A new Indian superhero is here and this time, it is female hero Dabung Girl that your kids can look up to. The children’s comic book by life skills educator and author Saurabh Agarwal and his team is out with its first edition that narrates stories on important social issues like gender and environment conservation.
Excerpts from a conversation with the author:
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Our team has been conducting life skills workshops with children over the last few years across multiple states in India. The objective of these workshops was to help children learn communication, creativity and collaboration skills through play. During these workshops, we continuously realised that children learn best when they get to learn in an entertaining way, in their own space, at their own pace. We have tried different formats with children including card games, letters, comics, videos, etc. We found comic books to be the best medium since these helped children grasp and interpret things at their own pace in a fun-filled manner. Comic books help children to think creatively, be curious and develop an understanding of emotions.
Why is the protagonist of your book a superhero?
Often, the problems that seem very difficult, can be solved if we believe in ourselves. Superheroes give wings to the imagination and confidence of children. Children feel more empowered when they hear stories of superheroes. Also, it is a proven method of engaging children for delivering a message. However, most of the superheroes that Indian children read about are male superheroes. We realised the need for a female superhero that Indian children are able to relate to. That is why the protagonist of our comic book is a girl superhero ‘Dabung Girl’ (Fearless Girl) who inspires children to fight challenges with wit and positivity. The vision of Dabung girl is to represent a strong and dynamic female lead character to expand the mental horizons of young girls (and boys) who are accustomed to admiring mostly male superheroes. This comic book is an effort to inspire young girls to be fearless and aim for success, realising their own internal superhero.
Give us a brief idea about the theme of the book.
The central theme of the comic book is around a girl superhero (Dabung Girl) who has an elastic body as her superpower. However, unlike other superheroes, who come and save the day, she helps children find solutions on their own. This comic is a positive effort to enhance the child’s confidence, increase their awareness towards social issues and inspire them to participate in social change. Along with the above issues, the imagination, creativity, and fun continue throughout the comic.
What other issues does the book address apart from gender?
The first comic covers two stories; one is about gender equality and the second is about the importance of saving the environment. In the first story, Dabung Girl helps children understand that girls are as competent and successful in all aspects of life as boys. In the second story, she inspires children to lead a community campaign to save the environment. The idea is to present an entertaining and positive story to the children of today, one that they can emulate to realise that success is available to everyone irrespective of gender. The content is being designed leveraging research from Harvard University.
Every edition is a building block. Starting with the fundamentals of inclusion, empowerment, sustainability, etc, future editions will build on more advanced topics. Overall, we also intend to align with the Sustainable Development Goals as identified by the United Nations such that Dabung Girl can also become an education aid to supplement government-supported programmes and initiatives across India.
What is the reading age level for the book? Why do you think kids need to be taught about such social issues from an early age?
The book has been designed for children from ages seven years to 10 years and higher (depending on interest levels of children). The challenges of the future are unknown. We cannot provide children with solutions to the challenges that we don’t know, however, we can equip them with skills to solve any challenges that come their way. The first step to do so is to help them understand social issues. Because social issues are not about one person or one family. Social issues affect the whole community and children are able to relate to the issues at a community level. Most children start learning about the global world once they start going to school. The initial five to six years are important to build an understanding of the societal challenges and build a larger perception of the problem. For example, they understand that it’s not enough to keep their homes clean, they also need to keep the roads, stations, and parks clean by not throwing garbage anywhere.
Quite a few children’s authors are now choosing to talk about social issues in their books. How do you think that is shaping children’s literature today?
This is a trend in the positive direction. With more such books for children, children will be exposed to diverse perspectives in an easy to learn format that entertains and educates at the same time. This will help children understand that often there is no one right solution, context is important to create a solution.