Maya by Mahak Jain; illustrated by Elly MacKay (Owlkids Books, 2016). The loss of her father and a blackout in her Indian city combine to distress Maya. Her mother’s bedtime tale of a legendary banyan tree kindles the child’s imagination, bringing her comfort and soothing memories of her father. Alluring illustrations of the lush dream landscape and animals Maya visualizes will engage readers. (Grades K-3)
What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein (Disney-Hyperion, 2016). In the Nepalese Borderlands, twelve-year-old orphan Nandu realizes his destiny as a “mahout” (elephant driver). Through a vivid jungle setting and Nandu’s first-person narration, this story reveals the rich diversity of the natural world and the connection between humans and animals. (Grades 4-7)
Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins; illustrated by Jamie Hogan (Charlesbridge, 2015). A gripping and heartfelt tale of a young boy’s love for, and sense of responsibility towards, his island home in the Sunderbands of West Bengal and the wildlife that shares it with him. Universal concerns of conservation, equal education, and economic inequality are seamlessly intertwined with the narrative of Neel’s daily life and his adventure with a tiger cub. (Grades 3-6). Check out the Discussion and Activity Guide for Tiger Boy developed by Charlesbridge. Visit Mitali Perkins website to read more about Tiger Boy and other titles by the author.
Dear Mrs. Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian (Young Zubaan, 2015). When twelve-year-old Sarojini is forced to begin the school year without her best friend, Amir, who begins attending a higher class school outside of their neighborhood, she becomes wholly conflicted about her own social standing. Fortuitously, Sarojini’s spirited new teacher assigns her to write letters to someone she would like to know, and as Sarojini channels her thoughts as correspondence with her deceased, freedom-fighter namesake, Sarojini Naidu, she awakens her own sense of activism, communal relationships, familial bonds, and confirmed friendships, both old and new. (Grades 6 and up). Visit Zubaan to learn more about acquiring a copy of Dear Mrs. Naidu!
Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low Books Inc., 2014). Twenty-Two Cents smartly chronicles the life and inspiration behind Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, and the internationally transformative Grameen Bank’s micro-lending system. Coupled with rich illustrations that vibrantly capture the essence and depth of Yunus’ experiences, this poignant picture book easily lends itself to readers of all ages. Includes an afterword and author’s source notes. (Grades 2-5) Lesson Plan
Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier (PUSH, an imprint of Scholastic Press, 2014). The dense, chaotic, yet lyrical, pulse of daily life in Bombay collides with the dissonant, hip-hop sensibility of affluent, urban Indian youth in this story of Dimple, a young Indian-American woman’s journey of self-discovery. (Grades 10 and up) Lesson Plan
Razia’s Ray of Hope One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Suana Verelst (Kids Can Press, 2013) Razia dreams of getting an education, but in her small village in Afghanistan, girls haven’t been allowed to attend school for many years. When a new girls’ school opens in the village, a determined Razia must convince her father and oldest brother that educating her would be best for her, their family and their community. Based on the true stories of the students of the Zabuli Education Center for Girls just outside of Kabul. Read more about the author and the Razia book trust and download curriculum guides. Find out more about the illustrator Suana Verelst! (Grades 3-8).
A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum Book, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2013) Before India was divided, three teens, each from wildly different backgrounds, cross paths. And then, in one moment, their futures become irrevocably intertwined. Tariq, Anupreet, Margaret are as different as their Muslim, Sikh, and British names. But in that one moment, their futures become entirely dependent on one another. Read more about the author and book reviews. (Grades 8 and up) Lesson Plan
The Rumor by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrations by Kanyika Kini (Tundra Books, 2012). In the village of Baddbaddpur, the people like to tell tales. Pandurang is so dour that he can make milk turn sour. One day he coughs up a feather. As the story of Pandurang’s feather is passed from one person to another it grows and grows and grows until it can hardly be recognized. (Grades PreK-4). Educator Handout for The Rumor
Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely Through a Never-Ending War by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, House of Anansi Press, 2012). Deborah Ellis went to Kabul to find out what happened to Afghanistan’s children since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. She interviewed children who spoke about their lives. They are still living in a country torn apart by war, violence and oppression still exist, particularly affecting the lives of girls, but the kids are weathering their lives with courage and optimism. (Grades 5 – 12) Lesson Plan
Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Henry Holt and Company, 2011). Pen Pals Elliot and Kailash discover that even though they live in different countries—America and India—they both love to climb trees, own pets, and ride school buses. (Grade 5 & under). Educator Handout for Same, Same but Different
Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2011). A young girl trains to be the new spiritual leader of her remote Andaman Island tribe, while facing increasing threats from the modern world. (Grade 6 & above). Educator Handout for Island’s End, plus virtual lesson plan and discussion guide.
Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why by Sowmya Rajendran; illustrated by Satwik Gade (Tulika Publishers, 2015). Young Bhimaro does not understand why he is not allowed to sit at a school desk or drink from the same water tap as the other children. His search for answers to all his “whys” leads him on a quest that culminates in his becoming the first Law Minister in India and a writer of the country’s Constitution. Beautiful and vibrant illustrations bring to life the story of one of India’s most important social justice fighters. (Grades K-3). Visit Tulika Books to order copies of The Boy Who Asked Why!
The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers by Mike Masilami; illustrated by Matthew Frame (Tara Books, 2015). An unnamed boy, obsessed with numbers, must not only navigate war torn Sri Lanka, but also the cast of characters and talking animals occupying the refugee camp where he lives. At the heart of this fantastical and often humorous tale is a story about resistance and dealing with the tragedy of a country ripped apart by civil war. The amazing illustrations are dark and rough, which expertly reflect the horrors of the story. (Grades 8 and up). Visit Tara Books to order copies of The Boy Who Speaks in Numbers!
Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan (Yali Books, 2013). Pavan, an over-worked camel in the city of Ahmedabad, India, hates his job. He often dreams of being a racing camel in Dubai. But hitched to a heavy vegetable cart and with his owner Motabhai around, how is this possible? (Grades pre-K-3)
Chained by Lynne Kelly (Farrar Straus Giroux, Margaret Ferguson Books, 2012). To work off a family debt, ten-year-old Hastin leaves his desert village in India to work as a circus elephant keeper but many challenges await him, including trying to keep Nadita, a sweet elephant, safe from the cruel circus owner. (Grades 4-7). Educator Handout for Chained
Chandra’s Magic Light: A Story in Nepal by Theresa Heine; illustrated by Judith Gueyfier (Barefoot Books, 2014). Living in a traditional village in Nepal, young sisters pick and sell flowers at the market to earn money to buy a solar lamp which will help the air quality in their home. Soft complimentary illustrations. Excellent end notes. (Grades K-3)
The Elephant’s Friend and Other Tales from Ancient India by Marcia Williams (Candlewick Press, 2012). Drawing from three books of best-loved Indian folktales — Hitopadesha Tales, Jataka Tales, and Panchantra Tales — this graphic storybook collection, alive with kid-friendly illustrations, is infused with humor and warmth. (Grades K-4)
Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi and Gita Wolf (Tara Books Pvt. Ltd, 2010). Following My Paint Brush is the story of Dulari Devi, a domestic helper who went on to become an artist in the Mithila style of folk painting from Bihar, eastern India. (Grade 5 & under) Educator Handout for Following My Paint Brush
Gandhi: A March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez (Amazon Publishing, 2013). Mohandas Gandhi’s 24-day March to the Sea, from March 12 to April 5, 1930, was a pivotal moment in India’s quest to become an independent country no longer ruled by Great Britain. (Grades 3 and up)
The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia (Peachtree, 2013). The arrival of a new student, Marwa, a fellow fifth-grader who is a strict Muslim, helps Aliya come to terms with her own lukewarm practice of the faith and her embarrassment of others’ reactions to their beliefs. (Grades 4-7)
God Loves Hair by Vivek Shraya; illustrated by Juliana Neufeld (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014). A seemingly unconnected collection of beautifully written vignettes, tells the true story of a young Indian teen trying to find his place in the world. Shraya writes with intense honesty and insight about the cutting pain of not only being of a different race and religion, but also discovering that he is gay. Readers will be amazed by the author’s strength and resilience. (Grades 7 and up)
Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar (Campfire, an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media, 2013). Mother Teresa knew from a young age that she wanted to become a nun. What she could not envision was where that service to God would take her, until she was sent to Calcutta to teach. (Grades 6 and up)
No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood Books, 2011). Valli has always been afraid of the people with leprosy living on the other side of the train tracks in the coal town of Jharia, India, so when aa encounter with a doctor reveals she too has the disease, Valli rejects help and begins a life on the streets. (Grade 6 & above)
Razia and the Pesky Presents by Natasha Sharma; illustrated by Priya Kuriyan (Duckbill Books, 2015). Hilariously encapturing the frustrations of being a female ruler in the thirteenth century (not as different from today as you might imagine!), this tale bubbles with sly humor, rhythmic rhymes, and a fascinating cast of caricatured characters who are as comical in the exaggerated illustrations as they are in the narrative. (Grades 2-4). Visit Duckbill Books to order copies of Razia and the Pesky Presents!
Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani (Candlewick Press, 2012). A twelve-year-old Indian immigrant in New York City and a Kentucky coal miner’s son become pen pals, and eventually best friends, through a series of revealing letters exploring such topics as environmental activism, immigration, and racism. (Grades 4-7)
Secrets of the Sky Caves: Danger and Discovery on Nepal’s Mustang Cliffs by Sandra K. Athans (Millbrook Press, 2014). The Mustang Cliffs in Nepal have been untouched for thousands of years. Discover how mountain climbers, archaeologists, scientists and historians all learned how to traverse the seemingly inaccessible “Sky Caves.” What secrets will these modern day adventurers discover – keys to an ancient civilization or simply plundered cave dwellings? (Grades 4-6)
Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni, illustrations by Moyna Chitrakar (Groundwood Books, 2011). The Ramayana, one of the greatest legends of ancient India, is presented in the form of a visually stunning and gripping graphic novel, told from the perspective of the queen, Sita. (Grade 6 & above)
Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan (Simon & Schuster, 2011). In 1919, independent-minded Rosalind lives in India with her English parents, and when they fear she has fallen in with some rebellious types who believe in Indian self-government, she is sent “home” to London, where she has never been before and where her older brother died, to stay with her two aunts. (Grade 6 & above)
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014). Skillfully told in verse, Veda’s inspirational story reveals an athletic young woman passionate about traditional Indian dance. When she loses a leg in an accident she must fight to determine her identity and future. (Grades 6 and up). Educator Handout for A Time to Dance.
The Wooden Sword by Ann Redisch Stampler, illustrated by Carol Liddiment (Albert Whitman & Company, 2012). Disguised in servant’s clothes, an Afghani shah slips out of his palace to learn more about his people. When he encounters a poor Jewish shoemaker faithful that everything will turn out just as it should, the shah grows curious. Vowing that no harm will befall the poor man, he decides to test that faith. (Grades K-5). Educator Handout for The Wooden Sword
HIGHLY COMMENDED BOOKS
A Pair of Twins by Kavitha Mandana; illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath (Karadi Tales, 2014). A vibrantly illustrated and empowering tale of an Indian girl and her “twin,” an elephant born the same day, who bravely break down cultural and gender barriers while taking on roles historically restricted to males. (Grades K-3)
Beyond Bullets: A Photo Journal of Afghanistan by Rafal Gerszak with Dawn Hunter (Annick Press, 2011). Award-winning photographer Rafal Gerszak spent a year embedded with the American troops in Afghanistan to bear witness to its people, culture, and the impact of war. (Grade 6 & above)
Crane Boy by Diana Cohn; illustrated by Youme (Cinco Puntos Press, 2015). Every year Kinga waits for the black-necked cranes to return to his village in Bhutan. When he discovers they are endangered, he and his classmates create a dance and festival to honor the cranes and remind people of the need to safeguard them. (Grades K-4)
Escape from Tibet: A True Story by Nick Gray with Laura Scandiffio (Annick Press, 2014). Based on a true story, two brothers from Tibet embark on a dangerous journey to India in search of a better life. A thrilling story of courage and adventure, readers will delight in Tenzin and Pasang’s trek to freedom. (Grades 5-8)
The Fantastic Adventures of Krishna written and illustrated by Demi (Wisdom Tales, 2013). Set in a peaceful kingdom in India more than 5000 years ago, this is the enchanting tale of the child Krishna, who is sent by the God Vishnu to aid humanity. (Grades K and up)
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes (Chronicle Books, 2012). The bold, bright colors of India leap right off the page in this fresh and funny picture book adaptation of how Ganesha came to write the epic poem of Hindu literature, the Mahabarata. (Grades Prek-3)
Gobble You Up! by Gita Wolf, art by Sunita (Tara Books, 2013). In this adaptation of a traditional oral Rajasthani trickster tale, a wily jackal, who is too lazy to go hunting himself, challenges his best friend to catch 12 fish. The narrative unfolds in cumulative rhyme, accompanied by distinctive finger paintings created in the ancient Mandna style. (Grades pre-K-3)
The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2011). Eleven-year-old Dini loves movies, and so when she learns that her family is moving to India for two years, her devastation over leaving her best friend in Maryland is tempered by the possibility of meeting her favorite actress, Dolly Singh. (Grade 6 & up) Activity Kit
In Andal’s House by Gloria Whelan, illustrations by Amanda Hall (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013). As a young boy in Gujarat, Kumar sometimes feels like he lives in two worlds. The old world where people and their choices are determined by prejudice and bigotry; and the modern world: in this world Kumar can be friends with whomever he chooses and his future looks bright. (Grades K-3) Lesson Plan
Karma by Cathy Ostlere (Razorbill, Penguin Group, 2011). Written in free verse poems in a diary format, this novel straddles two countries and the clash of Indian cultures in the tale of 15-year-old Maya. (Grade 6 & up)
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan; illustrated by Christiane Krömer (Lee & Low Books Inc., 2014). Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Malik endeavors to capture the most kites during Basant, the spring festival of kites in Lahore, Pakistan, and become “king” of this special day. Includes author’s note. (PreK-Grade 2)
Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson; illustrated by Adrian Alphona (Marvel Worldwide Inc., 2014). Kamala Khan is many things – a teenager, Pakistani-American, Muslim, Fangirl, and the super hero protector of Jersey City! How is she able to balance all these roles and be the perfect daughter to her parents? Can Kamala be the new Ms. Marvel and still honor her heritage? (Grades 5-8)
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J Freedman (Harry N. Abrams, 2013). Tara’s not sure she wants to have a bat mitzvah. Even though she’s attended Hebrew school, her mother’s Indian heritage has a pull on her, and she wonders if she dishonors her Indian grandparents by declaring her Judaism. (Grades 5-8)
My Friend is Hindu by Khadija Ejaz (Purple Toad Publishing, 2015) Most of us don’t have a friend like Arjun to explain to us about sanatana dharma, varnas, samskaras, and atman, but Cameron’s Hindu pal shows him that we only fear what we don’t know. In this concise, approachable story, Khadija Ejaz opens up a world of cultural awareness that’s both curiosity driven and easy to absorb. Photos, familiar concepts and themes, and charming characters root the educational bits in modern reality, so children can better connect with and understand the religion and lifestyle explored. (Grades 4 and up)
Shadow by Michael Morpurgo (Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan, 2012). 14 year old Aman and his mother flee the horrors of war in Afghanistan and escape to England. But just as they are getting settled in their new home, Aman and his mother find themselves in a detention center. Their only hope is Aman’s friend Matt, Matt’s grandfather, and the dream of finding Shadow, Aman’s trusted and loyal canine companion. (Grades 5-8)
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014). This classic tale of taboo love illuminates the cultural and political complexities of present-day Afghanistan. Wrought with tension and dreams of a brighter tomorrow, The Secret Sky humanizes a land often only ever heard about in news sound bites. (Grades 8 and up)
Sona and the Wedding Game by Kashmira Sheth; illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi (Peachtree Publishers, 2015). Sona is excited about attending her first Indian wedding, particularly since her sister is the bride. She discovers tradition expects her to steal the groom’s shoes, so she solicits the help of her know-it-all cousin Vishal to pull off the heist. (Grades K-3)
The Sweetest Mango by Malavika Shetty, illustrations by Ajanta Guhathakurta (Tulika Publishers, 2012). The sweet, simple story and luscious pictures evoke delicious flavors of hot days, warm friendships and the smell of mango in the air. (Grades PreK-3)
A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2015). In this contemporary mystery, two girls – Leila in Pakistan and Kai in Texas – are linked to each other through a magical book that slowly discloses the past and changes the future. (Grades 4-7)
Tina’s Mouth: an Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap, illustrations by Mari Araki (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Tina Malhotra, a sophomore at the Yarborough Academy in Southern California, creates an existential diary for an assignment in which she tries to determine who she is and where she fits in. (Grades 9-12)
Torn by David Massey (Chicken House, 2013). The story follows Ellie, a 19-year-old British medic, during her tour of duty in Afghanistan. Her squad is attached to a small troop of American SEALs who must find a hidden cache of arms and learn about a children’s army that is fighting both the Western Coalition and the Taliban. (Grades 8 and up)
The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani (Delacorte Press, 2012). When Sonia’s father loses his job, she must move from her small, supportive private school to a public middle school. The new school, her father’s diagnosis of clinical depression, and her half- Jewish and half- Indian heritage leave Sonia feeling more confused about herself, her friends, and her family. (Grades 5-8)
The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World by Shahrukh Husain, illustrations by Micha Archer (Barefoot Books, 2011). Meet Mulla Nasruddin, a legendary character whose adventures and misadventures are enjoyed across the Islamic world. (Grade 5 & under)
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (Scholastic Inc., 2011). Zulaikha, a thirteen-year-old girl in Afghanistan, faces a series of frightening but exhilarating changes in her life as she defies her father and secretly meets with an old woman who teaches her to read, her older sister gets married, and American troops offer her surgery to fix her disfiguring cleft lip. (Grade 6 & up)