Holi and Diwali, two of the most important festivals in India, reaffirm key values in Indian culture and communicate moral lessons to children. Holi, the festival of colors, celebrates the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Diwali, the festival of lights, celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
That’s why, when author Priya Kumari was looking for picture books to explain these holidays to her children, she was disappointed to find no good offerings at the library.
“So many books out there had misinformation and misrepresentation,” Kumari said. “In one instance, our most revered god, Rama, was dressed in leaves. In India, Rama is never depicted like that. I have never even seen Indians wearing leaves before. India has about a five-thousand-year-old history of producing and using beautiful textiles. Evidence of silk moth species from Harappa shows the use of silk in India in the mid-3rd millennium BCE. There are clear mentions of cotton, silk, printed cloth, and even fabrics with pearls woven in various ancient Sanskrit texts of India. Even the popular epic Ramayana, which is the historical account of King Rama’s life, has several mentions of beautiful garments, so misrepresentations like these can cause a lot of harm.”
Moreover, the existing picture books only discussed what people do during these holidays. They didn’t explain why these activities are done. They also neglected to express their cultural importance.
“We know how curious kids are,” Kumari said. “When you tell them to do something, the first question they have is ‘why?’ If you don’t have the answer to that, they won’t listen to you. They will ask further questions like, ‘why should I?’ So, it was very important for me to give that answer and show why these traditions are relevant today.”
Better children’s books on Holi and Diwali
Kumari realized that, if she wanted picture books that depicted these festivals authentically and explained their underlying values, she would have to write them herself. Luckily, her sister, Komal Garg, was eager to help. As an educator and the mother of a small child herself, Garg was of a like mind.
The two soon embarked on a collaborative journey to begin a series of books on Indian festivals entitled the “My Festivals Series.” “My Holi” and “My Diwali” represent the first two volumes of this series, which is published by Eternal Tree Books.
As a result, anyone who wants to build children’s cultural awareness now has the option of giving these two books for Holi and Diwali, as well as birthdays and other special occasions.
The making of “My Holi” and “My Diwali”
While “My Holi” and “My Diwali” are fictional, they involve real events happening in the world. For instance, she used the plot of “My Diwali,” which features catching a kidnapper, as a vehicle for spreading awareness about abduction.
“In ‘My Diwali,’ the protagonist helps the police catch a person who was trying to abduct a child,” Kumari explained. “That came from a real experience when I heard the news that a child was kidnapped from a New Jersey park. We put that episode in the book to tell our children to be more careful, motivate them to be brave, and also inspire them to use proper judgment to protect themselves.”
While some siblings experience difficult relationships and would have trouble writing a book together, Kumari and Garg found collaboration easy.
“We didn’t have any problems thinking about the plot because we thought the same way and wanted to convey the same messages,” Kumari said. “We grew up in the same environment, so our thoughts were similar.”
It helped that they both shared a practical orientation.
“Like me, she’s also a mother of a young child,” Kumari explained. “We kept the story very engaging, as well as relevant, informative, and educational. We knew that to be successful, books must interest small children.
While the sisters’ collaboration went smoothly, the writing process required revisions based on input from a special group of early readers.
“Our children are our beta readers,” Kumari said. “Whenever our books are ready, we’ll read to all our children, and they will be like, ‘Hey! You can ask the illustrator to draw like this! Hey, I like this phrase better than that.’ After them, it goes to our friends and family.”
The importance of cultural awareness
At a time when bullying and hate crimes are on the rise, promoting understanding of these festivals in particular and cultural awareness, in general, is important not only for children of Indian heritage but also for those of all backgrounds.
“According to researchers, biases set in by age of five for children,” Kumari said. “As young as three months, a child can recognize their own ethnicity, so picture books are a great way to raise awareness about cultural differences. This is a first step toward understanding each other’s cultures and promoting inclusion. Great books that tell authentic cultural stories target the roots of bullying and can help create cultural harmony.”
“My Holi” and “My Diwali” present appealing, accessible gateways through which any young child can build their cultural awareness. Both are currently available for order exclusively on www.eternaltreebooks.com and you can reach out to Priya at firstname.lastname@example.org.