Children’s Literature: A Cure for What We Have Become
Author Devjani Bodepudi on parenting post-Brexit, the healing power of children's stories, and how these can help our young ones make the world a kinder place
On the 31st of January 2020, Britain’s exit from the European Union took place after much turmoil. Since its inception, even before the final votes of the referendum were counted, the idea became a festering wound, dividing us here in the UK. When the votes were finally placed and counted, 52% of the population voted to leave and 48% of those who voted, chose to stay.
It seems to me as if ‘Remainers’ and ‘Leavers’ have declared war upon each other. No longer united, we paint each other in colours of intolerance and hate. We will not tolerate one another; we refuse to hear the views each of us would like to express and so we spew hate into the ether and wallow in our dissatisfaction.
Since the Exit, I feel that things have worsened. Images have appeared on Social Media of signs being vandalised, with the names of twinned European towns painted over. Typed notices have been taped to doors of private residences, demanding that people only speak English in England or be prepared to leave and return to wherever it is they come from and laminated paper boards have been left outside people’s homes and in gardens to state that the Polish are not welcome here and that they should return to Poland.
In a recent Facebook post, I was reminded that not all people who voted to leave are racist, but it can be argued that all racists voted to leave. So, what percentage of the British population is racist? The idea fills me with fear and sorrow. Laurence Fox has been made into an ‘anti-woke’ icon when he remarked that there was no racism and he was bored of talking about it, but in the same breath, complained that he was, in fact, a victim of racism. White Male Privilege is something that also does not exist, he said and that was that. His inflammatory remarks were met with much nodding and grumbling assent from the crowd. Watching the audience’s reaction during the BBC Question Time debate showed us that Fox’s views are not that of an insignificant minority. In fact, from everything I've been seeing in the media at the moment, they belong to an increasingly vocal and growing proportion of the population of the United Kingdom.
It makes me worry for my family. I look at my children and wonder what I can do to protect them.
Two days after ‘Brexit’, we watched a film together. The hatred from the outside world can bang on our doors, the booming music from the victorious street parties at 11pm on the 31st January can reach our ears, but inside, we are safe I’d like to think.
My Neighbour Totoro, A Studio Ghibli masterpiece, is streaming on Netflix and we watched it together on the weekend. It is a beautifully animated story of innocence, patience and love. It’s about faith and magic and being there for our neighbours. And what else can one ask for on a cold, grim Post-Brexit, winter’s evening? So endearing are the characters, so true to how we once were, that it is almost possible to believe in the world again.
From My Neighbor Totoro. Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli
Children’s film and literature is so very important, especially now, in order to offer an antidote to the hatred we are seeing and being encouraged to seek out. Not just in the UK, but further afield in India and America as well, it feels as if fascism is taking hold and love has become a dirty word.
In Children’s literature, lie lessons for us all. When did we decide to abandon those teachings? When did safety and kindness stop being something that everyone is entitled to, no matter their country of origin or religion?
In Chitra Soundar’s and Poonam Mistry’s remarkably illustrated series of books You're Safe With Me, You're Snug With Me and You're Strong With Me, we, the readers are offered a brief and beautiful shelter from the harsh ‘unkindnesses’ we are forced to perceive in the world around us.
From You're Snug With Me. Written by Chitra Soundar and illustrated by Poonam Mistry.
And for the older child, Madeleine L’Engle’s, A Wrinkle in Time shows us the beauty in our differences and to look deeper, beyond the surface of things. “We do not know what things look like. We know what things are like. It must be a very limiting thing, this seeing…” says one of the most beautiful, wise and strange creatures written in literature.
And who can forget Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential, is invisible to the eye.”
Children’s literature and film are full of examples of this kind of thinking. This is where our rules should be from, our codes of conduct and our cures for the world’s ills.
Somewhere along the line, we forgot what it was like to be a child, to have ideals and to believe in right and wrong. We’ve become obsessed with loopholes and the grey areas between certainties, and we tell ourselves, ‘it’s much more complicated than that!’ Yes, things can be complicated, but surely not when it comes to how we treat people.
As an adult and a person of colour, I am becoming increasingly fearful. But as a mother, I need to be strong. My teachings to my children will continue to mirror the teachings I received when I was a child: be brave, be kind, believe in the goodness of others, look beyond the seeing and find the magic because it is everywhere.
Personally, I think, as adults, these are the lessons we should adhere to as well. Perhaps then, we can begin healing and fixing the mess we have made for ourselves.
You can own all 3 of Soundar and Mistry's award-winning bedtime series – and save 31% – when you choose our Baby & Me: Safe, Snug, Strong Bundle. Click HERE to take a look at this enchanting series.
Devjani is a writer and teacher of Indian descent. She has published many articles, poems and short stories online and was assistant/contributing editor for award winning socio-political magazine, Kindle Magazine while she lived in India. Her debut novella, MIRRORS has been published by Holland House Books and is available to order from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles. You can find more of her writing at devjanibodepudi.com