Monday, 12 August 2019

Zoom Zoom Zoom! by Chitra Soundar


This year’s Summer Reading Challenge is themed on Space Chase. Librarians across the country are counting down the reading of children and awarding them medals for exploring the planet of reading.

Space achievement has always been seen as an achievement of the west. However historical records indicate that Indians and Arabs, have longed practiced astronomy and many of our 3000-old epics and scriptures refer to nine planets and moons (which perhaps today has been changed to eight and I feel for Pluto).

As we celebrate the anniversary of the moon landing, India my birth country has launched a shuttle Chandrayaan 2 to the dark side of the moon (which is a first) and that has come within two years of India launching a rover to Mars (the same time as the US, in a fraction of the cost). What was even more wonderful was that the picture that captured India’s imagination – women scientists in their saris celebrating the launch of the rover, women who have forged paths not just on Earth but into space.

Sriharikota is a small town, a few hours from where I lived captured my imagination when I was young. It was the rocket launch site and the home of ISRO – the Indian Space Research Organisation. Then as a young professional, who mentored students on their internships, I had the honour of visiting the organisation and walked into these halls that echoed the dreams of many.

A P J Abdul Kalam, India’s 11th President was an aerospace scientist who had come from humble beginnings from the same state I belonged. He spent all his life spreading the joy of science and experimentation, and motivating youth to study and aim for the stars. (Read about APJ Abdul Kalam in this new book by Rashmi Sirdeshpande).

This also reminded me of Kalpana Chawla, a hero back in India, a US citizen, who became the first astronaut of Indian ancestry to go into space. Sadly she was on the space shuttle Columbia on her second space journey, which disintegrated on its re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.

But between her first and second missions and even after her death, she continues to inspire many young women and men to become astronauts, especially those who don’t seem to be represented in those professions.

And so when this year my picture book Farmer Falgu Goes KiteFlying was chosen for the Summer Reading Challenge in the year Space Chase was the theme, I got super excited just as Eila is in this book flying kites. Flying a kite is the first step towards aspiring to become an astronaut I think.

Then I asked the question - Are there are enough books about space heroes who are persons of colour and are they written and illustrated by BAME writers about space?

The good news is yes there are. The bad news is as always – not that many, especially not that many written by writers of colour.

Here are the ones I found – please buy them, recommend them and share them with all children – so that it is a dream that can be shared by all. And let's hope there are more books than the fingers on one hand that are written by authors of colour about space and space heroes of colour.

#OwnVoices picture books and non-fiction across UK and US

#Inclusive picture books, biographies and more published across the world

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