Neel on Wheels, written by Lavanya Karthik and illustrated by Habib Ali, is published by Duckbill. You can buy it on amazon. It is on the shortlist of the Neev Book Award 2019. Recommended age for self-reading: Regular 7+ | Advanced 5+.

Two siblings are on an adventure. One on wheels and the other on foot. Neel might seem confined to a wheelchair but the imaginative powers he and his younger brother possess knows no bounds. Through their fantasies, Neel transforms into a protective guardian in the eyes of his little brother. He never fails to wheel them away to safety.

Children with disabilities are often portrayed as dependents. Not this time though. In Neel on Wheels, in the eyes of his little brother, Neel is capable and dependable. Together, they battle innumerable shadows of the night, wild animals camouflaged in their very own living room, and the ruckus of the city streets. Habib Ali, the illustrator has depicted the wheelchair to remodel into various devices that assist the two crusaders. Every page has one ordinary element which modified into something fantastical. 

Representation matters

Neel on Wheels was possible due to Children First, a contest run by Parag (a Tata Trust initiative), Vidya Sagar School, Chennai and Duckbill for books featuring children with disabilities. This is a cause supported by Parag. Their blog post on it makes for some good reading.

Representation of children with disabilities in media matters. Recently, this striking picture of a 4-year-old wheelchair bound girl went viral on the internet. She was struck by an advertisement featuring a model in a wheelchair. “You could just tell that she identified with it from the get go. And for her, a 4-year-old child … to sit there in awe at this photo for close to a minute was pretty profound,” said her mother. And yet, it is telling that such images are rare to find.

Representation matters not just to the children being represented, but to other children, who learn to accept differences instead of shunning them. Books like these must be part of every child’s bookshelf. Two others are: Catch That Cat! and Wings To Fly.

Shout out to Neev book awards 2019 for highlighting such books and making sure it reaches more people! Check out our reviews of the other books on the Neev shortlist. What did you think of the book? Comment and let us know! Also check out the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary Award list!

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