Things We Love: These Children’s Books with Special Needs Characters
Last year, Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts, Vidyasagar School Chennai and Duckbill Books, ran a contest for authors to write children’s books about kids with special needs. Four books were chosen — and the first two stories for kids are releasing this month. We can’t wait to add Harshikaa Udasi’s Kittu’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Mad Day and Shruthi Rao’s Manya Learns to Roar to our bookshelves.
“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,” said Swaha Sahoo, who heads the Parag initiative at Tata Trusts. “Unless we have books that register the presence of the differently-abled around us in a sensitive but unexceptional manner, we will not realise the values of inclusiveness in children’s books.”
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We couldn’t agree more. Inclusive education starts at home, with kids’ books like these teaching children (with or without special needs) sensitivity, an appreciation for unique strengths and weaknesses, and an expanded view of the world.
It’s what drove Udasi to write her beginner’s chapter book about Kittu, a boy with one leg, who is lost and, in trying to find his way home, discovers the joy of skateboarding.
“If we have grown up reading books about troubled princesses and knights in shining armour, we will end up thinking the world is only about them. If we have read only about rich kids in urban areas, we will think there is no other universe,” the author said. “On the other hand, if we have read about diverse cultures, diverse situations, different people, we become more accepting of ‘different’ behaviour, of different points of views. Our world becomes multi-dimensional.”
For Rao, it was more about challenging the stereotypes about children with special needs — and drawing on her own experiences to do it. Her book’s character, Manya, who has a stammer, dreams of landing a role in the school play, despite discouragement from peers and teachers. While those dreams and Manya’s personality are her own, Rao said she shared Manya’s emotions at the same age.
Two more kids’ books in the Children First series will release at a future date. We’ll be watching for Lavanya Karthik’s picture book, Neel on Wheels, and R.K. Biswas’s illustrated book, Vibhuti Cat — if only for the reminder that, deep down, we’re all the same.