One of the biggest festivals of Hindus, Diwali, is coming up later this month on the 19th. Every year around this time, I look for Diwali-related books to read to my kids. Last year, I read 7 different books to my son, in both English, and bilingually, in English and Hindi but they all left me disappointed in different ways. The search for the one book or books that would really capture the essence of the festival and explain things to a toddler in an age-appropriate manner continued.
This year, I chanced upon the two books reviewed below and received complimentary copies from the respective authors for reviewing purposes. Thank you.
Each book has its strengths and weaknesses but I will admit, I would be happy to read either of these books to my toddler. Keep reading to know more. (Review titles contain affiliate links.)
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Ved And Friends Celebrate Dussehra And Diwali
by Diksha Pal Narayan. Illustrations by Abira Das.
Ved and Friends Celebrate Dussehra and Diwali not only explains the significance and different days of Diwali, it stretches its reach to include why and how other religions celebrate Diwali too, among other things.
The book is divided into three parts.
Setting: Ved and his multiethnic friends – one of whom is blonde haired and blue-eyed Gavin – along with Ved’s parents, have gathered around a campfire. The text of the book unfolds over s’mores and as answers to Gavin’s curiosity about the different Indian celebrations this time of the year.
Part I: Celebrations with Ved and Friends: Here, the author writes about the significance of each day of Diwali; from Day 1 – Dhanteras to Day 5 – Bhai Dooj.
Part II: The Legends Behind Dussehra, Diwali, and Other Stories: Here, through the voices of kids from different parts of India or those of different religions that also celebrate Diwali, the author explains how and why Diwali is celebrated differently but with just as much excitement, happiness, and meaning. This section also narrates multiple stories associated with Diwali in a reader-friendly manner, each concluding with a ‘Moral of the Story’.
Part III: Kids Interactive: This is where the more tangible fun begins. This section includes two Diwali crafts (you learn to make Ravana with his 10 heads, and Lord Ganesha), two mithai recipes that older kids may actually enjoy doing on their own with some adult supervision, a Diwali Diary to capture personal memories associated with the festival and its celebration, a snapshot of the different festivities, and concludes with a coloring page.
What I Liked:
I absolutely loved the illustrations by Abira Das! The beautiful, colorful, and very-Indian-themed illustrations stand out on every page and their vibrancy lends more credence to the text. I also liked how Indian words are highlighted and spelled out phonetically (a glossary of words is also included at the end of the book).
Clearly, the author has done a lot of research to present an honest and fair narration of the different interpretations of Diwali. The multitudes of Indian co-cultures that celebrate Diwali with their own reasons for celebrating this festival is indeed a challenge to neatly summarize in one book, and a children’s book at that. The author does this with admirable ease and in a reader/kid-friendly tone. Kudos to the author for going above and beyond what could have otherwise been a simple narration of “a” Diwali story to truly capturing the regional diversity of Indian co-cultures. In so doing, the author respects the cultural richness of this country.
What I Did Not Like:
There is too much content on some of the pages but I believe the problem has to do with the font type. While I really, really like the illustrations, perhaps their majestic presence takes away from the effectiveness of the text in and of itself (even though, the illustrations do allow the text to rise to contextual significance). At times it appears as though the author has let the illustrations do the story-telling for her.
The content also needs some work from a grammatical sense. Perhaps some of the text is purposely what it is to make the tone reader-friendly, still, kids should also be taught appropriate language, especially those who may read this book on their own.
The book costs $15.99 on Amazon which may be cost-prohibitive to some. However, I would definitely recommend it and urge you to either buy it or check this out at your local library.
This is a book for older toddlers, or even kindergarteners who may have more patience to sit through content-heavy books. Overall, this is one of my favorite books on Diwali now. After the disappointment from last year, I was pleased to find this book and its detailed, yet reader-friendly introduction to Diwali, its many side-stories, and non-Hindu interpretations as well. The latter is truly unique to this book.
I highly recommend this book.
by Ajanta & Vivek
This is a much thinner book that presents the celebration of Diwali in a matter-of-fact and straightforward manner. It presents the description of Diwali as celebrated by most Hindus.
Setting: Two Indian-American kids from Chicago and their squirrel travel to India to celebrate Diwali with their mausi or aunty. The kids ask their aunty to explain the significance of each of the five days of Diwali and that’s where the story gets its main content.
Once you get past the idea of a squirrel traveling to India by air, you learn to appreciate his remarks and funny antics.
Once in India, the kids ask their mausi to tell them the story of Diwali. The story she narrates is depicted in pictures using language that is extremely simplistic and raises more questions than answers. For example, my 3.5-year-old, upon hearing the line, “Ravan took Seeta away with him. She did not want to go,” immediately asked, “Why, Mommy?” Perhaps the authors’ intention was to leave further explaining of the story of Seeta’s abduction to the adults. However, I did feel like the story could have had some nuance or at least a degree of intrigue explained at a toddler-friendly level.
Then, together with their mausi, the kids proceed to enjoy the 5 days of Diwali.
What I Liked:
The simple explanation of the 5 days of Diwali. Again, there was a great deal of oversimplification but as the authors write, this is especially so young readers can follow along and understand the 5 days of celebrations. The book held my son’s attention and that was all I could have hoped for at his age with a book outside his usual repertoire of genres. In fact, since the first reading, drawn in by illustrations, he has asked us to read this book to him multiple times. Reading this book has gotten him excited for Diwali and for that, I am very, very grateful!
The language is easy-to-follow and the squirrel adds an element of fun.
I also liked the illustrations a lot. I especially liked the sari mausi wore on Diwali day 🙂 The use of bright colors – red, fuchsia, and yellow – throughout the book, represent the festivities of Diwali making it appear to be truly a Festival of Lights!
What I Did Not Like:
Who is the illustrator? I always read the name of the illustrator along with the name/s of the author/s prior to reading any book so I was really surprised that the book did not mention who created the beautiful images that bring the story to life.
I understand the authors had to make a choice and decided to stick with a North Indian frame of Diwali in language and tradition. I respect that. However, I am bothered when the language books use do not even allow for inclusive flexibility. For example, one of the lines when the kids’ mausi is first introduced reads, “In India, aunty is called Mausi”. Yes and No. A more inclusive language would perhaps read along the lines of, “In many parts of India… or In some parts of Northern India… or In the northern regions of India, where (the kids’ family is originally from), aunty is called Mausi”. I have to change mausi to what my kids would call their aunty and that works. Still….
The hardcover book costs $17.99 on Amazon which I do think is expensive. Instead, the $8.99 for a paperback seems more reasonable.
I thought this book was near-perfect age-appropriate for my kid. He usually does not have patience for books that are not about trucks or trains or things to which he can immediately relate (like Llama Llama Misses Mama or Rosie Goes to Preschool, for example). Even with my hesitation with terminology and oversimplification, if I was to buy a book for toddlers in the age group 2-4, this would be the one.
From all of us at theParentVoice,
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