Book Review: “Rainbow Boys” And “Rainbow Girls” By Kamla Bhasin & Priya Kuriyan

‘Rainbow Boys’ and ‘Rainbow Girls’ are two lovely children’s books published on Storyweaver by Pratham Books for Level 3. The books, focusing on boys and girls as both the subjects as well as the audience of the story, are simple and direct, quite in line with the author’s very direct and concise style of communication.

The central message behind both the books is this: all children are individuals and all individuals are unique . Through 12-13 pages each, both the books use different scenarios of a child’s life and form – from indoors to outdoors, behaviour to preferences – and take you through a visual exhibit of uniqueness in its varied forms to communicate this central message of not boxing in young humans (and hopefully older ones too!) as heteronormative-ly female or male through their bodies and behaviours.

Between the ages of 0 and 7, most of our emotional programming and conditioning takes shape. Of course, with time and experience there are changes in this conditioning but the emotional foundation of our own worthiness, the world and both in relation to each other is pretty much developed early on. The simple message of honoring the uniqueness of each individual is something that is almost crucial to be built in the minds of as many young lives as possible, if not all. This foundation of one’s self esteem is set through being seen, heard, accepted and loved unconditionally for all that one is. When that is cluttered with norms on behaviour and physical appearance, the foundation for a healthy self esteem begins to fracture.

At the very start of a human’s life, based on the sex that one is born with, documents such as a birth certificate assign a child their gender. So, almost instantly a male child becomes a man and a female child becomes a woman with a heavy set of rules on what being a cis-male or female ought to be. This leads to two things – not only does it create the hugely confusing and invalidating experience of young children who may not be cisgender or heterosexual, but it also creates a discourse invisibilising anyone who does not identify with heteronormative gender binary. At the core of a child’s emotional construction is required the foundation of love and acceptance and the freedom to play and explore itself. That after all, is the process of life, to explore and play with a sense of wonder and find meaning in one’s own journey. However, the wonder of play is often marred early on when children find themselves rejected, bullied, mocked, shamed or abandoned for not falling in line with gendered norms of existence; often leaving scars well into adulthood.

The hope through education is to consistently allow each child the opportunity to be free to learn about and make space for identity markers that speak to one’s authentic truth. This is where I really appreciate how simply these two books with Ms Kuriyan’s playful illustrations drive home the need to see and accept oneself and other children (and everyone!) as unique individuals.

Initially, when I had read both the books, I did wish for them to be made into one and called Rainbow Children to communicate the need to look at people and not just their gender starting from the title itself. But then, I realised that it is parents who get to help young readers access books and considering that gendered binary division of human beings starts at birth itself, I think it is a good way to disarm parents who may be firmly rooted in a binary way of looking at their children and gender at large. Perhaps, we could have a third version of this book and call it Rainbow Children for parents who do not want to make literature specific to their child’s sex and
explore the non-binary?

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Andromeda is a writer who believes that the point of her existence is in diving headfirst into thoughts, things and conceptions of society that keep people stuck in time. She has used the last seven years of her energy trying to untie ridiculous knots that have been precariously preserved in the social constructs of gender, caste, mental health and identity. She has a book of fabulist fiction to her name and among other things, she continues to find new strands of thought to unravel, using her words and illustrations to untether them. Her other interests include existential thought and sky-gawking.

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