The #WomenWritersFest hosted an interesting session discussing children's books and the works. The session highlighted a crucial boundary, raising the topic of female protagonists in children's books. But really, what's the way to introduce more strong female protagonists in children's books? How should we do it without overloading children with adult perspective?
Sunayana Roy moderated the session. The panel consisted of speakers who are wonderful authors, storytellers and also mentors to children in schools and colleges. Aparna Athreya, Aparna Raman, Shalini Srinivasan and Archit Taneja formed the panel.
How strongly do we support female protagonists?
Moderator Sunayana Roy started the session saying that we already have female protagonists and the question we should be asking is that how seriously do we take these women characters and how strongly do we support them?
The speakers shared their personal childhood memories of books, television shows and stories. One factor everyone agreed to was that it's the adult perspective that influences children when it comes to characters and stories; children, the innocent beings that they are, don't see it that way.
Who else should one be writing for?
On whether is there another set of audience that children's authors should be writing for, Aparna Athreya said that while writing, it's best kept in mind that one wants to connect with the existing audience and readers first. "We do want to connect with the audience. Rather than blurring boundaries of gender, we need to take it one step at a time. I write books that I want to read. It’s how I’m using it, how I’m rephrasing; that's what should be a priority," she explained.
Shalini described her love for school stories and how she was deeply influenced by the ones she read as a child. The speakers believed that it's the manner in which stories are being narrated, which influences children the most. The response is what matters at the end for authors to consider.
Aparna Raman shared her childhood memories and gave away her idea of initiating writing for a book. "I learn from my audience. It's basically free flowing and not very agenda-based," she added.
What are girls looking for?
The speakers gave away some very logical insights on how we should let children perceive things on their own. The discussion also reflected on the identity crisis that young girls are facing these days. "They are looking for an identity. It takes a long time for one to realise an identity has not been found. We need to handhold these young girls, just like we handhold a child, to enable them to understand how important an identity is."
The panel enlightened the audience with facts and methods to be considered when writing for children. Another important point made was that pushing stories to children will not solve the problem. In fact, making children aware about gender equality has to be done in subtle ways. The entire concept of a male-dominated society needs to be broken in the eyes of children in a more sensitive manner.
Who is a protagonist?
For Shalini, a strong character is not necessary a strong person. "It's basically a convincing person despite all odds who makes a strong character," she added. Archit defines a strong female protagonist as someone who is openly passionate with what she's doing.
Aparna Raman believes a strong female protagonist is someone who can make a difference irrespective of gender; someone who fearlessly makes her way up in level-playing field. This, Aparna believed, is something extremely admirable.
Consistency is one aspect that can help readers connect with the narrator on a great level. It is the trust factor, one can say, that helps in building comfort in reading and understanding. The connection should not be broken between the children reading and the narrator. It is then that the narrator can slide through important subjects through one's writing.
Archit explained that over-analysing concepts don't work when it comes to children's books. "In order to make children aware of equality, women-power and acceptance, there needs to be a way adapted that appeals the most to children," he elaborated.
"Preaching and pressuring don't work when it comes to influencing children. We need to let them perceive things their own way."
Also, what will make a great deal of difference is what Sunayana rightly concluded by saying "Young girls reading about young girls stepping up does wonders."