Special needs special tales

Inclusive children’s literature erases the prejudice and sympathy often associated with disabilities.  Protagonists of these stories are a font of compassion giving us lessons in living lifet.

Published: 16th March 2018 10:17 PM  |   Last Updated: 17th March 2018 09:41 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: In Catch That Cat, Dip Dip is looking everywhere for her friend’s lost cat. Behind houses, in a dustbin, on the road… but no, the cat has climbed up a tree, and Dip Dip must help him down. Similarly, it’s up to Kanna, in Kanna Panna, to save his family stuck in a dark cave. And in the upcoming children’s book Thukpa For All, Tsering must rise to the occasion when there’s a power cut at home, and dinner is planned for guests.

In these stories, Dip Dip’s wheelchair, or Kanna and Tsering’s visual impairment, doesn’t stop them from saving the day. Their disability is incidental. Yet, they manage to turn around deeply held prejudices about growing up with impairment. To mark World Disabled Day (March 15), CE talks to publishers, authors, and illustrators in the city, who tell us about their drive and passion to create stories for children with disabilities.

In the last two decades, children’s literature has seen an increase in accessible book formats, and storylines featuring protagonists with disabilities. “The stereotypical format of the story is being replaced by new ideas,” says Shobha Viswanath, founder, Karadi Tales Company. “We are receiving more stories with disabled protagonists, and other audio, tactile book formats that help impaired children.”

But when they first brought out the audiobook formats, it wasn’t originally conceived as special needs books. “It was only much later, with books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, that textures and die-cut pages were specially made for children with visual impairment,” she shares.

The messages in these stories, however, are for all children to seamlessly absorb. Prabha Ram, author, Thukpa For All, explains that picture books are little windows into understanding the world. “If they represent people of all colours, sizes, and abilities, then that can only be a meaningful and honest depiction of the world,” she says.

Her creative process wasn’t different from writing any other manuscript. She explains that they wanted a simple storyline, with guests coming to dinner as just another event in the life of a blind child. For Shilpa Ranade, an illustrator who works on animation for all children, the challenge is to retain this subtlety in designing the book as well. “These stories are wonderful in that they don’t deal with disability in condescending manner. So, without being literal, we make the reader imagine the story in their mind’s eye,” she says.

There is no overt demand for sympathy in any of these stories. A Walk With Thambi, by Tulika Publishers, for instance, is a book about a day in a blind boy’s life, who simply takes his cane and goes on a walk with his dog. Deepa Nayar, senior editor of the publishing house, says, “There are clues in the story that point to the boy’s blindness - like an emphasis on sounds and smells. But the story itself is not about the boy’s blindness. He happens to be blind, and it’s nice for any child reader to know that Thambi is like one of them too.”

Books featuring children with disabilities
●     Catch That Cat! - by Tharini Vishwanath, illustrated by Nancy Raj
●     The Very Hungry Caterpillar - written and illustrated by Eric Carle
●    Wings to Fly - by Sowmya Rajendran, illustrated by Arun Kaushik
●     Why Are You Afraid To Hold My Hand - written and illustrated by Sheila Dhir
●     Flute in the Forest - by Leela Gour Broome
●     Unbroken - by Nandhika Nambi

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