Book Review: Katha's Feminist Picture Book Series for Boys and Girls

posted by Shweta Sharan, May 12, 2018

Katha has published two feminist picture books that bring rural India and women's rights into focus.

Lachmi's War by Geeta Dharmarajan, Art by Shashi Shetty

Authored by Geeta Dharmarajan, Lachmi's War is one of the feminist picture books published by Katha. The picture book narrates the story of an evil asura named Tobakachi, who wants to rule the world. His plan is simple. Make sure that girls are not educated. If not, they may take over the world.

Tobakachi then shape shifts into a woman, an old woman and a politician, and continuously poisons the minds of the villagers, telling them that girls should only cook and keep house, and that they should get married young.

Lachmi, though, has other plans. She sets up a Bal Sena and empowers the women of the village to go to school. She will do anything possible to resist Tobakachi's spell.

The book is an interesting way of introducing feminism to children. My daughter read it purely as a story, but she did pick up subtle hints. She asked me why Tobakachi disguised himself as a politician. After all, politics is a powerful platform in rural and semi-rural India, and the rhetoric never seems to change when it comes to the development of women.

The story continues with Tobakachi using every trick in the book to clamp down the women but they resist. The book is quick-paced and the questions towards the end are interesting.

One Magical Morning by Geeta Dharmarajan and Illustrated by Atanu Roy

One Magical Morning brought out peals of laughter from my daughter. This is the story of Jishnu, the Sarpanch of Vikaspur who wants the Sun God to grant him a boy instead of a girl. The Sun God takes the wish very seriously, because the next thing he knows, Jishnu finds his stomach growing. He is pregnant!

Jishnu finds out how hard it is for a pregnant woman (err...people) to do all the housework, without proper medical care or nutrition in the village. He lobbies for better health care, vaccination and food for all the pregnant people. He sets up a community kitchen and quickly gains fame as India's best Sarpanch.

Does Jishnu have his baby? The book has a sly little twist that you and your child will enjoy!

How does one read a feminist picture book to a child?

How does one read a feminist picture book with a child? I did tell my daughter what feminism is and why I am a feminist.

I asked her one of the questions at the back of One Magical Morning, "is it correct to discriminate between boys and girls? Why? Why not?" She said it is not right because boys and girls can both do what they want. I asked her why she thought Jishnu wanted a boy and not a girl. She said, "because boys like boys ." I thought that was quite an honest answer! I respected that.

I didn't want her to say something like, "Boys and girls should be treated equally. We need equal rights for both." Not that there is anything wrong with saying that but I didn't want to script her lines for her. I didn't want her to say something without understanding what it meant. I wanted her to think for herself.

Katha turns the spotlight on real issues

One of the questions in the books was about the problems that women face in rural India. I really valued our discussions on that, because she had no idea what women in other parts of the country go through, and children's fiction so rarely depicts that reality.

I think that introducing feminism through stories to little boys and girls is a glorious thing. Encourage them to come up with honest answers and to think for themselves. It is also good to tell boys and girls that they have many choices beyond stereotypes. Jishnu gets pregnant and Lachmi wins the war!

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