LE MANS: THE AGONY & THE ECSTASY
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”