An interesting thread binds two new books—both delve into the past, drawing on memories and nostalgia to create inspiring narratives. One, The Gutsy Girls Of Science (HarperCollins Children’s Books, ₹499) has been written by a class XI student who finds role models in women scientists. The other, When Mommy Was A Little Girl (Ponytale Books, ₹299) is an anthology by writers for children who pick memorable events from their childhoods that served as markers in their journey towards womanhood.
The Gutsy Girls Of Science, written and illustrated by Ilina Singh, has 11 profiles, including those of cytogeneticist Archana Sharma, botanist Janaki Ammal and chemist Asima Chatterjee. Singh keeps it breezy but doesn’t dumb down the writing, focusing on the events that helped shape the scientific temperament of the women. For instance, she writes that Janaki Ammal’s father kept a garden and wrote books on birds of the north Malabar region. No wonder then that Ammal developed an interest in natural sciences, specially horticulture, and went on to create a hybrid variety of sugarcane in her lab that had higher sweetness and could do well in Indian climatic conditions.
There is no moral science lesson in the stories. But each profile serves to inspire. Anthropologist Iravati Karve, for instance, was one of the first women two-wheeler drivers of Pune, in 1952—proof, if any were needed, that being the first, or only one to do something makes you unique, not strange.
The same idea powers When Mommy Was A Little Girl. The mother figure is seen as almost infallible. In these stories, however, we see mothers look back at moments that made them feel fragile, when they failed, yet learnt something. This is an anthology of lived experiences—big and small—of young girls, be it in the lush plains of Assam or tiny villages in Uttarakhand and Karnataka. Writers like Richa Jha, Mitra Phukan, Cheryl Rao, Nandini Nayar and Debjani Mukherjee have contributed 15 stories to the selection, edited by Pranav Kumar Singh and illustrated by Abhilasha Khatri.
There is a lovely story by Rati Girish of feeling stuck in the middle, between an elder sibling who called her silly names and the younger one who was perfect. During some parts of her childhood, she felt invisible, and how learning colours changed that. There is another heartwarming one by Mitra Phukan about admitting to one’s mistakes and the power of forgiveness. The book is all about taking pride in oneself and about acceptance.