Today, more than ever before there is a need for the right kind of sex education for children. With all kinds of information available at the click of a mouse, parents need to ensure that kids have access to correct, age-appropriate facts.
Every parent wants to educate their child about sex but they often fail because they do not know how to present facts in an age appropriate manner. When it comes to sex education for children, parents (understandably!) get goose bumps and may need help on broaching the topic. How I Got My Belly Button by Anju Kish fills this lacuna and is a great tool in the hands of parents! It not only gives the right information in the right manner but also increases bonding and trust between parents and children…a very pleasant side-effect of open communication!
Bookedforlife chats with writer Anju Kish, who wrote this book out of the personal need to educate her own children in the right manner. She also runs an organization called Untaboo which does commendable work on sex education for children. Excerpts…
I am interested in knowing how exactly you planned the flow of the story. It very cleverly incorporates concepts, hygiene tips and values all neatly packed in story format!
I was clear from the beginning that my sex education book for children will cover all facts but will also be lighthearted and fun to read. I started writing the book with just that one thought in mind. I opted for a fictional non-fiction format – all the information is presented through an adventure this family goes on which ensures that kids get hooked. Who says that you can’t have fun while learning serious stuff? So, my book follows that format of fun and lightheartedness.
The characters of my book -basically the parents and twins Neal & Kiara reflected me and my kids, the kind of relationship my husband and I share with our kids, the little everyday pranks, fun, conversations and warmth. So, the characters were not too difficult to create. There were however certain additional titbits of information I wanted the kids to know, but it wasn’t fitting in the narrative. From that predicament, the Cat character was born! The cat “Pepper’ is a total smart alec and says the wittiest of things or offers great titbits of information.
Sometimes, a chapter would have a lot of information and I felt, the kids may not be able to retain all that information. I was looking at a way to summarize each chapter for them. So, I hit upon the idea of having the young boy’s character write a diary every day. Hence, Neal keeps a diary of what he learnt and this diary entry of his at the end of each chapter acts as a refresher for the young readers.
I think, besides being a sex educator and having dealt with thousands of children, being a parent helped me write this book better, because I could cover all the topics I as a parent want my kids to know. And an Indian parent never loses an opportunity to slip in their value system into any conversation with their kids! So, automatically, this book has all of that! However, if all this is delivered in boring lecture format, kids will disconnect. I had to devise clever ways to incorporate them within the story.
What is the right age at which you would recommend parents read your book to children. It is never too early to start talking about our bodies, but at the same time there are some concepts best appreciated at the right age. So, what is the right age in today’s times of information overload?
The book is for ages 9-14. The language used is easy and very child friendly. I have always felt strongly about the fact if the child has asked a question, then you should answer that question, even if you feel the child is too young. What should change is just the language you use to give that answer. The book follows that format of simplicity of language which is required at this age to explain certain complicated concepts at time.
In these times of information overload, the kid’s curiosity is at its peak. Some kids will vent that curiosity through questions, but some might not openly voice it. But that curiosity might lead them online to get answers and that can prove disastrous. It is better that the kids get the information from a reliable and age appropriate source. The way the information is presented in the book, the initial few chapters can also be read to 7-8 year olds. However, if the parents feel that they want to wait a little bit before tackling the other topics with the kids, they can do so.
How do you suggest parents use this book? Read it at one go? Or, take time and go over it bit by bit across few weeks? Or let the child read independently and revert with questions?
The beauty of this book is that it can be read in one go or bit by bit across few days. While the latter may be more practical in terms of absorbing all the concepts discussed in the book, it may not be possible because the story is very engaging. For very young kids, you could probably read the initial few chapters and then wait for the next level of questions to prop up from them, before tackling those via the book.
The parent can read the book out to the child or a child can even pick it up himself and read independently as it is written in a very lucid language. The answers to most of the follow-up questions are in the story itself so I recommend that parents also read through to enable them to answer those questions.
It is also a book which parents of very young kids can read and equip themselves to answer their kids queries.
I think the illustrations substantially enhance the understanding of the concepts explained in the book. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Most kids these days are visual learners which is why they prefer to read comics or watch videos. Hence, I was insistent that my book have illustrations the kids can connect with. I spent months identifying the right illustration style, creating the characters and then writing the brief of each picture and finding reference images for each illustration. There are more than 150 illustrations in the book and my illustrator Aneesh Date was super patient and did a fantastic job.
Are you planning any follow up books? While this book beautifully addresses sex education, I feel your approach will work very well for other key issues such as sexual abuse, STD’s, pornography, and so on, more specifically for teenagers and young adults. Are you thinking of anything on those lines?
I have concept notes written for five more books! Two are for pre-teens, one for teenagers, one for parents and one for young adults. I am excited and impatient to work on all together, but will have to pace them out. And yes, the book for teenagers will tackle pornography, masturbation, STD’s, sexual abuse, consent et al.
Your organisation, Untaboo, holds many awareness workshops for parents and children. Through your extensive experience with the same, what would you like to alert our readers to, about the current scenario of awareness/ experimentation amongst teenagers and children? Any other observation you want to make?
Kids today are very aware of things these days owing to the kind of media exposure they have to adult content. However, this awareness does not mean that they have accurate information. The statistics are quite scary – the average age at which a child in India watches porn is 11 and the average age at which a child in metros first sexually experiments is 14!
I’d like to appeal to the parents that if your kid asks you a question and you defer it, he or she will turn to the internet to satisfy his curiosity. The internet will not filter the information according to the level of your kid and will give your kids information which could be way beyond his years, along with unfiltered videos to watch. This can potentially scar your child for life.
To avoid this distress, make sure to give your child age appropriate sex education. It is no more enough to have just one chapter on reproduction in biology or have a period talk with the girls. Research worldwide has shown that a kid who is distracted by questions about his/her body and sex-sexuality is likely to underperform in school, experiment early on and watch more porn to satiate the curiosity. Sex education is a fantastic tool at parents’ disposal to combat this & they must act now.
And, please don’t say that the kids today are a net savvy generation and will learn on their own or they know it all! I have seen firsthand the kind of wrong information they have and the source of that information. Please have conversations and give them accurate sex education, even if you feel they are resisting having those conversations.
Is it important for parents to be equipped with teaching children about sex education even if they can rely on or organize inputs for the same vis a vis schools, teachers and professionals?
Most of us grew up with no formal sex education, so it’s absolutely okay to have inhibitions about broaching this topic with kids. A lot of parents today realize the importance of sex education and want to talk to their children, but don’t know when to begin, what to say and how much to say. So, it’s absolutely ok to reach out to experts or depend on the schools to take on the onus of this education. However, as parents, one should keep the doors of communication open and have discussions on these topics at home, so that the children know that they can turn to you and no topic is taboo at home.
How I Got My Belly Button by Anju Kish
Published by Om Books International
Age group: 9 years onwards
How much do grandparents influence their grandchildren? A lot, as we all know. Xerses adores his grandfather. His mother Sonji wants Xerses to be like JRD Tata. But, for the young child, no one could be more ideal than his grandpa, his beloved Mamavaji. His interactions with his grandfather are filled with pure unadulterated fun. The relationship between the boy and his grandfather has been very beautifully evoked in Flying with Grandpa.
However, Sonji, like most parents is always looking at disciplining Xerses and ensuring that he makes the best use of his time instead of fooling around with Grandpa. Thus, follow a turn of events where each family member grapples with their own unique realities. How does the bond between the grandfather and his grandson play out? Is Sonji ultimately able to balance between her expectations of her son with his natural inclination to do completely the opposite of what she wants? How does Sonji’s husband, Noshir, balance it all?
The book conjures wonderful and familiar images of a Parsi household. However, the theme of the story is universal. The setting of the story could well have been any household in any part of the world. The human emotions it induces are indeed common to all. The interactions between the various relationships depicted in the book- mother-son, father-son, mother-father and grandparent-grandchild, are quite authentic and relatable. The influence of grandparents on children; how this may sometimes come in the way of what parents want….and how to balance it all- these form an integral part of Flying with Grandpa! This family story will touch your heart and also entertain at the same time.
Title: Flying with Grandpa
Author: Madhuri Kamat
Illustrator: Niloufer Wadia
Publisher: Duckbill books
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Age group: 8 onwards
Amra and the Witch is a story about the adventures of a boy called Amra and his friend Veerma. This book takes young readers into the lush fields of North India in a beautiful village environ. The simple day-to-day lifestyle of the people, their language and their mannerisms are evoked quite beautifully in the story. Besides the story itself, I found these elements quite fascinating. They would present an authentic setting to the urban child who would most likely be the reader of this book.
The villagers believed that whoever needed an answer badly went to Jeevti Dakkan, a witch who lived in a haunted hut. The kids were so scared of her that when they went to school they would take a route two kilometers longer because they did not want to go near that hut. Amra had a question that was unanswered, and a serious one at that! Veerma told him to go to the witch. Do they meet the witch? Do they manage to solve their problem without getting into another one?
Amra and the Witch is a story for young readers, about the age of 7 to 9. The language that is used in the book is very simple and easy to understand. It has got plenty of humorous bits that keep on popping up and that keep readers chuckling all the way till the end.
It is a very catchy story as the suspense is held till the end of the book. The climax is revealed in a very simple way. The illustrations enhance the experience of reading the book. They are simple, but say a lot.
Other hOle Books
Title: Amra and the Witch
Author: Arefa Tehsin
Illustrations: Chetan Sharma
Age group: Younger Readers
The Great Moto-Matic House by Brijesh Luthra is the first in a series that covers the adventures of Ziptux- a science nerd and inventor in his own right, and his robot Dibbly. In order to make a special invention they go to the best DIY store in the universe, that is located on another planet. But, there is someone who follows them all the way across the galaxy. And that someone makes a really stupid mistake, that could destroy the universe. Now, it is all up to Ziptux and Dibbly to save the day…or rather, the universe! The book is a light read peppered with fantastic ideas and loads of humour!
A very good observation indeed. When the concept about the Great Fattening popped into my head, my first take was the humour angle where I imagined everyone in the universe lying on their sofas with their mouths wide open and robotic hands popping mounds of burgers, heaps of ice-cream and gallons of sugary drinks into their mouth while they watched endless re-runs of hit TV series. But the moment I converted that vision into words, it was clear to me that there was something more to that picture – a danger that humanity faces in the age of convenience today that we perhaps don’t know how to handle properly. As relevant that thought was, I needed to make sure this angle does not become overbearing. So, I tried to keep looking at it from a 10 year old’s eyes – which part of that picture would they laugh at, what would they do to avoid this scenario and so on. And the beauty of their point of view is that they don’t overanalyze or complicate things, they can take things at face value (at the risk of sounding simplistic) and deal with it in a straightforward, yet intelligent way. This exercise kept me honest. I must add that having read and re-read works by Douglas Adams, Spike Milligan, Tom Holt, Enid Blyton, Italo Calvino, and Roald Dahl, who have a wonderful tangential view of things around us helped immensely.
The spark for this book was a dreaded parental duty from many years ago – giving my young son a shower. Both of us hated that activity so much that we spent more time discussing ideas for an automatic shower machine than him getting cleaned up. I have always been a great fan of Rube Goldberg and his inventions, so it was clear that the shower machine cannot be something that one can buy in a store. However advanced that contraption might be, it would have been too simple for this book. And then there are two important aspects – First is my office, which is littered with hundreds of Sci-Fi novels, books about Science, space, the universe & humour. And the second, perhaps the more important one is the overwhelming feeling that I have had since my childhood that Earth is an incredibly boring place to live on. So, it was clear that story had to be set in a place far far away for our irrelevant galaxy that no intelligent species in the universe wants to visit. And the fact that the first draft of the book was finished just after our annual skiing trip in which we had just finished the entire Star Wars movie collection, was the icing on the cake.
Indeed, there are many planned. Their further adventures, each of which will be independent episodes described in separate books, will be quirky pursuits instigated by day-to-day errands, simple questions, desires or requests for help from friends and authorities, human as well as alien. So, you can expect a whole lot of interstellar travel, zany situations that no human has ever faced before, leaps of imagination, many of which will have a base in real science of today and things that will come tomorrow. Simply put, the series is about a curious, inventive and enterprising boy and his desire to explore the whys and the wherefores of the universe accompanied by a quirky but immensely knowledgeable friend who all children would love to have by their side. And yes, there is a prequel which will reveal how they met – a question that I have alluded to many times in this book. The decision to have a prequel was an interesting process in itself as the prequel was written before this book. What was that reason? Perhaps that’s left for another interview.
There are quite a few perceptions about AI today – a potential threat to humans as a life form, something that will ease our lives or something that will render us as slaves to the machine, or a vehicle that will alleviate the human consciousness beyond the mundane – just to name a few. The answer, as it often transpires, lies somewhere in the middle. In my version of the world, AI is nothing else but another intelligent species which has become a part of the fabric of human society. And like in any co-existence, there are aspects of vice and virtue, which will emerge in the future books. I have deliberately chosen not to analyze or dissect it further because I believe in the theory that as characters develop, they create stories and situations that an author could not have imagined when he or she started writing the book.
To get initial feedback, I did a lot of what I like to call blind testing. I would give a few pages to kids in my circle without telling them who has written it. There were two common themes that resonated positively – the first was this combination of a robot that has an ability to get into trouble and the boy who gets his friend out of trouble. And second, was the core of the story about machines doing the tasks that kids hate, which not surprisingly is a fantasy of every child. From an improvement perspective, many of them pointed out that the beginning was a bit too contrived as I was rushing through the first few pages to get the parts of the story that I wanted to tell. Fixing that took nearly a year for me! But the important lesson I learnt was that you often have to kill your darlings.
The ideas about machines that are referred in the book originally came from ideation sessions I had with kids. It’s only natural that I should carry on that theme and make it more concrete in the form of a contest. But more importantly, I want the readers to feel that they are helping to build the world of Ziptux and Dibbly, rather than just passive consumers of the stories. I routinely run creative writing workshops for kids and this sense of co-creation really excites them, which I hope to harness as a collective force.
Title: The Great Moto-Matic House
Author: Brijesh Luthra
Publisher: The Write Place
Age group: 10+
As one of the most renowned authors in the mythology genre, Anand Neelakanthan needs no introduction. With bestselling titles such as Asura, The Rise of Sivagami, Ajaya 1: Roll of the Dice and Ajaya 2: Rise of Kali, Vanara is Neelakanthan’s latest offering.
A refreshing change from the traditional heroes of Indian mythology, Vanara focuses on those who were vanquished and weaves a story around untouchables. Bali and Sugreeva are orphans who are brought up in Rishi Gautama’s ashram. They belong to the Varana class and hence they are considered untouchable and not allowed to mingle with the others in the ashram. Circumstances force them to leave the ashram and meet Tara, the beautiful daughter of Vanara Vaidya, Sushena. The love story between these three characters forms the crux of the book. Packed with family drama, love, lust and friendship, Neelakanthan explores the various facets of romance through the eyes of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara.
Vanara might come across as one dimensional at first, but like a good cup of tea, the layers unfurl as you go along. As the book progresses, the characters really come into their own and display multifaceted personalities. The story is extremely gripping and will keep the reader on edge till the very last page. Written in an easy to read format, Neelakanthan has done away with any magical or mystical elements. All characters are portrayed as normal human beings devoid of any magical powers thus making them relatable.
Although this gripping tale is set in ancient times, the author is successful in drawing parallels to modern times. As a result, Vanara is an interesting read. However, since the story is not from the perspective of popular idols such as Lord Ram, Sita or Indra, some parts might be considered offensive to certain groups of people.
Vanara is a great read for those who are looking to explore Indian mythology. It gives a refreshingly new perspective to ancient tales and helps readers understand our rich Indian heritage.
BOOKS BY ANAND NEELAKANTHAN
Author: Anand Neelakanthan
Publisher: Penguin Books
Peanut’s dilemma is well understood. But then, there is something that can rekindle the love that has diminished! This hilarious story has two parallel themes. At one level, it is about how to hold on to activities one is interested in (in this case the piano) despite the passing of time. At another, it is an exciting adventure involving a brave young girl!
Shreya Sen’s illustrations add to the humorous text penned by Yashodhara Lal. The book is funny and hilarious with a host of lovable characters- the twins, Papad and Pickle, who are the most delightful set of siblings, Moonish Sir, the Piano teacher who insists on playing with ‘feeling’, the grumpy neighbour Mrs. Jain, Peanut’s mother- the modern working mum who juggles the different aspects of her life and has her head firmly on her shoulders, and many more interesting characters.
Through the entire adventure, does Peanut experience a new feeling towards the black and white monster? It’s for the reader to find out!
A WHOLE LOT OF hOle BOOKS!
Title: Peanut vs the Piano
Author: Yashodhara Lal
Illustrator: Shreya Sen
Age group: Younger readers
Queen of Ice by Devika Rangachari is a poignant book which leads the readers through the life of Didda, a North Indian princess in the early medieval period of Indian history. Most of the story is set in the lush foliage of the Kashmir valley whose incumbent ruler, Kshemagupta, Didda marries. The story describes the journey of a lame princess who rises to be a powerful queen, conquering many hurdles on the way. The book is also going to be turned into a film, the film rights having been acquired by Adlabs Films Limited.
The book begins with Didda’s childhood and gives great insight into her loving relationship with her mother, rejection by her father and a doting maternal grandfather who is a powerful ruler himself. Her cousin Vighara who is spiteful and mean often ridicules Didda. The characters of her father and cousin hint at the low tolerance and importance of a female during that time specially one who has a disability. Through all this too, Didda maintains her arrogance and self-centeredness and banks on the astrologer’s prediction that she is destined for ‘greatness’! For Didda, the introduction of her two companions, Narvahana and Valga comes as a breath of fresh air in the otherwise heavy atmosphere. Another moment to rejoice is the birth of her brother Udayaraja who seems like the only person whom Didda loves unconditionally.
Once she is married, though she is prepared for the worst, her husband is dazzled by her beauty and comes to love her. The political conditions in Kashmira are rife with betrayals and power games. How Didda, after making mistakes, becomes adept at these and excels with the help of her loyal Narvahana and Valga make for an interesting read. But as they say, ” Great power corrupts” and this is true of Didda too who is said to have been the cause for her husband’s, son’s and grandsons’ deaths. She wins over traitors or enemies with money and endears herself to the people of Kashmira by charitable works and visiting them often to understand their problems.
A wonderful thing about this book is that it takes one through a gamut of emotions for Didda from start to finish. You alternately feel pity, pride, love and hate for Didda in various portions of the book. A gut-wrenching scene is when Narvahana kills himself when he feels has lost Didda’s trust. One feels for Didda but despises her at the same time for doubting his loyalty.
The only change I would like in this book is less repetition in the end on how Didda deals with her enemies and better clarity on her work and interaction with the common people to justify her “greatness”. Having said that, what impresses about this book is Didda’s character. She rises above the two greatest weaknesses – being a female and a cripple. She is neither victimized nor hiding behind her disability. She takes charge of her life and turns it around. She is flawed but neither proud of the flaws nor does she try to find excuses for them. Her story helps us draw a parallel with the Indian woman of today who would go places keeping Didda’s determination in mind. And hopefully, she will do so without having to murder anyone!
Title: Queen of Ice
Author: Devika Rangachari
Age group: Young Adults
One of the best memories of life belong to school days. The school campus, classrooms, friends, teachers, fun and studies form an unforgettable part of our childhood and help shape us into adulthood. Those carefree days never fail to bring a smile on one’s face as they remind us of a simpler and happier time.
The Hill School Girls is a popular boarding-school series for young adults. The book follows four school girls navigating the ups and downs of school life while dealing with families, personal problems and friendship. Trouble, the fourth in the series and follows the lives of Elizabeth, Mahrukh, Maitreyi and Ayesha.
Mahrukh is the central character of Trouble and outlines the issues faced by her family, a middle class, cash strapped household. Mahrukh has to think of creative ways to save their shop from being taken over. The predicament is common, but Mahrukh’s quick thinking and resourcefulness is quite commendable. Her sensitivity and adjusting nature is what makes her a likeable and well-rounded character. The school also appoints a former Olympics player as a basketball coach who Mahrukh wants to impress. As the story unfolds, we are given a glimpse into the personality and mindset of each of the characters. Her friendship with Elizabeth, Maitreyi and Ayesha is solid and it’s nice to see the strong female bond between the four girls.
The language used in the book is simple and easy to follow for readers of all ages. Set in contemporary India, the themes and issues highlighted in this book are relatable and will take you down memory lane. Certain scenes and dialogues bring back the innocence of school days and fill your heart with warmth and nostalgia. Mahrukh’s determination to help out her family and her loving bond with them is heartwarming.
The Hill School Girls is a good read for young adults and adults alike as it tells the story of simple girls with ordinary problems, but the extraordinary resilience and strength which they display while solving them is noteworthy.
THE HILL SCHOOL GIRLS- WHOLE SERIES
Author: A Coven
Age Group: 10 years+
There was a time when conventional adventure and mystery books for children were all in rage. Inspired by The Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew Series the Mystery Crackers Series by Jinal Doshi brings forth a group of clever problem-solvers who happen to be children.
So far, she has written two novels in the series: The Mystery Crackers: A Chest’s Tale and The Mystery Crackers: Tattooed Music and is currently working on The Mystery Crackers: The Ritzy Maartle.
The Mystery Crackers: A Chest’s Tale follows twins Prash and Nish as they try to find their Dad whose gone missing. The answer may just lie in an antique chest, which incidentally is also missing! In the second book, The Mystery Crackers: Tattooed Music, an innocent look at the dazzling replica of Daulihaam (A Blue Diamond Gold Choker) and a precious bloodstained pure silk handkerchief lure fraternal twins – Prash and Nish in to a fascinating mystery of old ships, tattooed music and a thirst to excavate the real Daulihaam’s mesmerizing history. Both brothers plunge deeply in to it to place the identity of a deadly pirate. Unaware about the dangers that lie ahead, the teen detectives get into a stunning adventure connected with a royal couple and a precious stone.
While the first novel is available as a paperback and on Kindle, the second novel is a Kindle Version. “I wished to touch the hearts of global readers. Thus, I chose the Amazon Kindle option,’ says Jinal. “I think e-readers have surely changed the way today’s generation reads. However, there are still readers who choose to hold a physical book in their hands and take in the special fragrance of the pages. So, physical books are here to stay for a long time,” she adds.
The Prophecy of Rasphora is a story of three girls- Vandana, Afreen and Tara. The protagonists of this magical adventure story are not the typical affluent or upper middle class characters that one often encounters in books of this genre. The girls run a tea stall on the hills and they live a hand-to-mouth existence. They are alone in the world, with no one but each other. However, poverty in childhood does not really have to rob it of its magic right? The girls often escape into a self-created magical world of dreams. Little do they know that their lives are also in for a magical transformation.
It all starts with the sight of a mysterious man who does not look quite as if he belongs to ‘normal’ society. One of the girls spots him, and makes it her mission to find him out. What starts off as a curious search for this man, leads the girls to one of the most beautiful places on earth-Rasphora. This place is where the magical adventure story is set. But once they enter this land they have a tough call to take. According to an ancient prophecy, they could stay and save the land that may be doomed or leave and let it wither.
The story follows the decision that the girls make and the repercussions thereof. The land of Rasphora is mesmerizing, and is sure to tickle the imaginations of the young readers. The story has been written in a simple and lucid manner. There are enough surprises for the child to keep turning the pages or find out what happens next. The book is apt for children around and above ten years of age.
BOOKS BY Varsha Seshan
Title: The Prophecy of Rasphora
Author: Varsha Seshan
Illustrated by Lavanya Karthik
Genre: Fiction, Children
Age group: 10 onwards