India Today - - INSIDE - —with Farah Yameen

PARO ANAND re­ceived the Sahitya Akademi Bal Sahitya Award for Wild Child and Other Sto­ries, now reti­tled

Like Smoke and pub­lished with ad­di­tional con­tent. She has writ­ten more than 20 chil­dren’s books and nov­els for young adults. But she has never toned down her sto­ries or shied away from sen­si­tive sub­jects—writ­ing frankly about ter­ror­ism, abuse and even rape. Here, she talks with in­dia

to­day about the joys and chal­lenges of writ­ing for an au­di­ence whose imag­i­na­tions have yet to be tamed.

What books from your own child­hood would you want to see on ev­ery child’s book­shelf?

I was not much of a reader as a child. Then I dis­cov­ered Born Free by Joy Adams, and fell in love with an­i­mals and writ­ing at the same time. I think it was find­ing a book that ‘fit’ me that made me a reader. I don’t think chil­dren should have a ‘must read’ list—each child finds their own list.

Crit­ics have said books like No Guns at My Son’s

Fu­neral aren’t ap­pro­pri­ate. Is there such a thing as lit­er­a­ture that is ‘child safe’?

Writ­ing about these sub­jects is like a fes­ter­ing boil com­ing to a head. Let the poi­son come to the sur­face. Par­ents have ev­ery right to make de­ci­sions for their kids, as do schools. But chil­dren should have the right to chal­lenge some of those de­ci­sions. My books do not tell kids any­thing they haven’t heard be­fore. They know about ter­ror­ism, they have heard about rape and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and they know that peo­ple even­tu­ally die. The is­sues are al­ready out there. My sto­ries try to help the reader grap­ple with these ideas, and hope­fully find a glimmer of light at the end of the tun­nel.

Are In­dian pub­lish­ers get­ting braver when it comes to chil­dren’s books?

Books like mine and like Payal Dhar’s Slightly Burnt are be­ing pub­lished. And many schools do have them on their read­ing lists. But some schools have now pulled these books af­ter ob­jec­tions. So what should we write about and what should chil­dren read? I don’t think there should be any taboos. The only re­stric­tion I put upon my­self is to al­ways end the story on a pos­i­tive note. The teen years are a dark time and I don’t want to leave my read­ers feel­ing hope­less.

“Kids know about ter­ror­ism, they have heard about rape and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence”

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