Early this month, I started writing a new book list with Asian characters, and I originally included South Asians characters but the list got too long! There are many nationalities, religions, and etniticites in South Asia and this list is far from complete. As always I welcome your suggestions to add to the list in comments. I only add books I have read so if you want to add a review with this suggestion, I would love it. Here is my picture book list with South Asian characters. As we all know, it’s vital to have a classroom library that broadens and reflects our students ‘ lived experiences. We want them to see themselves in the books we have and meet new people along the way. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop first explained in her essay in 1990, literature offers children a chance to see themselves in stories (mirrors) and be exposed to new experiences ( windows and sliding doors). Whether you have South Asian students or not some or all these books with South Asian characters should find a place in your library.
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Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya is the only non-fiction picture book on this list. While Malala is not a character, she is certainly a hero. Malala was a young girl in Pakistan when she stood up for education as the Taliban was stripping rights away from people in her Pakistani village. Malala stood up for every child’s right to an education while the Taliban banned education for girls. She inspired many and angered the Taliban, who sent a gunman to kill her. She didn’t die, and the fear the Taliban hoped would silence her didn’t quiet her. It motivated her. That is what bravery is; facing danger without showing fear. She survived and still speaks out for the rights of all children to get an education. I can’t read this book without tears flowing. Obviously, very young children will not be ready for this book. I had read it with my son when he was nine and my daughter when she was five. There is no right or wrong time to share this book. Read it and chose a time when you think your child will be able to understand and appreciate the importance of Malala’s message.
Bindu’s Bindis by Supriya Kelkar is a sweet story about a little girl named Bindu and her Nani. Nani lives far away in India and sends her granddaughter beautiful bindis to wear. They come in all kinds of shapes and colors. Bindu wears them proudly, and when her Nani comes for a visit, they even match them! That’s not all there is to this story though, and it’s more than just a book about shapes and grandmothers. It touches on xenophobia and cultural pride as well in very organic and sensitive ways. Bindu and Nani each have times when they need the other’s strength to get through hard situations.
The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar is a wonderful story about friendship, feelings, and colors. Harpreet wears all different colors of patkas, but after his family moves across the country, he stops and wears his plain white one for a long time. I really love this book. I love how it incorporates themes of change, loneliness, friendship, and ,colors all together into a cohesive story. It’s a great book for a group read-aloud and lesson about colors.
Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan is a wonderful story about how many first-generation immigrant children often have to follow the rules that their parents set out for them, even if they don’t fit the cultural norms of their new country. In this, Rubina is invited to a birthday party, and her mother doesn’t understand that only she is invited and forces her to take her little sister. Things do not go well, but in the end, the family adjusts to how birthday parties are celebrated in their new country, but not without some bumps.
Mama’s Saris by Pooja Makhijani is a simple yet rich story about a little girl and her desire to dress in her mama’s clothes. I think I would be hard-pressed to find a woman who doesn’t remember watching in awe as her mom got dressed for a special event and wanting to dress just like mama. The narrator is Hindu, and her mama wears a sari for special occasions. She is stubbornly trying to get her mom to let her wear one for her 7th birthday. The illustrations are beautiful, especially the jewel tones of the various saris. This book would be a great one to read before playing dress-up, or other pretend play. The story is touching, and although it’s too long for toddlers, it’s a great book for preschoolers.
The Fintastic Fishsitter by Mo O’Hara is a funny tale of a little sister tasked with keeping an evil cat away from a zombie goldfish that it desperately wants to eat! The cat is no match for this strong little girl who knows how to hold her own. In the end, she does the job they hired her to do and then some.
Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins is another Once Upon A World board book that my students love. Rapunzel is Indian in this version of the story, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same tale. This year I had a three-year-old ask me what her name was. I said, “It’s Rapunzel.” The three-year-old thought about it, then said,” I have a movie, and she wears a purple dress and has yellow hair. This girl has brown hair like me.” While my student was caucasian, she still connected to how she had something in common with THIS Rapunzel that she didn’t feel with the one she saw in Tangled. I loved that and this whole board book series.
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed is such a good story about patience. Bilal and his friends are helping his dad make daal, but it takes all day as the children play and swim, the daal cooks. I really like how the author touches on the nerves we feel when sharing food familiar to us but unfamiliar to our friends. Bilal is worried, but in the end, the daal is worth the wait, and everyone loves it. Please do not read this on an empty stomach. You will regret it. I can’t wait to use the recipe at the back to make daal.
Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal is a beautiful and simple book about Holi, the festival of colors. Readers join two siblings Chintoo and Mintoo, as they prepare and celebrate Holi. There are some wonderful color lessons in this book, but really it’s about Holi and how it’s celebrated. The illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Vashti Harrison, make this good book great. Every page is vibrant and inviting. Your students will love this book.
The Boy & The Bindi by Vivek Shraya is a beautiful book about a little boy who is very curious about his mom’s bindi. Traditionally a bindi is worn by Hindu and Jain women and girls, but not boys or men. But his mom sees that he is curious and gives him his own, and it awakens his sense of self and helps him express who he is. While this book doesn’t speak specifically of gender issues, the author is a transgender woman, and in many ways, this book reminds me of Julien dressing as a mermaid. It pushes gender norms and forces readers to see that being yourself doesn’t always fit into specific pre-made boxes.
Gift for Amma; Market Day in India by Meera Sriram is the last color book on this list, but like the others, it’s wonderful. A little girl goes to the market to find a gift for her Amma. She explores all kinds of things while noting their rich colors. I like that the words used for the colors aren’t just basic like red or brown but rather vermillion and terracotta, for example. This is a book about colors for older children and perfect for Prek-Kindergarten. Many group lessons could be created after reading this book, from pretend play markets to beading to color vocabulary lessons. I love it when good books spark lessons like this one can!
Binny’s Diwali by Thirty Umrigar is a sweet story about a little girl sharing her favorite holiday, Diwali, with her class. At first, she is very excited as she enjoys the special Diwali treats before heading to school, but then nerves take over. I don’t want to spoil the story but trust me, it all turns out ok, and Binny does a wonderful job teaching her classmates about her favorite holiday. The author also does a wonderful job explaining Diwali to young readers unfamiliar with this holiday. The illustrations by Nidhi Chanani absolutely glow and help make this book magical.
Do you have a favorite books with a South Asian character or theme? Share the title and a quick review in comments.