I’m so excited about the beautiful picture books and interesting chapter and middle grade 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 and Indian Culture
India Treasure Quest (Tiny Travelers) A Search and Find Book by Steven Wolfe Pereira and Susie Jaramillo
This new Tiny Travelers India board book transports little readers to India. See the sights, learn words, and search for objects in the illustrations. It’s a colorful, exuberant cultural journey featuring Bollywood , the jungles of Ranthambore, the spring Holi festival, the sport of cricket, and much more. This richly illustrated, engaging look at a world region and culture encourages young readers to see things from a global perspective. Absolutely wonderful.
Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Captivating illustrations and wonderful storytelling. Use this picture book to teach colors and the Indian holiday of Holi. Two siblings gather flowers for the upcoming festival of color, Holi. Each two-page spread is a different flower and color. “They gather irises, because irises make BLUE.” When the flowers are gathered, they’re dried, and pressed into fine powders of color. Then, the family and friends gather together where they throw the brilliant colored powders into the air and onto each other.
Binny’s Diwali by Thrity Umrigar, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani
Today, Binny gets to share with her classmates about the holiday, Diwali. At first, she’s nervous, then she finds the words to explain about the Festival of Lights and its colorful fireworks, colorful powdered chalk, the pretty clay lamps, and sweet foods. She shares the sweets with the class. When the day is done, she celebrates her own victory of goodness and light. This lovely, relatable story of shyness to bravery teaches children about an important Hindu holiday.
My Diwali Light by Raakhee Mirchandani, illustrated by Supriya Kelkar
A little girl shares how she celebrates Diwali starting with picking out her outfit and continuing with all the other festive activities such as visiting friends, eating good food, socializing with guests and neighbors, and saying prayers before bedtime. It’s a gentle, atmospheric look at the Diwali celebration.
Where Three Oceans Meet by Rajani Larocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
A girl named Sejal and her mom visit Pati (grandmother) in India where they eat delicious food, visit rivers, temples, and the oceans, and enjoy a wonderful time together, even when the little girl gets sick for a day. It’s a memorable exploration of India and the thread of generational connection.
Girls on Wheels written by Srividhya Venkat, illustrated by Kate Wadsworth
I love this energetic growth mindset story and the dynamic illustrations! Three friends meet in the morning at the skate park. But one friend, Anila, is worried about another broken bone so she sits and watches her friends. Anila’s friends encourage her to try, even if she falls. “Skating is for anyone who wants to try,” says Damini. So Anila tries…and she flies. Three girls on wheels! Here they come!
My Bollywood Dream by Avani Dwivedi
The girl loves driving through Mumbai to the movie with her family on Friday nights. As she travels through the busy street, she imagines the police-uncle and crowd acting and dancing in the movies she makes. At the movies, the movie’s romance and adventure end with a fun dance that all the audience does, too.
I’ll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Sara Palacios
Jyot visits her beloved Sita Pati in India. The language difference isn’t a problem; they play games, make art, buy food, and eat meals. Instead of goodbye, Jyoti says, “I’ll go and come back.” Later, Sita Pati visits Jyoti in the U.S. and they play games, make art, buy food, and eat meals. Filled with culture and love, this is a sweet story about a loving grandparent-grandchild relationship that bridges countries and languages.
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.
Counting to Diwali: A Celebration in Numbers by S. C. Baheti, illustrated by Rohen Dahotre
Learn to count from one to ten in Hindi. Beautiful illustrations show nouns that represent the holiday of Diwali and the number of fingers for the number shown. For example, “7 SAAT seven Phool maala flower garlands” shows hands with seven fingers marked in red and a lovely illustration of flower garlands. A wonderful book to introduce Indian culture and language.
The Katha Chest by Radhiah Chowdhury, illustrated by Lavanya Naidu
With lovely storytelling, this picture book is filled with rich sensory images and gorgeous illustrations of a little girl thinking of family memories and stories while exploring her Nanu’s katha chest. For each treasured katha, she thinks of her family members and their lives. “A thick white streak runs across another quilt like the white saris Choto Khala has worn since Khalu died. Asiya imagines it is the road to the village where Choto Khala still lives.“
Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel
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 celebrate India’s culture as well as a close grandparent-grandchild relationship.
A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa
A little girl excitedly explores the market to find her Amma a gift. She notices the colors — orange saffron and marigolds, white jasmine and goats, pink lotus flowers and sweets…I love how many senses the author engages from sights to sounds and tastes and smells. “Tumeric yellow like sunshine dust, Plenty of powdery spice at home. A yellow rickshaw pedals by — Ding-a-ling! I scoot to the side.” Beautiful illustrations perfectly illuminate the celebration of the market’s colors and the girl’s excitement.
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!
Hair Twins by Raakhee Mirchandani, illustrated by Holly Hatam
The loving little girl’s Papa combs her hair every morning. Sometimes he braids it. Sometimes he puts it in a top bun just like the joora he wears under his turban. “Hair cheers!” the little girl tells her Papa, her hair twin. After school, Papa takes her hair down. Then, they have dance parties and go to the park where they play with friends. You’ll love their sweet father-daughter relationship and the Sikh representation.
The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar, illustrated by Alea Marley
A relatable story about feelings, moving homes and finding a friend. Harpreet loves colors and expresses his feelings with the colors of his patkas which are a kind of turban that he wears each day. One of the best children’s picture books of 2019, this beautiful book includes some much-needed representation and addresses the importance of talking about feelings.
Anni Dreams of Biryani by Namita Moolani Mehra, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat
Anni enters a determined quest to find the ingredients to make the best biryani just like Uncle makes in the cafe across the street. This is a delicious story filled with dreams, culture, perseverance, and food.
Little Sid: The Tiny Prince Who Became Buddha by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Xanthe Bouma
Sid starts out life as a spoiled prince whose parents catered to his every need. But he isn’t happy. So Sid leaves his castle to look for Happiness. After he almost dies, things change. Sid changes. He no longer wants material things; he wants just to be. Pastels and browns, dialogue bubbles, and accessible text make this a winning introduction to the boy who became Buddha. (Siddhartha was born in Nepal but I’m including this picture book here as it still carries historical significance in the area.)
10 Gulab Jamuns: Counting with an Indian Sweet Treat by Sandhya Acharya, illustrated by Vanessa Alexandre
A loving family shares a favorite cultural sweet treat and practices counting and subtracting in this beautifully written, Indian-flavored math story! Mama makes 10 gulab jamuns for guests. But, one child eats three. Now there are only 7 for the guests. And another child eats 3 more. Now there are only 4 left. Mamma wonders how she will have time to make more treats for her guests. The kids will help her make them! “That afternoon, Idu and Adu didn’t go to the backyard to play. They helped Mamma and Daddy make 10 more gulab jamuns instead.“
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily HaynesIn 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.
Archie Celebrates Diwali by Mitali Banerjee Ruths, illustrated by Parwinder Singh
Archie hosts a Diwali party but worries her friend will think it is boring or weird but even with a storm and power outages, Archie’s friends dance, eat, and enjoy the holiday celebration.
The Elephant’s Friend and Other Tales from Ancient India retold by Marcia Williams
This collection of tales from India is 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
You’ll remember this famous story about perspective, it’s often used in the classroom and corporate training. In this lovely picture book adaptation, a merchant arrives with a mysterious beast which he puts into a barn. The villagers are anxious to figure out what it is so they each creep into the dark barn and feel part of the beast. One thinks it’s a like a snake, the other thinks it’s like a fan, another things it’s like a tree trunk, and so on. But no one listens to the others. The next day, the merchant leads the beautiful elephant out of the barn but no one noticed or saw the truth because they were too busy fighting. What a great lesson! Rumi was a Persian poet but I’m including it here since elephants are also part of the Indian culture.
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)
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
Set in Mumbi, this is a deftly narrated, hope-filled story of the inequities around water with themes of advocacy, education, and community. 12-year-old Minni’s community has access to water only a few hours per day with severe water shortages. When Minni is forced to leave school to work as a maid, she sees the water (and other) iniquity first-hand and discovers that the family’s dad is the water mafia boss. Her decision and action to report him makes a difference — and gives us hope that one person can make a difference.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Set in India, Viji her sister 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 and a bad trash man finds their home so the four kids escape to a mosquito-filled cemetery filled. Not long after, Rukku gets a terrible cough and fever. What happens next will almost destroy Viji. She wonders how prayers and faith can coexist with misery and pain. 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.
Strong as Fire, Fierce As Flame by Supriya Kelkar
Don’t miss this powerful story set in colonial India about a girl finding her voice and inner strength. Meera’s dad holds fast to his beliefs that if her husband dies, so she must also die. She’s only twelve and still lives at home but just as she’s about to live with her husband (who she married as a child), her husband dies! Now her father expects Meera to join her husband’s funeral pyre. She doesn’t go. Her aunt gives her the courage to flee. But as she’s escaping, she’s captured by a British captain and assigned to work in his kitchen where she witnesses firsthand the institutional racism and cruelty to her people. Initially, Meera is afraid but she learns that she can not look the other way and fights back by helping the resistance.
Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman
Kabir is too old to continue living in jail with his mom who was unjustly imprisoned. He’s forced to leave the jail without his mom and quickly realizes that his so-called uncle is trying to sell him into slavery. Kabir runs away and meets a worldly-wise girl named Rani who helps him survive the streets. Together, the two journey to another city where they hope Kabir’s grandparents live and where Kabir and Rani find kindness and second chances. This powerful story illuminates the problem of homelessness and the justice system in India, yet gives readers hope in human kindness and the possibilities of change. I honestly felt like crying with joy during the last third of the book — it so emotionally resonate.
The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani Dasgupta
“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 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 a confusing time. This story, filled with historical significance, is masterfully told. You won’t want to put this one down.
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
Aru Sha and the End of Time: A Pandava Novel Book 1 by Roshani Chokshi
I found this a difficult book to read for two reasons. First, I dididn’t love the main character who constantly lied. Second, I probably needed more background knowledge in the Hindu religion/mythology because I struggled to follow the many god and goddess characters. It just got confusing. That being said, maybe you’ll find this book more appealing than me, many people do.
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