Books of winners of “Children First: Writing Contest” published

Joint initiative by Parag (a Tata Trusts’ initiative), Vidya Sagar School (Chennai) and Duckbill Books ~

~ Books portray children with special needs with sensitivity in their stories ~


Parag (a Tata Trusts initiative), Vidyasagar School Chennai and Duckbill Books announced the publication of the winning books of the “Children First: Writing Contest” - a contest which invited authors to write stories featuring children with disabilities in a sensitive and caring manner.


The four 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).


In November 2016, Parag initiative, Vidya Sagar School Chennai and Duckbill Books, introduced this contest to address the need for more such books to create awareness and increase acceptance of inclusiveness at the grass root level.


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 children.


“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,” says Swaha Sahoo, who heads the Parag initiative at Tata Trusts. "Parag aims to make literature a part of every childhood. 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.”


"What is special about the Children's First series is their representation of children with disability. 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.”


“These books are a fulfilment of a long-held dream for us,” says Anushka Ravishankar and Sayoni Basu of Duckbill. “We have long felt the need for books about kids with special needs. While we have previously published a couple - Simply Nanju by Zainab Sulaiman and Unbroken by Nandhika Nambi - we feel there still is a need for more of such books for children of all ages.”


“It’s not that our commitment to the subject ends with these four books. Since the contest happened, we have published a couple of other books as well, which deals with kids living with varied degrees of disability - including Ramendra Kumar’s Against All Odds and Shruthi Rao’s Susie Will Not Speak. And we hope that more people will be inspired to write more books.”


Harshikaa Udasi, author of Kittu’s Terrible Horrible No Good Very Mad Day, says: “A story about a special child had been brewing for a while, in my head inspired by this special child I know who lives life to the fullest. When the Children First contest was announced, I knew this would be my chance.”


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. I wanted to write some stories with people who stammer as protagonists, some with people who stammer as side characters. Some in which the stammering is an important part of the story, some in which it isn’t.”


According to Shikhandin, author of Vibhuti Cat, “I believe that we certainly need these stories - children and grown-ups alike. Stories about 'special-needs' or 'differently-abled' children and adults will help familiarise everyone with them, and see things from their point of view too. Immersed in such stories we get to wear their shoes and walk around. So when we emerge, we are enriched and sensitised, without being unctuous. Writing Vibhuti Cat strengthened the muscles in my heart. It's a good feeling.”


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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