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Making children’s books more gender-diverse

‘The Many Colours of Anshu’, by Anshuman Sathe and published by Gaysi Family, looks at a little boy’s yearning to explore a world of colourful possibilities

Detail from one of the pages from 'Many Colours of Anshu', 20 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>399
Detail from one of the pages from 'Many Colours of Anshu', 20 pages, 399

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For most of his childhood, young Anshu has been made to follow gender stereotypes. His world is awash only with various shades of blue—the colour that society unfortunately associates with a boy. His tiffin box, uniform and clothes are all a “boring blue”. Anshu goes through life doing the same thing every boy does, yet something in him yearns to break away from these gendered colours and ways of being. “Aai, I am really tired of all these boy things,” he complains to his mother one day. “There HAS To be more for me,” he adds.

The Many Colours Of Anshu by Anshuman Sathe, published by Gaysi Family, looks at a little boy’s yearning to explore a world of colourful possibilities. It’s a thoughtful book, which gives voice to the many questions children can have about gender. It also acts as a nudge to parents to allow children to embark on this journey of self-exploration, and not force-fit them into society-approved categories. The book prompts parents to overcome their inhibitions about identity and embrace open conversations on these with their children.

This is the second children’s book by Gaysi Family, a platform for queer, desi voices that has been working with different formats of storytelling, ranging from zines to theatre. Now, it hopes to make children’s literature more gender-diverse with a new set of books. Their first one, The Boy In The Cupboard by Harshala Gupte (2021), followed the journey of a young boy, Karan, who was trying to understand his place in the world. Colour was used as a metaphor in that too, as a slow breaking away from stereotypes. In the story, we saw Karan locking himself in a closet, away from schoolmates who sneered at his pink bat and laughed at his kitchen set. “So, I keep them all safe here, where nothing can break and nobody can say who I am is a mistake,” he told his mother.

Also read: The Ghost Of Malabar review: Not your average spooky story

The Many Colours Of Anshu, the second in the set, has been inspired by the author-illustrator’s own experiences of being a non-binary person. “I spent my whole life rebelling against the limited and limiting idea of boyhood.... I needed more ways of being a kid which went beyond just ‘boy’ or ‘girl’,” Anshuman states in the author’s note.

The book is meant both for children, aged seven-plus, and adults to collaborate on a safe space free from judgement.

Globally, there seems to be a rise of such age-appropriate books, some written by authors who have struggled with their own identity while growing up. A standout example is Julián Is A Mermaid, written and illustrated by Jessica Love, in which Julian tries to recreate a mermaid look for himself after seeing three women dressed as mermaids on the subway. The book is a heartwarming read about accepting oneself and finding support in unlikely quarters. Then there is Jacob’s New Dress, by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, which has a similar message as The Many Colours Of Anshu. The story revolves around little Jacob, who loves to dress up. “Despite his classmates saying he can’t wear ‘girl’ clothes, he still wants to wear a dress to school,” notes a 2021 article on Buzzfeed.

The Many Colours Of Anshu is particularly important in the Indian context. Such books don’t just aid a child’s understanding of themselves, but also of different kinds of family set-ups.It is heartening to see the growing awareness among publishers and families about the need to make children’s bookshelves more gender-diverse.

Also read: 4 new books to add to your bookshelves

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