Bijal Vachharajani writes about why it is important for children to read books about farmers. One of our books (The First Farmers) also gets a mention in her article.
Cocooned in our urban bubble, few of us think about the people who grow our food, except to complain when the prices of onions become exorbitant. In schools, for instance, children continue to learn that “Old MacDonald had a farm” and all was hunky-dory there. The one nod we give to “indianising” it, is by changing the children’s song to “Lakshman Chacha had a farm, dhinak dhinak dhindha.” Unfortunately, Lakshman Chacha most probably lost his hens to a deadly disease and they didn’t “cheep cheep” happily because they were cooped up in a factory farm.
There are ways of sharing stories, real and fictional, about the people who grow our food and our clothes. Especially now, it’s critical that these stories go beyond outdated nursery rhymes, especially for children, who are naturally curious about where their food comes from.
Apart from the Blyton books, there are plenty of classic and contemporary children’s books set in and around farms. There’s The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, to begin with. Michael Morpurgo writes delightful books about nature and rural life. Mudpuddle Farm is full of charming stories about animals who live there while Farm Boy is a poignant read for young adults. And Morpurgo also has a Farms for City Children charity where he introduces children to farm life first hand.
Last year, when I asked Sedam Bheem Bai, a Fairtrade-certified farmer, if she would like to pass on a message to the people who wear her cotton, “We want them to be aware of the life we live.” Closer home, Pratham, Tulika and Tara have published picture books on farming, but mainly for younger audiences. The First Farmers is a Warli folktale which has been retold by Benita Sen and illustrated by Rajiv Verma ‘Banjara’ for Pratham Books. It retells the story of how the first farmers took on the task of greening a very brown earth. You can read the book here. Then there’s Tara Books’ Do! By Ramesh and Rasika Hengai, Shantaram and Kusum Dhadpe and Gita Wolf, which is a pictorial rendition of tribal community life for young children. Unfortunately, few books for young adults tackle the subject in India.