Heroes don’t always wear capes, goes the popular saying. And a new book goes on to prove exactly that—anything is possible if you follow your heart. When I Grow Up I Want to Be (Book 2) comes on the heels of the success of the first in the series, and is filled with more inspiring stories of real-life heroes. Published by Twinkle Khanna’s Tweak Books imprint with Juggernaut, and put together by its team of editors, the book is peppered with delightful illustrations by Aaryama Somayaji. The imagery—both visual and literary—strives to make stories, often layered and complex, accessible to children aged 8 and above.
In the 20 chapters, one meets Supraja Dharini, who has helped over 18,00,000 baby turtles return safely to the wild, Showkath Jamal, a surfer with a zeal to keep the environment clean, and young Saarang Sumesh, the creator of the smart seat belt, which can sense if a car is upside down and automatically unbuckles when it is safe for passengers to get out. Khanna introduces children to notions of freedom of expression through Perumal Murugan’s story and that motherhood goes beyond gender through the chapter on Gauri Sawant.
In her previous interviews, Khanna has talked about books being toolboxes, with hammers, chisels, and more, borrowed from divergent lives. Through When I Grow Up…, she wishes for children to look at the world as filled with possibilities rather than probabilities. “There are other paths instead of the doctor-lawyer route, which you hear all around. There is hope and happiness even when life seemingly short changes you. Our stories are about triumph over obstacles, which might be physical in nature or those erected by social perspectives,” writes Khanna in an email interview.
“What do you want to be when you grow up,” is a question most of us have faced as kids. However, the fluid, imaginative ideas of a child are often incongruent to what a society of adults desires. The team, through the book, offers kids with relatable heroes, who chose to forge unique paths for themselves. “These are people that children could look up to and say, ‘If she can do it, so can I’. These needed to be stories that would spark conversations within families about the environment, LGBTQ issues, women’s rights, resilience and determination,” she adds.
The Tweak team went through news reports, documentaries and scanned lists of recipients of prestigious awards. After several conversations, Khanna and the team narrowed the selection down to 20 individuals, who had consistently contributed to their fields. They attributed monikers to them, such as ‘Ballet Boy’, ‘Forest Man’, ‘Mama Kaur’ and ‘Smart Banker’ to imbue the subjects with the aura of superheroes, and to act as memory tools as well to help children recall a story instantly just by the title.
One of the most touching stories is about Bibi Prakash Kaur, who runs Unique Home for abandoned girls in Jalandhar, Punjab. Through the chapter, ‘Mama Kaur’, one realizes the possibilities of having different kinds of families, which are not necessarily biological in nature. “We clearly wanted the book to be inclusive in nature. Bibi Kaur’s story is one of my favourites as well. And I remember wanting Perumal Murugan to be included in our list after reading about his extraordinary journey. He started by reading from scraps of newspaper, which were used as wrappers for condiments and snacks, and is now one of India’s most beloved writers,” says Khanna. “We included children like Saarang Sumesh, who invented the smart seat belt so children would find a hero among their own peers.”
This is not just a book for children or young adults but for parents too. Often, we tend to make complex topics either too simplistic or avoid them altogether. When I Grow Up... offers an opportunity to parents to discuss inspiring heroes/heroines of today, and helps adults realize that there are different ways of thinking. “As children, we form preconceived notions of the world largely because of what adults help us. I hope this book helps in breaking that ongoing cycle,” says Khanna.
And she hopes that while reading these stories aloud to children, or while answering a multitude of their questions, adults will be transformed as well. “I know that many aspects of how I thought about gender or colourism, or my own blind spots, have been re-examined by the questions raised by my children, and often through the books they were reading,” she elaborates. “I used to read The Little Prince aloud to my children. This was presented as a children’s book, but it was meant for grown-ups. It was a simple story that my children could follow about a prince from another planet, stranded in the desert, and as far as I was concerned, an allegory about life, loneliness and love. I am hoping When I Grow Up… also works on multiple narrative levels.”