Whilst we've had many children's books narrating the lives of women across the world who've made exceptional marks on human history, there's been very few on women of colour - representation of the East has been missing, particularly the failure to represent young readers of colour whose roots stem from non-White heritage.
Neha Hiranandani, a writer and self-proclaimed nomad of Indian origin, set out to serve justice to little Indian children around the world with her debut book, Girl Power! which has topped best seller lists in India and is now setting its sights on the UK and US. Girl Power! is a tribute to 50 Indian Mavericks who broke barriers and succeeded in their fields in remarkable ways paving the way for future generations. From lawyers, to scientists, to astronauts to Olympians, she cleverly and succinctly captures the life-stories of these celebrated women so that Indian children around the world can learn about their native culture and heritage and see themselves represented in these women.
Neha's selection of fifty includes fascinating characters such as Chhavi Rajawat, who left her big city job to return to and head up the village of her childhood vacations. Changing the village literally by enabling access to clean water, electricity and toilets. Or Noor Inayat Khan, the great-great-great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan, King of Mysore and a spy princess who lived in France during World War II. Amongst her many talents included writing children's literature, however she eventually became a spy for the British, changing disguises daily, navigating dangerous situations, escaping the enemy at every corner. Many of the other spies in her network died. She succeeded for months on end and eventually was betrayed and died on the job.
Noor Inayat Khan
Then there's the legendary female boxer, Mary Kom, who became India's first female boxer, despite her parents' reservations in a culture that frowned upon woman pursuing anything other than marriage and children.
Neha also profiles the fabulous Laxmi who after harassment from a man much older than her for her hand in marriage, threw acid on her face, completely disfiguring it. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this traumatic incident only made her stronger and she now models for fashion brands across the world.
NASA astronaut Kalpana Chawla stands out mightily as one of the most inspiring female icons. Named 'the first Indian woman to travel to space', Kalpana's journey is remarkable. Unfortunately on her first mission, the shuttle collapsed minutes before landing on earth and Kalpana passed away - her legacy remains and now many streets, asteroids, supercomputers are named after her. This also includes a hill on Mars called 'Kalpana'.
There's no shortage of women who've made huge strides in sports and mountaineering. Arunima Sinha, the national volleyball player, was attacked by robbers on a train, was thrown off the coach and and lost her legs. She ended up with one artificial leg and a rod in the other. Within 2 years of the accident she managed to climb Mount Everest, despite the huge set backs on her climbing journey, be it her artificial leg slipping off on several occasions making her leg bleed, or her oxygen cylinder running out.
Other notable women include Poorna Malavath, the youngest 13-year-old to climb Mt. Everest and Captain Radhika Memon who saved a fisherman's boat through a skilled rescue operation and was recognised for the International Maritime Organization Award Bravery at Sea.
A perfectly blended narrative of hardship and inspiration offering a refreshing change from the optimised, idealised accounts of the fairy tales of my childhood, the ones that make you constantly strive for a perfection that is elusive and never arrives.
Neha's debut novel shines the light on a set of paths that will guide future generations on a more empowering and satisfying journey. You can also read our interview with Neha here.
Girl Power! makes for the perfect gift for that special child in your life, be it a daughter, or son, niece or nephew, granddaughter or grandson, cousin, godchild or a friends' children! Heck it makes a great present for adults too. You can grab a copy here.