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This new Indian children’s book tells us why no is a good word

Narrated with flair and rhyme, 'No is a Good Word’ offers our kids a unique perspective—to be kind, but never ignore your own feelings.

Representative image(Anna Pou on Pexels)

By Shweta Sharan

LAST PUBLISHED 26.09.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

When my daughter was a toddler, I often bought her board and picture books about sharing and making friends. Real life, on the other hand, was more interesting and complicated. While kindness and sharing are important, shouldn’t we also navigate their own beliefs instead of always conforming to the wishes of others?

As a preschooler, my daughter had conflicting feelings about sharing. She believed in the concept, but for her, it depended on the situation, the person, and on her own belief system. Today she is a kind and polite teenager who always asks “do you want some?" before biting into her pizza.

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Bharti Singh’s new picture book, No is a Good Word, encourages kids to stand up for themselves, make their own decisions, and not ignore their feelings. The book is illustrated by Urvashi Dubey and is published by Daffodil Lane, an independent children’s publisher based in Mumbai.

The picture book narrates the story of little Sia, who goes on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. Sia is upset when her friend Zoe says she does not want to share her paint box with her. “I’m sorry if you felt bad," Zoe says in the book. “They’re new and I don’t want them to break. But here are my colour pencils for you to take."

This gets Sia to think more about the word ‘no.’ Zoe speaks her mind but does this make her unkind? On her part, Sia finds it hard to say no to anyone. She then wonders why. One reason is because she doesn’t want to upset someone, so she chooses to “go along and try to have fun." But then, ignoring her feelings doesn’t feel too good. Sia realises she must be kind to herself too just like she is kind to others. The book then takes us through some meaningful scenarios and how kids can say ‘no’ with confidence and empathy. I love that in one scene in the book, Sia’s parents help her in correcting her tone when she says ‘no.’ This lays boundaries but also shows respect.

“When I tried teaching my daughter values like sharing, kindness and empathy, I would often find myself in a dilemma—having to choose between telling her to be kind to others while ignoring her own feelings," says the book’s author, Bharti Singh. “I noticed when I respected her feelings, she in turn respect mine and most often do the right thing." Sanya Podar, founder of Daffodil Lane Books, immediately connected with Singh’s vision. “It struck me how, at our core, we’re all people-pleasers, and as we grow older, especially as women, we often say yes to things we’d rather decline or struggle to assert ourselves. It’s a pattern we tend to learn from a young age."

The cover of 'No is a Good Word'.

Perfect for the 3-6 age group, the book combines catchy rhymes with a deeply resonant theme. It even has a humorous little twist at the end. I particularly love how the author tells us how ‘no’ is not a final word. After all, it could be a yes tomorrow!

Singh writes about Sia’s story and her feelings in an age-appropriate manner, with an engaging style and persuasive storytelling. Toddlers and preschoolers will immediately get the story because at its heart, it is presented with simplicity and grace.

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The illustrations by Urvashi Dubey are delightful and filled with details that entice children. They tell small stories of their own. In one set of illustrations in the book, we see Sia agree to a ‘rain dance’ because she wants to please her friends but we see later that she doesn’t really enjoy it much. Dubey uses illustrations to build these simple stories into bigger narratives, with Sia looking at the pictures of Rani Laxmibai and Dr. Ambedkar in an art gallery, and in another picture, saying ‘no’ to a bulldozer that is about to raze a forest.

The book is also a great way for kids to learn to take a ‘no.’ from someone. “I feel people who can’t hear the word ‘no’ are the ones who haven’t been exposed to conflicts or tricky situations from a young age," says Singh. “As parents, it is our duty to let our children face disappointment because life will throw many our way. A friend not sharing their pencil box, for example, is a small disappointment in the scheme of things, but for a child, it’s an important lesson to learn—that we don’t always get what we want." 

Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.

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