In India, thunderstorms are frequent and every time thunder struck during the monsoon season, my grandmother made us chant “Arjuna Arjuna” loudly. While as a Hindu we had an incantation for pretty much everything, as a rebellious teenager, I questioned it. I was given a scientific explanation for the chanting and that sowed the seeds of You’re Safe With Me – a bit of logic hidden inside lyrical explanations about thunderstorms.
Thunderstorms can be good or bad omens depending on which culture you belong to. While some believe they are signs of bad luck, others don’t. From natural elements like thunderstorms to reading a book full of adventures, we bring our own unique perspective to the experience. A flourishing and vibrant society should make sure it allows, accepts and keep all such diverse perspectives inclusive.
Diversity comes in myriad of dimensions – culture, language, religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation and much more. But when such diversity is not represented in stories and art we create, we unconsciously erase the validity of the other dimensions. It’s as if we look through a kaleidoscope and acknowledge only one colour.
When we don’t consciously create art that represents the different perspectives of our society, especially for young people, we’re in the danger of raising a future generation of citizens who do not tolerate differences. If all our lives, we were taught that all flowers were turquoise in colour and one day we find a yellow tulip by the riverside, we would tend to fear it even if it’s beautiful. And that to me is the danger of not creating a myriad of stories that celebrates our differences.
We will fear what we are not familiar with –just like the little animals in You’re Safe With Me fear the thunder, the lightning and the growling river until Mama Elephant reassures them.
We need stories and books that do one of the two things. Show children from all backgrounds doing everyday things – celebrating birthdays, having a tantrum, worrying about a new sibling, so that all children are in stories.
And then allow children from under-represented backgrounds be heroes. Let a girl wearing glasses using a wheelchair save the planet from destruction with the help of all her friends. This not only empowers the child in the wheelchair, but also demonstrates to other children that any one of us can be a hero.
If every story we create is inclusive in its own way, it will instil an unconscious empathy into our children to accept differences in regular life. If we create stories where unlikely heroes take charge, it creates a subconscious acceptance.
Today’s young readers are tomorrow’s twitter users and parliamentarians. Adding a little empathy into the daily diet of stories will create a generation of future leaders who would welcome refugees, avoid deportation targets and make us all feel welcome and safe in our own communities.
Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British author of children’s books. Her latest bedtime picture book You’re Safe With Me (illustrated by Poonam Mistry, published by Lantana Publishing) is also on the Empathy Lab booklist for 2018. Find out more at www.chitrasoundar.com and follow her on Twitter at @csoundar.
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