Children’s literature for social change


In the first grade class of Shree Mahalaxmi Secondary School, a public school in Nakhipot, many children’s illustration books are stacked on a shelf. What makes these books unique from other children’s books commonly available in Nepal is that they delve into stories about the diverse social realities of the country, not fantasy stories. The characters in these books and storylines are completely different.

Across Kathmandu, Priya Joshi, an entrepreneur, lets her four-year-old daughter, Kaabya, browse internationally and locally published children’s illustration books. The characters and plots of the books are worlds apart from the fairy tales Joshi’s generation grew up reading.

“There is a saying, you become what you see. From books, TV shows, photos to illustrations, I try to make sure the content my child consumes is diverse, inclusive and relevant,” says Joshi.

In recent years, parents and schools have increasingly resorted to children’s books dealing with social issues to inculcate a reading habit in children and sensitize them to various social realities.

Room to Read Nepal is one of the first organizations in the country to publish children’s picture books dealing with various social issues.

In Nepal, where reading books that are irrelevant to one’s studies is still considered a waste of time, Room to Read Nepal aims to motivate children to develop a reading habit with its illustration books for children.

“Our school curriculum is entirely theory-based, which limits our children’s exposure. We try to fill the void with children’s literature that gives a holistic understanding of life and the world they live in,” says Ananta Wagle, Book Publishing Manager at Room to Read Nepal.

In the same quest to make children understand themselves and the society they are part of, Srijanalaya, a non-profit organization, recently published six illustrative children’s books focusing on experiences of caste-based differences in indigenous communities.

Another organization that has recently branched out into children’s literature is the British Council Nepal. About a year ago, the British Council Nepal, in collaboration with Room to Read Nepal, UNICEF Nepal and Virangana Comics, published children’s picture books that explored important topics like mental health and gender roles.

By educating and informing children about social issues, children’s literature today acts as a catalyst for social change.

In her book “Utsukta”, which is one of six picture books for children published by Srijanalaya, writer Sarita Pariyar delves into the intergenerational lived experiences of a Dalit family through the help of the book’s main character.

“We have always treated caste discrimination as an adult issue, but the experiences of Dalit children are very different from those of non-Dalit children. Regardless of their age, Dalit children experience caste-based discrimination, so why not let the children become aware of the issues they are going through,” says Pariyar.

These modern children’s books are not just different when it comes to stories or plots. Even the illustrations used in these children’s books are diverse and inclusive. The characters in these books have varying skin tones and facial features and are dressed in various outfits representing different communities.

“When young children read and watch such books where they and their problems are depicted, they may refer to the book and try to adopt the actions of the characters from the books when solving similar problems,” says illustrator Neeti Shrestha. for “Exemplary Sita”. , one of the books published on the initiative of the British Council Nepal.

Also in her personal comic works, Shrestha, through her own lived experiences, addresses emotions such as anxiety and alienation. Her goal, she says, is to provide children with the tools to deal with such feelings.

A challenge faced by the writers and illustrators of these children’s books is to simplify these complex subjects and make them understandable for children. Some organizations like the British Council Nepal have approached children to write stories for their children’s book projects.

With the “In Our Own Words” series, an initiative of the British Council Nepal, the children’s stories are all written by children for children. “As the stories in the series all came from the experiences of 12 and 14 year olds, it became easier for children to relate to the stories,” says Nischal Oli, head of arts at the British Council. Nepal. “By using illustrations and visuals, it becomes easier for children to understand stories and the issues those stories deal with.”

As a children’s book author, Pariyar says the biggest challenge she faces is simplifying complex social issues and making them enjoyable enough for children to want to read.

“As adults, we already have our own biases, good and bad, when it comes to many of these social issues. And as an illustrator and storyteller, it was quite difficult for me not to let my own biases and stereotypes reflect on my children’s book,” says Shrestha.

Having created such literature, making the books accessible and available to children is equally important to fostering the change that organizations are advocating.

Many of these organizations have made these books available, both in Nepali and English, in public schools in Nepal.

The British Council Nepal also distributed 30,000 copies to public schools and also made digital copies of the books available for free download.

While children in many remote parts of the country may still not have access to books that tell diverse and relevant stories, the same is not true for children in cities. And parents like Joshi think their children are lucky to have access to such books.

“Not only are these children’s illustration books fun to read and browse, but they also have the power to instill social awareness in children and make them aware of the dynamics of our society,” Joshi believes. “For example, the rigid gender structure is something that has been imposed on us by our patriarchal society. But by educating children about these social constructs through children’s books, we can create a safe, tolerant and progressive world. for the next generation “or the next generation”.


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