Windows to the World — Part 4

by Barbara Thompson-Book, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN

Welcome back for my final week of exploring the world through both books and the World Wide Web and focusing on Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. For this final posting I want to thank several people who helped me with this post. First, Holly Johnson urged me to do this region of the world. I was hesitant because until I began my research, all the books I had read on the region were “sad and depressing” as my undergraduates had termed some of the international books I had assigned for them read. Worlds of Words’ own Rebecca Ballenger found me a “tweet” while waiting for a plane to go to NCTE this November. Thanks Rebecca for leading me into a refreshing literature I had never explored. Rebecca did this by sending me to Pooja Makhijani’s Web site about South Asia and the South Asia Diaspora in Children’s Literature. Makhijani is an American born writer with a wonderful Web site about South Asian literature. She has edited a volume entitled Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America (Seal Press, 2004). Finally I must thank my colleague at Indiana University Southeast, Shifa Podikunju-Hussain, Ph.D. who willingly shared a number of these novels and picture books with her own mother, who was born in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and her own girls ages 5 and 12. They offered their thoughts as to the authenticity of many of the books about India.

While many of the books (really the young adolescent novels) do fall into the “sad and depressing” category, I found that there are some wonderful picture books and a couple of novels which are refreshingly light, and don’t paint that area of the world as the distressing place we, perhaps, in light of recent events there, usually hold of it.

I’ll to start with India. Until conducting this research, I had little idea of the wealth of resources available to classroom teachers and thus their students. Two picture books about saris introduce the young reader to the beautiful world of Indian clothing. My Mother’s Sari by Sandhya Rao with illustrations by Nina Sabnani, is a very young person’s introduction to what sari’s are. Shifa noted that the most outstanding part of this book was the illustrations of the saris themselves. They give the reader an introduction to the variety of materials used to make saris. The book also includes directions on wrapping a sari.

Mama’s Sari by Pooja Makhijani (mentioned above) and illustrated by Elena Gomez, has more of a story behind it. Set in an unnamed western country, but since the author is an American born Indian, one might assume the United States, an unnamed seven-year-old girl begs her mother to allow her to wear her first sari to her seventh birthday party. As they go through various saris, the mother reminisces about when and where she wore each sari. They select a sari in blue with gold flowers around the boarder for the seven year old to wear to her party. The mother wraps the girl in the sari, adds the necessary bangles and then chooses a bindi for her forehead. Shifa said that the book afforded her an opportunity to discuss the bindi on the forehead with her five year old, who was very interested in the concept. The author states in a note, that she got the idea for the book because she and her friends used to love to dress up in their mother’s saris. She also felt that dressing up in a mother’s clothes is a universal activity for most young girls.

While there are many sites willing to sell you saris, I found information at Kidipede on Indian clothing that includes a video showing how to fold a sari (along with other information on Indian clothing which will be useful for use with some of the other books).

Rachna Gilmore has written a series of picture books about an immigrant child from India named Gita. Shifa felt the most successful of these books was Lights for Gita (illustrated by Alice Priestly). In this picture book, Gita’s family is preparing for Divali, a Hindu festival of lights. The weather in Canada is not cooperating, and there is an ice storm. Gita has invited her friends to share in the celebration. Her mother has prepared traditional Indian food to help Gita feel that she is still in India. Unfortunately because the weather isn’t cooperating, they can’t be outside for the fireworks and her friends can’t come because of the ice. Then as they begin to light the ceremonial lights, the electric lights in the neighborhood go out. It is at that moment that Gita learns an important lesson. Other books include A Gift for Gita and Roses for Gita.

A basic, kid-friendly introduction to the Diwali celebration is part of the Homework Help portion of the Woodland’s Junior School in Kent, U.K. Web site. At the bottom of the page it links to another site with recipes that are used to celebrate the holiday.

The Indian governement hosts a Kids Corner on their Web site. There are links to the national symbols, slide shows of culture, religion, and landmarks. You can even write to the President of India.

Turning to novels, perhaps my favorite book of all the books I read for this blog was Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins. Jazz (Jasmine Carol Gardner) is a fifteen year-old half European American, half Indian girl. She and her best “friend” Steve Moralez own a booth in Berkeley, California, called Berkeley Memories. They essentially help old “hippies” relive their Berkeley days by taking their pictures against backdrops of protests, allowing their patrons to send postcards of themselves to friends and family back home. It’s a very profitable business. One that Jazz must abandon for the summer because her mother, a prominent organizer in the community, has obtained a grant which will allow Jazz’s mother the opportunity to return to Pune, India, the place from which Jazz’s mother was adopted when she was three. Jazz’s mother is going to establish a women’s center at the orphanage where she lived until she was adopted. What happens to Jazz, who is completely against any “do-gooding,” is an eye opening, coming of age story. She ultimately uses her entrepreneurial abilities to help another young Indian woman establish her own business. I enjoyed this book because, while it did portray India as a country of poor people, it also included internet cafes, discos, and a contrast between urban Mumbai and relatively rural Pune.

The first site to visit regarding this book is Mitali’s Fire Escape. On the site you will find information about the author. She also maintains several booklists, grouped by age level. These lists have reviews of books featuring cross-cultural issues.

The monsoons play a part of all the novels in this region of the world. In fact in Monsoon Summer, Sister Das, the nun running the orphanage who is always trying to get Jazz involved in a project says, “monsoon. It brings new gifts and blessings every year. . .” (p. 258). Academic Kids is a child-based wiki that includes an entry on monsoons. Additionally, you can find video footage of monsoons from YouTube that has been screened by KidZui as appropriate for children by parents and teachers (free download of KidZui may be required). Some of the videos are more dramatic than others.

A final aspect of Monsoon Summer is that of micro-finance. In last week’s blog, I referenced Rutger University’s EconKids Web site, which features children’s literature with economic themes. One Hen is a website associated with a book One Hen, which really belongs in the Africa portion of my blog along with Beatrice’s Goat. This Web site explains the concept of microfinance in relation to the book. There are also lesson plans and booklists. I had problems playing the videos, but that might be more a function of my computer than the site itself.

In researching microfinance for children on the web, One Hen and the Web site associated with it circle in and out of most other websites. One particularly interesting site, Local Homeschool, highlights microfinance and the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2006 Muhammad Yunus who created the concept. The site has a lot of ads, but it also has wonderful links to other microfinance sites (including One Hen).

Another novel I enjoyed was Bindi Babes by Narinder Dhami. This novel is the story of three Indian teenage girls who are a part of the Indian community in London. Their father immigrated to London to go to school, met their mother and stayed. The story begins a year after the mother has died. The three girls, Geena, 14, Amber, 12, and Jazz,11, have been running the show at home since their mother died. They have iPods, the newest “trainers”, and all the right clothing. Enter their father’s sister from India, and life as they had known it changes. Let’s just say that their aunt has other ideas about how the girls should be spending their time, so the girls embark on a mission to get rid of their aunt by marrying her off. Thus begins an exploration into the current Indian culture in London and some coming of age for the three girls.

Bollywood is everywhere these days. Slumdog Millionaire exposed millions of Americans to the Indian movie industry. The girls in Bindi Babes are big followers of Bollywood and its stars. Bollywood World gives the average preteen or adolescent reader information about Bollywood without exposing them to a great deal of advertising. There are some ads, but the day I pulled up the site (January 7, 2010) there was nothing objectionable on it.

In Bindi Babes, the girls are a part of a school production highlighting the various religious cultures of the school. They represent Sikhs and Sikhism. The Parish Church of Saint James in Hampton Hill, U.K devotes a portion of their site to explaining Sikhism.

Turning now to the novels that might be classified as sad or depressing, Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman was an insightful historical piece about southern India during World War II. Shifa’s mother read this novel and said that it accurately reflected her experience growing up in that area at that time. In the novel, Vidya and her family live in Bombay (now Mumbai). They are progressive Indians, working toward a non-violent separation of India from Great Britain. Vidya’s father is a doctor, and one day on an outing with Vidya, he suffers a head injury which renders him semi-conscious. The family is forced to move to Madras, where Vidya’s grandfather and other uncles maintain a traditional Indian household. What follows is an exploration of traditional Indian culture, and a reexamination of who she is and what she wants for Vidya. Climbing the Stairs is also examined in Volume II, Issue 2 of WOW Review.

The final book from India I want to discuss is the National Book Award winner Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan. This novel centers on Koly who is given in marriage by her family which is struggling financially. She is married to a sickly boy, Hari, whose family has misrepresented his age, in order to get her dowry. Hari’s family intends to use the money to take Hari to Varanasi to immerse him in the healing waters of the Ganges. Needless to say, Hari is not healed, and Koly is left a widow at thirteen, in a family who doesn’t want her. Again what follows is an exploration of traditional Indian culture and a story of self-reliance.

For a brief introduction to Hinduism, a major part of these novels, I suggest Woodlands Junior School once again. While not flashy, it has basic information that will help an adolescent reader understand the underpinnings of the novels.

The Golden Temple, which plays a part in Homeless Bird, is featured in a well-done video on YouTube. This video explores the history of the Golden Temple.

For information on the Ganges River visit Yahoo Kids. There are several links to facts about the river. Some of the links have backgrounds that make it a little difficult to read the information, but the maps and pictures are good.

Moving from India to her neighbor Pakistan, there are a few books that explore the region. The first is a delightful picture book about courage — Ruler of the Courtyard by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. It is the story of a young girl, told in the first person. She lives in a rural area where she must cross the courtyard to use the bathhouse. In the courtyard live chickens and she’s always been afraid of them. Therefore she must bide her time to cross the courtyard to bathe. One day, she experiences something inside the bathhouse that helps her conquer her fear of the chickens and most other things. There seems to be some discussion as to whether this is Pakistani or Afghan, however the publisher’s note places it in Pakistan. Others claim it is based on an Afghani folk tale. Nevertheless, it is a delightful story of overcoming fear.

Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Susan L. Roth, illustrated by Susan L. Roth, is the children’s version of Greg Mortenson’s best seller Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson went to Pakistan to climb K2 and almost lost his life. The villagers of Korphe, Pakistan, nursed him back to health and in repayment for that, he returned to the United States, raised money and went back to Korphe and built them a school. Seems simple enough, but there were many ups and downs along the way. Mortenson has since continued with the mission to build as many schools as possible in rural Pakistan.

For basic information regarding Mortenson and his work go to www.stonesintoschools.com/about-greg-mortenson/ . It has various links to other websites related to his work building schools in South Asia, as well as an abbreviated biography. Pennies for Peace would be of particular interest to teachers looking for service learning opportunities for their students.

Two novels chronicle the life of Shabanu. Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind and Haveli both by Suzanne Fisher Staples follow the life of Shabanu a young girl whose family are nomads in the Clolistan Desert. They raise camels, and move from watering hole to watering hole. Shabanu’s older sister is to be married the year of the story and then Shabanu is to marry her sister’s husband’s brother the next. A series of events create a situation in which Shabanu catches the eye of a wealthy lord Rahim, and she becomes his fourth and much younger wife. In Haveli we meet up with Sabanu six years later. She has given birth to a female child. She is much hated by the other wives in the house because she is still Rahim’s favorite wife. He takes her to the urban center where his family has a “haveli”. There she befriends Rahim’s older aunt. Again events conspire to make Sabanu have to flee Rahim’s wives. These novels portray a rugged and dangerous Pakistan of the past (though not so past because Rahim has a car and driver).

Basic information on Pakistan can be found at Cybersleuth Kids. There are many links appropriate for kids on the topic of Pakistan you can reach from this site.

Kite flying and kite-fighting are popular activities in this region of the world. Skratch Pad shows how to make your own kite and is great for basic kite making and kite knowledge.

For information about camels, a central theme in the Sabanu books, see children’s book author Marisa Montes’s Web site. It discusses both varieties of camels.

Turning to Afghanistan, an area our students will be hearing a great deal about in the coming months, there are a few books I want to share. The Roses in My Carpet by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Ronald Himler, is a picture book chronicling the life of a young boy in Afghanistan. His father, a farmer, was killed by bombs which dropped into his field. The boy, his mother and sister, now live as refugees in an unnamed city. He goes to school and then after school goes to a carpet weaver where he is apprenticed as a sponsored child. He weaves carpets with roses, symbolizing his hope for the future.

While there are many organizations that sponsor children world-wide, few list Afghanistan as an option. Help the Afghan Children specifically targets Afghanistan. I checked out the 2008 annual report and 81% of assets were used specially for children. They use 10% of assets for administration and 9% for fund-raising (like maintaining the Web site).

Three novels follow the life of Parvana in Kabul, Afghanistan and then in rural Afghanistan in the later books, during the reign of the Taliban. The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City, all by Deborah Ellis, give the reader a view into what life was like for the Afghani people after the Soviet occupation, and prior to the U.S. invasion in 2002. I used The Breadwinner with a group of fourth graders several years ago, when the Indiana National Guard was sent to Afghanistan. The classroom teacher had several students whose parents were stationed there and she felt that her class would gain an appreciation as to why they were there if they read the book. The results were breath-taking. Students in the class found compassion for the Afghan people, particularly the children, and also found a new appreciation for the every day things in their own lives, such as running water, that they had taken for granted.

The final book I want to highlight is an adolescent novel Wanting Mor by Ruskhsana Khan. Jameela has grown up in a rural village of Afghanistan. When her Mor (mother) dies, her father, who is bitter because a bomb killed members of the family during a wedding, moves her to the city. A series of events transpire to bring Jameela to an orphanage in the city (although she is not an orphan). Using her self-reliance and intelligence, Jameela, is able to transform her life in a positive way. Wanting Mor is also evaluated in Volume II, Issue 2 of WOW Review.

Scholastic has a nice Web site about Afghanistan. There are maps, current information about the country, resources for teachers. Students can even write to an Afghani child through the Web site.

The Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C. maintains an informative Web page for children. It centers on the commonalities between Afghan children and children everywhere. Teachers will find lesson plans, and there is a Power Point slide show.

Finally as I leave you, I want to share a Web site about a food that is mentioned in many of the novels from all of the regions we visited this month. Mangoes are a part of most all of these countries’ diets. While not as popular in some parts of the U.S., they are delicious, and a fruit our children should know. Fresh Mangoes gives you all the information you could ever want: the history of mangoes; their uses; how to eat them; and hundreds of recipes. Bon Appetite!

Please let me know if you found this pairing of literature with on-line resources helpful. I have enjoyed taking this tour with you!

Please visit wowlit.org to browse or search our growing database of books, to read one of our two on-line journals, or to learn more about our mission.

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