When children talk of growing up, hope, imagination, and wonder are at play. Priyadarshini Gogoi (author) and Tarique Aziz (illustrator) tap into these impulses of a child as they take their readers into Papori’s world in ‘When I Grow Up’. The picture book is twelve pages long and is appropriate for children between ages 5 and 9.
Papori is a young person who has decided that they would build ‘Big and small things/Wild and amazing things’ once they grow up. What follows then is a detailed description of all that Papori would like to build. The story flows effortlessly. Gogoi and Aziz are aware that the final tasks of the book are to entertain and educate. This becomes evident in how the illustrations work with the text. The text educates and the pictures entertain. Aziz’s illustrations are delightfully well-thought.
Gogoi and Aziz begin by establishing Papori as an inventor. On the first page, we see a young person playing with what look like thingamajigs easily found around the house. On the second page, Aziz shows us Papori’s world and it’s thrilling! It looks like a science-themed amusement park and immediately draws in a young reader.
In what follows, Papori tells us what they would like to build, its function, and the kind of engineer they will be. Gogoi ensures that we know what motivates Papori and thus, develops a character who is empathetic, sensitive, and ambitious. Aziz offers us a perspective into Papori’s imagination and personality through their illustrations. Papori is goofy, creative, kind, caring, funny, naughty, curious, clever, adventurous, scared, and eager to learn. A picture book is essentially a collaborative narration between image and text. Each must aid the other. In this book, they come together to imagine Papori as a child without infantalising her aspirations. This is truly appreciable. The last page of the book shows Papori soaring in the sky with the help of artificial wings. It brings Icarus to mind, but we know that Papori is not arrogant – only ambitious. The story ends on a note of possibility, hope, and success.
‘When I Grow Up’ shows us how we may challenge gender-related stereotypes in books that we make and choose for young readers. In listing different kinds of engineers that Papori wants to be, the book mindfully challenges the stereotypical associations between gender and occupation. It may seem like another book that tells its young readers that they can be anything. However, the book does more than that. Papori wants to be an engineer, yes. The fantasy of the book lies in the fact that Papori wants to be different types of engineers all at once. The book believes in Papori and so do we – as readers. It makes us wonder how we as educators, parents, guardians – and as grown-ups – forget to tell our children that they can be many things at once.
‘When I Grow Up’ is published by Pratham books, can be accessed online at https://storyweaver.org.in/stories/114216-when-i-grow-up. It is originally written in English and has been translated to Kannada, Hindi, Tamil, and Marathi.