I moved out of India almost two years ago. When I find someone who I can bond with, be it over movies, books, or songs, it’s an amazing experience. For children growing up outside of India, never having been to the country, I think there can often be a loss, in terms of cultural connection. Words can help bridge that gap- for those struggling with their identities, identifying with the characters in a story lets them know that they are not alone.
Books such as Harry Potter are extremely common with kids growing up- western novels, western literature, which of course, is not a bad thing. However, I think by diversifying the types of books you read, your overall view of the world will expand. Observing the same types of things through different perspectives, being exposed to different types of people helps us learn.
Books bring about enlightenment- enlightenment, in turn, brings about compassion and change.
These books are a perfect introduction into Indian literature and is your chance to walk in someone else's shoes, live in a culture you may never experience, and see the world through someone else's eyes.
1. Pashmina- Nidhi Channani
Pashmina is probably the first book I would recommend for someone who wants to learn more about India- simply because it’s from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know a lot as well. ‘Pashmina’ is a graphic novel about a young Indian-American girl called Priyanka Das, who is curious to learn more about her Indian heritage. Her mother remains closed off to the subject, however, and India only exists in Priyanka's imagination. One day, Priyanka discovers an old pashmina buried away in a suitcase. Upon wearing it, Priyanka is magically transported to India! Learn about India through Priyanka's eyes, and accompany her on her journey of self-discovery. ‘Pashmina' beautifully establishes a mother and daughter relationship, humor, love, and deals with more severe issues, regarding poverty and abandonment. Overall, it is a wonderful story opening doors to a world you would never have experienced before.
2. Let’s celebrate Diwali- Anjali Joshi
Let’s celebrate Diwali is a wonderful book for young kids. Written by Anjali Joshi and illustrated by Tim Palin, the children's picture book explains the celebration of Diwali and gives the reader a full insight into the customs, traditions, and festivities carried out on this day.
The book also discusses the different ways through which Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus celebrate the same festival, delving deeper into cultural differences, and the importance of celebrating those differences.
3. Chachaji's cup- Uma Krishnaswami, Soumya Sitaraman
Chachaji's cup is a heartwarming story about the interaction between a young boy and his beloved ‘Chachaji’, or grand-uncle. Neel loves his chachaji's stories, and over a cup of tea, the two explore the world of Indian mythology, his uncle's adventures in the Indian army, and talk about the historical partition of India and Pakistan. As Neel grows older, he has less and less time for his Chachaji- until one day, when something happens which makes Neel wonder if things will ever be the same again. Chachaji’s cup is a moving, beautiful story about the relationship between two people who love each other very much. It’s the perfect book to get started on to learn more about India- and to learn about the importance of family.
4. Finders keepers? A bus trip in India- Robert Arnett
Finders keepers by Robert Arnett depicts the traditions and customs of India, through the real-life experiences of the author. The picture book takes us along a journey where we encounter countless people, and learn something new every page. If you are looking to broaden your children's horizons, and experience a land rich with culture, this book proves to be the perfect bedtime story.
5. Ganesha’s sweet tooth- Sanjay Patel
Sanjay Patel introduces Hindu Mythologies one and only Ganesha- alongside his mouse companion, ‘Mr. Mouse’. Ganesha loves everything- especially sweets and meets with an unfortunate accident after biting into a ladoo. However, he learns that although things may seem broken beyond repair, there is always a bright side.
We get to know about how Ganesha came to write the most epic poem known to Hindu literature: the Mahabharata, through vibrant, colorful illustrations. It is one of the best ways to teach your child about new cultures and religions, as well as expand upon your own knowledge.
6. The Runaway Peppercorn- Suchitra Ramadurai
This was one of my favorite picture books growing up. It also always made me feel hungry. Amminikutty Amma needs one final peppercorn for her onion chutney- but the peppercorn has other plans, and decides to lead her on a wild goose chase! Filled with lively pictures, and humorous incidents, the runaway peppercorn is great for children between the ages of 3-5.
7. The library of fates- Aditi Khorana
The library of fates is perhaps a bit heavier than the rest of the books I have talked about so far. It is meant to be for more mature readers and follows the story of Amrita, princess of Shalingar. Amrita is betrothed to emperor Sikandar- a choice she has made in order to prevent him from unleashing his wrath on the kingdom of Shalingar. But it isn’t enough…
The library of fates is a stunning story about the implications of your decisions, how your life can change within a split second, and how changing the past is a hopeless endeavor- or is it?
8. Grandma’s bag of stories- Sudha Murty
Sudha Murty does it again. Grandma's bag of stories contains a collection of stories told by grandma- the best story-teller of them all! Her ‘bag’ consists of stories about a princess who turned into an onion; enchanted scorpions; monkeys, mice, and many other wonderful things. The book is perfect for everyone: people who are looking to learn more about India, as well as people simply trying to find a way to live amongst the pages and remember their childhood for a little while.
9. My mother's sari-Sandhya Rao
What is a sari? For this little girl, it’s a river, a train, a tissue!
‘My mother's sari’ explores Indian style, and manner of dressing- complete with an 8 step process as to how to wear a sari, which I’ll be using the next time a wedding comes my way. For those who are unaware, the book offers a good insight into Indian culture and the piece of clothing that is beloved to the entire country.
10. Pashu- Devdutt Pattanaik
Pashu, simply put, is a book about Indian mythology. Devdutt Pattanaik is a master at his craft and introduces a wide variety of Hindu mythology characters, amusing stories, and characters we will all love. Pashu can be read by any age, although it is more oriented towards kids. Complete with vibrant illustrations that will take your breath away, it is the perfect book for a sunny Sunday afternoon.
What are some of must-read children's books according to you? Have you read any of these titles? What did you think of them? Let us know in comments below.