Welcome to the next stop on our tour, the Indian subcontinent. Most of today’s books are set in India, obviously, but there are some gems from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as well to help round things out.
B is for Bangladesh, written by Urmi Rahman, photographed by Prodeepta Das published in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Books for Children
Here’s another one of these beauties from Frances Lincoln, taking us on a colorful tour of Bangladesh. Listen to the Ektara, smell the sweet-scented golap, play a game of Kana Machhi, get a haircut at the napit shop, visit Somapura Vihar — and lots more, guided by Bengali author Urmi Rahman. Ages 4 and up.
Rickshaw Girl, by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Jamie Hogan published in 2008 by Charlesbridge
Naima uses her skills as a painter of traditional alpana patterns to overcome obstacles presented by her gender and help earn money for her family in this short, captivating chapter book, rich with cultural details. Ages 7 and up.
An adventurous story set in the Sundarbans region. When a tiger cub goes missing from the reserve, young Neel is determined to find and protect her before his devious and unethical neighbor, Gupta, can capture and sell her. Great read for ages 9 and up. My full review of it is here.
Crane Boy, written by Diana Cohn, illustrated by Youme published in 2015 by Cinco Puntos Press
In the breathless air of Bhutan, high in the Himalayan Mountains, black-necked cranes spend their summers — dancing, stretching their elegant necks, feasting on worms and buckwheat grains from the rain-soaked fields, bringing good luck to the Phobjika Valley. As the numbers of cranes sadly diminishes, Kinga and his classmates choreograph an elaborate crane dance and launch a new, exciting festival to remind their countrymen of the beauty of these birds and raise money to help protect them.
With striking illustrations and a well-told story about this fascinating culture, you can take a seat at the Crane Festival, held every year in November in Bhutan. Extra pages tell more about Bhutan and are illustrated with photographs. Lovely, for ages 3 and up.
Chandra’s Magic Light: A Story in Nepal, written by Theresa Heine, illustrated by Judith Gueyfier published in 2014 by Barefoot Books
Sisters Chandra and Deena have gone to market to buy some tulsi, an herbal remedy for their baby brother’s cough, when they encounter a crowd gathered around a man with a strange lamp. This man claims the light from his lamp comes from the sun itself! And that by using such a lamp, villagers can save money and be rid of the smoky kerosene that harms their lungs.
Chandra and Deena want very badly to help their family buy one of those lamps. How can they convince their father it’s a good idea? And where can such money come from? Following this Himalayan story, several pages tell more about Nepal and solar lighting, and give directions for making your own Pizza Box Solar Oven! What a great thing to try! Ages 4 and up.
Kami and the Yaks, written by Andrea Stenn Stryer, illustrated by Bert Dodson published in 2007 by Bay Otter Press
What a gorgeous book this is!
Spend a day with Kami way up in the thin air of the Himalayan mountains where he and his Sherpa family make their living by guiding, setting up camp, and cooking for mountain climbers.
In this frosty adventure, four of the family’s yaks are missing. Kami, who is deaf, is too young to be venturing off in search of them, but a storm is coming and he can’t sit idly by. Exquisite watercolors dominate every page of this excellent story, inspired by a young boy met by the author while trekking in Nepal. An afterword tells more about the Sherpa people. Ages 4 and up.
In Andal’s House, written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Amanda Hall published in 2013 by Sleeping Bear Press
Set in contemporary India, Andal’s House considers both the progress and the deep prejudices remaining for those in the untouchables caste. Kumar’s schoolmate, Andal, has invited him to his home to celebrate Diwali. But Kumar is of the untouchable caste, while Andal is a high-caste Brahmin. Kumar’s family questions him: Are you certain you’ve been invited?
Kumar sets off with confidence to the celebration, but is humiliated when Andal’s grandmother turns him away. Gorgeous details in text and illustration bring this slice of India to life for ages 5 or 6 and up. It’s the only picture book I found that discusses caste.
A young girl anticipates eagerly the arrival of the cooling monsoon season. Brightly illustrated, full of rich cultural detail, set in contemporary India, this book is a joy for ages 3 and up. My full review of it is is here.
Monsoon Afternoon, written by Kashmira Sheth, illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi published in 2008 by Peachtree Publishers
Here’s another look at monsoon weather. This time a little boy is anxious for someone to play with, yet everyone’s busy. Except Dadaji — his grandfather. Dadaji is amenable to playing outside, even in the bucketing rain.
What a lovely story, full of this place as well as the sweet bond between grandpa and grandson. An author’s note tells more about her experience growing up on the west coast of India, awaiting monsoon. Ages 3 and up.
Tree Matters, text by Gita Wolf and V. Geetha from the oral narrative of Gangu Bai, illustrations by Gangu Bai published in 2014 by Tara Books
This highly unusual book introduces us to one of the tribal communities in India, the Bhils. One Bhil woman recalls her childhood growing up in the forest or jungle of India, a lifestyle no longer possible due to new laws.
Her narration is largely about trees. Clearly, growing up in the thick of the forests, trees played an integral part in their lives. Which berries did the village children snap up? Which tree had the prickliest thorns? As her brief memoir emerges, Gangu Bai illustrates the stories for us using a traditional Bhil painting style. I was intrigued by the ways this ancient artistry resembles the art of the Australian aboriginal people. See what you think, while learning about some of the hidden diversity in the enormous land of India. Ages 4 and up.
Gita Wolf has worked with other tribal artists to create more children’s books that bring these communities to our attention. You might check out:
Do! published in 2009 by Tara Books, featuring art from the Warli tribe…
Following My Paintbrush, published in 2011 by Tara Books, featuring a Mithili artist…
Gobble You Up!, published in 2013 by Tara Books, with art in the ancient Mandna style.
Geeta’s Day: From Dawn to Dusk in an Indian Village, written and photographed by Prodeepta Das published in 2010 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Visit the state of Orissa in eastern India, and the small village of Janla where 6-year-old Geeta lives with her family. This lovely photodocumentary takes us through a typical day for her, beginning with her grandmother’s morning puja (worship), breakfast, a walk past busy villagers on her way to school, a visit to the swimming pond, and so much more. Incredibly informative and engaging, for ages 5 and up.
Frances Lincoln has put out quite a number of books in this Child’s Day series following children through a day in their homeland. They look fantastic, though this is the only one I could find in my library system. For those of you who can find other titles, they’ll surely be gems.
Prodeepta Das has authored several other books about India, including :
A Day I Remember: An Indian Wedding (2014; Frances Lincoln)which tells the story of a little boy named Swayam who plays an important role in his uncle’s wedding. Great photos and interesting cultural details about a subject many young children are familiar with. Ages 4 and up.
I See the Sun in India, written by Dedie King, illustrations by Judith Inglese published in 2014 by Satya House Publications
Another excellent day-in-the-life series comes from Satya House. This story follows a young schoolgirl named Mila in Jaipur, Rajasthan, located in northwestern India. Fascinating collage artwork illustrates her home and city, as she goes to school, meets friends at the movie theater, shares a delicious curry dinner with her family and more. An Author’s Note tells more about India and Jaipur in particular. Ages 5 and up.
Sacred River, written and illustrated by Ted Lewin published in 1995 by Clarion Books
The city of Varanasi, India is one of the oldest in the world. Flowing through it is the Ganges River, the goal of millions of Hindu pilgrims who come to purify their souls in the waters of the sacred river.
Ted Lewin’s gorgeous watercolors take us right into the city. With a minimum of text, Lewin allows his paintings to tell us their story. Encounter ancient temples, boatloads of sari-clad women, the hot sun of Varanasi, offerings of jai flowers, and the water of the Ganges flowing through the entire account. An explanatory note at the beginning of the book sets the scene for the action that spools out in his images. An important part of India, accessible to ages 3 and up.
While we’re up here in northern India, you won’t want to miss the gorgeous book:
Cloud Tea Monkeys, one of the most lushly-illustrated stories out there. It’s about the tea-pickers in the foothills of the Himalayas. A gem of a story for ages 5 and up. My full review of it is here.
In the Village of the Elephants, written by Jeremy Schmidt, photographs by Ted Wood published in 1994 by Walker and Company
From northeast India we’ll jaunt off to the southwest, to a village in the Nilgiri Hills where the Kurambas people have been living for thousands of years, and where they have perfected the art of the mahout, or elephant driver.
This fascinating account follows one young boy, Bomman, who is in training to become a mahout. His father is his teacher; his elephant is Mudumalai, and what a fantastic creature he is. You will learn a great deal about elephants and the intriguing relationships that exist between them and their caregivers in this longish read for ages 6 or 7 and up. You might follow it up with:
Balarama: A Royal Elephant, which describes the prestigious role of the Royal Elephants in the Dasara parade. A beautifully-illustrated story for ages 4 and up. My full review of it is here.
King for a Day, written by Rukhsana Khan, illustrations by Christiane Krömer published in 2013 by Lee & Low Books
The spring kite festival of Basant has arrived in Lahore, Pakistan, and a boy named Malik is ready for it!
That means he’s made a strong, fast kite, has parked his wheelchair up on the flat roof of his home, and is braced to battle other kites for domination of the skies, for the title of King of Basant.
Absolutely fabulous illustration work here brings Malik and his neighborhood vividly to life, not to mention the profusion of kites flying over the city. It’s a fantastic glimpse of a cherished festival with an afterword that tells us more. A rare book set in Pakistan, just right for ages 4 and up.
Tales of a Lost Kingdom: A Journey into Northwest Pakistan, written by Erik L’Homme, illustrated by François Place, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick first published in France; first American edition published in 2007 by Enchanted Lion Books
In the remote north of Pakistan, in a soaring, mountainous region that juts up near Afghanistan and Tajikistan, lies Chitral, a place that seems to be “at the end of the world” according to Erik L’Homme who lived and adventured there for some time in the 1990s.
L’Homme collected stories from the Kho people as he moseyed about over high passes in the Hindu Kush mountains, through bazaars, across endless plateaus, and at the famous polo tournament held there. He retells three of those stories here, and adds a short travelogue with photos and thoughts on his time in this remote place. It’s illustrated with lovely watercolors.
The stories themselves reveal quite a lot about the culture while the travelogue gives us an outsider’s viewpoint. There are some portions of the narrative that don’t seem to have survived the translation into English well, but for the most part it’s an intriguing window into a part of the world few of us could ever hope to visit. Ages 5 and up.
This Truck Has Got to be Special — written by Anjum Rana, illustration design by Sameer Kulavoor, truck art by Hakeem Nawaz and Amer Khan published in 2016 by Tara Books
Highly decorative trucks lumber up and down some of the most precipitous, isolated roads in the world courtesy of Pakistan’s truck artists.
Read about the process of painting these showy, elaborate designs, as well as some rambling thoughts about one driver’s life, in this unusual book. The illustrations are phenomenal. A lengthy text makes this more suitable for older readers, ages 8 or 9 and up.
While we’re in Pakistan, read about one of its most famous citizens in:
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education
which is mainly a story of Malala’s life but also includes back pages telling more about Pakistan and the Pashtun people. A gorgeous small read for ages 7 and up. My full review is here.
When the Rain Comes, written by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim La Fave published in Canada in 2016; first American edition 2017 by Pajama Press
Malini is a little girl who lives in Sri Lanka. In the mornings, she loves to awaken to the sound of the bullock driver and the spurfowl singing in the trees. This year, Malini is learning to help in the rice fields.
While she’s tending that huge, intimidating ox, a powerful rainstorm breaks over the village sending a deluge of water down the road, threatening to overturn the ox cart and its precious load of seedlings. Malini resolves to be levelheaded and brave and comes out the hero! Unusual setting, striking illustrations, and an additional note telling more about Sri Lanka. Ages 3 and up.
One book I wish I could get my hands on is:
Tea Leaves, by Frederick Lipp, illustrated by Lester Coloma published in 2003 by Mondo Publishing
I thoroughly enjoyed this author’s story of Cambodia, The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh, reviewed here, and from what I can tell this is another gem. It’s the story of a young girl named Shanthi and her mother who work on a tea plantation in the mountains of Sri Lanka.
Shanthi longs to see the ocean and indeed she gets to take a train to the sea, a dream come true. If you can find this, I’d bet it would be a gem for ages 6 and up.
If you know of more great titles to add to this listing, please let us know in the comments.
Next stop on the tour will be Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
If you’ve missed stops along the way, here are links: