiative), Vidya Sagar School Chennai and Duckbill Books, introduced a contest to address the gap for more books to create awareness (about children with disabilities).
The idea behind ‘Children First’, therefore, was to publish books which treat children with special needs as children first—with all the hopes, fears, mischief and fun that comes with being a child.
The winning books of the “Children First: Writing Contest” are out now. The winners are Lavanya Karthik for Neel on Wheels (picture book), Shikhandin for Vibhuti Cat (illustrated book), Harshikaa Udasi for Kittu’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Mad Day (chapter book) and Shruthi Rao for Manya Learns to Roar (chapter book). The protagonists in the books are not overly heroic. They are children with regular likes, dislikes, fears and dreams. They are characters that children can easily identify with.
Says Shruthi Rao, author of Manya Learns to Roar, “When I started writing fiction, I knew I wanted to write about real people who stammer, who are people like anybody else, who just happen to stammer. They might face situations that affect them because they stammer, or maybe they go through life pretty easily.”
Lavanya Karthik, author of Neel on Wheels, says: “We are a society that treats its differently abled citizens much the same way it treats its children – as simple creatures incapable of independence or free will, who must be protected from the world and themselves. Rather than building an environment that enables freedom, mobility and inclusion, we focus on segregating spaces and marginalizing people. Neel is a small shout out to the freedom we all deserve, regardless of age and abilities.”
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The CSR Journal Team