I’m so excited about the beautiful picture books and interesting chapter books about India, Indian culture, and Indian mythology that have arrived in the children’s literature world recently. Standouts include the gorgeous The Festival of Colors picture book and the historical chapter book Ahimsa. But they’re all amazing. These books will help kids learn and appreciate what makes India unique.
Children’s Picture Books About India, Indian Culture, and Indian Mythology (ages 3 – 10)
Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
The Diwali Gift by Shweta Chopra and Shuchi Mehta, illustrated by Anna Koan
Diwali is a very important celebration in India. Adorable, playful illustrations tell a charming story of three monkey friends who get a mysterious Diwali present. The grandmother who gave the gift also gives the friends clues. They try to guess what might be inside by using the clues and recalling all their favorite parts of the holiday celebration. What will it be? This is a lovely introduction to the Diwali holiday.
Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel
The author/illustrator creates an irresistible sensory experience of India. When Priya helps her Babi Ba cook rotli, her Babi Ba shares her memories of India… the smell of roasted cumin and masala, the sound of motorbikes whizzing by, the taste of a steaming cup of cha, the feel of the hot sun on your face, views of arches and domes of the buildings, rainbow of saris, and brightly colored marigolds. Later, Priya makes her Babi Ba paper orange marigolds for their doorway in the U.S. to remind her. I adore the writing, the illustrations, and the story that celebrates India’s culture as well as a close grandparent-grandchild relationship.
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Bilal tells his friends all about daal. Together, they carefully prepare the ingredients, then wait as the flavors mix together. While they’re waiting, they play outside. Finally, the daal is ready for more ingredients and the best part of all — eating! This story makes me want to eat daal, too — it’s a lovely introduction to this savory lentil dish from South Asia as well as a warm-hearted example of sharing traditional foods with friends from other cultures. Wonderful!
Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Xanthe Bouma
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
In this gorgeously illustrated Hindu myth, the elephant god Ganesha breaks his tusk eating candy. He’s so mad that he throws his tusk at the moon. But, it doesn’t land on the moon. It lands on the poet Vyasa who asks Ganesha to use his tusk to scribe an epic Sanskrit poem. I love the story but I really love the patterns, colors, and designs throughout. Incredible!
Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Jess Golden
What a fun version of “The Wheels on the Bus” song. This one is set aboard a three-wheeled tuk tuk taxi in India. You’ll pay with rupees, stop for a moo-moo-cow, and eat poppa-doppa-doms .. all through the town. I love how this creates an ambience of sounds and sights that you’d encounter in India.
A Bucket of Blessings by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong
It hasn’t rained where Monkey lives. He remembers a story his mama told him about peacocks dancing to make rain so he searches for Peacock. Peacock tells Monkey he needs water. Monkey gets the water and brings it in a bucket to Peacock. Along the way, the bucket’s hole drips water on the ground — which initially seems like a terrible failure until the land begins to bloom. Plus, Peacock uses the few drops left to dance and bring rain to the land. Gorgeous patterned illustrations throughout.
The Elephant’s Friend and Other Tales from Ancient India retold by Marcia Williams
This collection of tales from India are depicted in cartoons of rich magenta, amethyst and reds. Animals talk and people learn valuable lessons in this Indian version of Aesop’s Fables.
Elephant in the Dark based on a poem by Rumi, retold by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Indian Tales: A Barefoot Collection by Shenaaz Nanji and Christopher Corr
Storytelling and oral tradition are important in India. This colorfully illustrated book of Indian stories shares information about different regional areas in India plus notable cultural elements. For example, in the Gujarat section, you’ll learn about many important festivals by Divaali and Holi. The regions each contain a mesmerizing folktale filled with distinctive cultural elements and mythology.
The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
“Season by season, Nek’s head filled with stories, until it overflowed.” Nek’s world is filled with stories and the richness of life in India. Until Punjab splits into two –Pakistan and India. Nek, being a Hindu, is forced to flee from his home to the new India. But his new land doesn’t speak to him. Not until he finds a hidden wilderness. Even though it is illegal, he lives in his new spot, quietly building a secret kingdom of plants, metal, concrete, broken glass, and pebbles. When the government discovers it, they want to tear it down. But they don’t because the Indian people love his secret kingdom too much. They help him keep his art and stories alive. The back contains actual illustrations of this incredible real place. THis is an inspiring story of an artist with dedication and vision!
Chapter Books About India, Indian Culture, and Indian Mythology (Ages 8 – 12)
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
This is the story of sisters and brothers and resiliency and courage. Set in India, Viji writes this story as letters to you, her little sister Rukku who has intellectual disabilities. She recalls how the two of them ran away from an abusive father and sick mother to the big city where they meet two friendly brothers and live with them under a bridge, scrabbling to survive by collecting trash. Their days are hard but Viji learns how much more capable her sister is then she previously thought. For example, Rukku makes beautiful bead necklaces that earn them money for food. Rukku is also a kind soul, mourning worms who have died and adopting a stray dog. Then when a bad trash man finds their home, the four kids escape to a mosquito-filled cemetery filled. Not long after, Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever. So does one of the brothers. What happens next will almost destroy Viji. She wonders. how prayers and faith can coexist with misery and pain. She wonders how life can move on. Ultimately, it is the kindness of her new family that helps her see more in the future than misery. It’s an honest, eye-opening story that reveals the plight of many homeless children in India and yet, finds a way to be hopeful, too.
The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta
This story pulls you in from the first page — in fact I took a screen shot of a sentence from the beginning of the book that just captures the humorous, mythological essence, and adventure of the story to come: “I was done for — abandoned by my parents, covered in rakkosh snot, and about to be eaten. This was the worst birthday ever!” Kiranmala discovers on her 12th birthday (well, a few days later when she actually believes it) that she’s a princess from another realm and her parents are trapped in a black hole-type place. But there’s a lot more she’ll learn — like who her real parents are (yikes!) and that demons can be your friends. The prince’s demon grandma, Ai-Ma, is my FAVORITE character. She says things like “Be good, sweet beetle-dung toadstools.” Okay, Kiranmala’s parents are super awesome, too. You’ll love every second of this entertaining, Indian mythology adventure.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
Written in a diary as letters to her Mama, Nisha shares how her life is turned upside down when the British rule of India ends in 1947, splitting the country into two — the Muslim north where she lives becomes Pakistan and the Hindu south remains India. Even though Nisha’s mom was Muslim, Nisha, her brother, her doctor Papa and her grandmother are forced to leave their home in the north because they are Hindu. There’s violence everywhere; nowhere is safe, not even the trains. It’s a harrowing journey and confusing time. This story, filled with historical significance, is masterfully told. You won’t want to put this one down.
Aru Sha and the End of Time: A Pandava Novel Book 1 by Roshani Chokshi
I found this a difficult book to read a book for two reasons. First, I disliked the main character who constantly lied. Second, I probably needed more background knowledge in the Hindu religion / mythology because I couldn’t follow the many god and goddess characters. It just got confusing. That being said, maybe you’ll find this book more appealing than me. I really hope you do — it’s the first book in Rick Riordan’s new imprint devoted to diverse mythologies.