CHENNAI : Every other day, one of my children will ask, ‘When will things go back to normal?’ or ‘When will this be all over?’ or ‘What if this never gets over?’ I try to explain to them that this might take a while to ‘get over’, that things may not go back to ‘normal’, and that a new ‘normal’ will emerge. I try to comfort them with my words, but then how can I when these very same questions run in a loop through my own mind? So, I turn to books for help. One of the things I reintroduced to our days very early on in the lockdown was reading to the boys.
At any time of the day, when the boredom or anxiety got to them, I whipped a book out. In the mornings with our something hot to drink, post-lunch, early evenings and at bed time too. Whenever I was asked to read, I read. It was a distraction, another world to slip into, not that these worlds were perfect and free of their own struggles, but they were a brief reprieve from our own strange situation. Here are some books where children have gone through and emerged from some of history’s most difficult times; not always unscathed, but I do believe with hope.
Over the years, picture book publishers have not shied away from tackling tough topics with sensitivity and nuance. Pratham Books’ shows Nooraine who is stuck at home because of a curfew but is desperate to learn how to ride a bicycle before her best friend Wasim returns from Jammu. Home by Fausto Aarya De Santis tells the story of Hasina and her family who become refugees in a new country, away from everything that is familiar. The illustrations by Ogin Nayam are so beautiful one could weep. Tulika Books’ Red by Sagar Kolwankar shows how armed conflict impacts the everyday lives and simple joys of children. Gayatri Bashi’s Big Rain illustrated by TR Rajesh, written after the Kerala floods, reminds us that if we look after nature, it will look after us.
With swarming locusts and ravaging cyclones in the news, it’s a timely read. Middle-grade readers have so much to choose from. Year of the Weeds by Siddhartha Sarma looks at the very real threat of mining and the devastating impact it has on the lives of the community. In Bijal Vachharajani’s climate change fiction A Cloud Called Bhura, a group of children fight back against a giant, sludge coloured cloud that descends on Mumbai when the ‘groan ups’ can’t get their act together (sound familiar?). In Oranges in No Man’s Land by Elizabeth Laird, young Ayesha ventures on a forbidden journey across no man’s land to find her grandmother a doctor.
In the classic When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr again tells the tale of war refugees through the eyes of a young girl and her family. The idea is not to read these books and then tell your kids ‘See! You have it so much better! What are you complaining about?’ Instead, savour the story, laugh at the moments of humour that shine through and be there to answer their questions. Or just hug and hold them when you’re done.