“Empathy needs to be shown, it needs to be taught. We weren’t born caring about other people. When you are only shown aggression, you become aggressive.” To bestselling author Holly Goldberg Sloan, this is why books and stories are crucial.
Stories, she noted, allow young people to identify with a character, a setting, a problem or even an animal, and work out their own issues through somebody else’s. She believes that an attempt to understand the world is one of the most important reasons why we read. In a complicated world that provides so many daily challenges, Holly views reading as the only answer and solution, “It’s what activates our imagination. It’s what activates our minds. It’s what makes our hearts bigger.”
Reading is also what brings us together. She talked to us about how families and schools in the United States often read a single book at the same time to initiate conversations. Students, teachers, parents and even the workers in the cafeteria at a school read the same book. Regardless of whether they are reading it, listening to it or having it read to them, the story enables a large, diverse group of people to come together as a community and have a single conversation.
The same often happens when Holly and her 93-year-old mother are reading the same book. It gives them a conversation that they can have. Stories, she noted, are problems that are presented through characters. Through her books—which discuss a wide array of topics ranging from animal rights and migration to parenting and neurodivergence—she hopes to discuss problems and think about solutions.
Indian children’s book writer Bijal Vaccharajani also feels that fiction opens up safe spaces to hold discussions on overwhelming subjects such as climate justice and systemic inequalities. She told us that as adults we have a responsibility to ensure that children have a context to understand what is happening in today’s world. Bijal works with young children from different backgrounds and this gave her the conviction that their lives need to be reflected in children’s literature in India as well.
Narratives of history and in curricula are changing rapidly in our country. In such a world, as Bijal said, “fiction offers new spaces to talk about our problems and to talk about our past so that we can understand our present and our future better.”