I pulled a card from my Smith Waite tarot deck when my youngest walked in, grumpy.
“The tooth fairy did not come…” she complained. I cursed myself mentally for forgetting that her tooth had fallen out and she had written a note attaching a gift for the said fairy. I held her as she grumbled and then left to brush her teeth. I followed her upstairs and set her bed while she asked if she could read a book while she drank her kaapi. I nodded absently.
While I busied about warming milk and getting her beverage ready, she settled in with a book, my book. If I was surprised I tried not to show it. She read aloud, chuckling at certain points. She would pause reading, ask me questions and continue. Her face brightened at names that were familiar and inside jokes embedded in the book that only our family will understand.
At one such pause, I talked to her about my Sankar Chithappa, a man I love and adore. He was the Santa Claus of my childhood, arriving at regular intervals with bags full of bar chocolate. He is the inspiration for the Chithappa in the book. As I explained this to her, she could not understand why I was so happy at the idea of having one whole bar of chocolate to myself. I went down a nostalgia rabbit-hole and came up for breath to notice that she had moved on, now reading from a different page. I shook myself off and continued with the rest of my kitchen chores.
When I set out to write “Why is my Hair Curly?” I had not accounted for how much seeing my child see herself in the book meant to me. It was my intention, a wish, a hope. It was one of those things I childishly aspired for without really thinking it might come true. Watching the familiarity and ease with which she consumed the setting, the characters, the endearments, the names for relatives in tamizh and related it back to how we are at home gave me all the feels.
I talk so much about children needing to see themselves in books. It is one of those things I talk about because it feels like it is right on paper and therefore it must be true. However, watching it in action is a privilege I hope I never take for granted. I wrote my book for children like mine, yet watching my child consume words that will be part of her lexicon and a reference point like many other books she reads is quite something.
Writing for children is an onerous responsibility. Words we string together not just inform, they shape and mold lives, open portals to lands hitherto unknown. They help shape views, foster empathy with people and places not quite like what we know. More than anything, books give children the permission to dream about things they can do, in their head. for now, until they are grown and find it natural to do the things they have seen characters that reflected them do in books. (I realize that is one hell of a run on sentence.)
All this to say, give children the gift of seeing themselves. It takes effort but it is ever so worth it. I am one happy mom and woman right now.