In which South Asians can find real representation
Back when most of us reading this were growing up, we didn’t have books with characters like us. We often had to fit our round selves into the square “conventional” pegs of Anglo-centric, heteronormative stories we read or heard. While mainstream media is abuzz with conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion, children’s media still has a long way to go in terms of containing stories that South Asian children and young teens can see themselves in. So whenever a book falling in this category comes out, we at SEEMA are thrilled.
Whether it’s portraying the festivals they celebrate at home or the color of their skin, children need to recognize themselves in the books created for them. When parents share these books with their children, they co-create a world their kids feel a part of. These days, fortunately, more and more authors are filling this gap.
We’ve picked out five super-interesting books for children that have come out recently or are coming out soon. They feature children from all walks: a boy falls in love with his grandmother’s saris, a young girl celebrates Diwali in the states for the first time. Teenagers talk about their passion for football. These books make for excellent bedtime reading.
Dream Like Me: South Asian Trailblazers by Manisha Tailor
In “Dream Like Me,” trailblazing football coach Manisha Tailor profiles 42 pioneering individuals working in all parts of English professional football–from male and female players to coaches, referees, board members, administrators, sports scientists and medical staff – representing different cultures and faiths within the British Asian community.
These powerful stories not only illustrate the challenges faced by these role models, but lessons that they can offer young readers. “I want them coming away not only learning about how [someone] got into media, but also the fact that to maintain a positive mindset, they keep a gratitude journal and how it helps,” says Tailor, the only British South Asian woman in a coaching position in the English professional game. Each story also comes with comprehension questions that allow kids to sit and reflect on the stories they read and what they can learn from them.
Making Happy by Sheetal Sheth
When little Leila’s mother gets sick, many things change for her family. But one crucial thing stays the same: they still have each other and know how to find joy and laughter when they need it most.
Sheetal Sheth wrote “Making Happy” while undergoing chemotherapy.
“I wrote [the book] when I was looking for books for my young children when I was in treatment,” she says. With gorgeous illustrations by Khoa Le, the book brings a sympathetic and poignant perspective to the story of how a family copes with a mom’s cancer diagnosis through a young girl’s point of view
My Paati’s Saris by Jyoti Rajan Gopal
In a tale of self-exploration, a Tamil boy explores his love for his grandmother (Paati) and her colorful sari collection. As he goes about doing some fun activities in preparation for a party; the boy finds comfort in Paati’s sari, whether he’s wrapped in its colors for dress-up or clutching its folds for comfort. Each sari holds a story that speaks to him.
“My Paati’s Sari” commemorates how clothing can convey tradition and individuality and connect us to our families and ourselves.
With lively prose and dazzling art, this gender-defying book explodes with color as it narrates the tale of a young boy’s journey to self-discovery.
Mama in Congress by Rashida and Adam Tlaib
When young Yousif Tlaib asks about his mom, Rashida Tlaib’s new job in Congress, his older brother, Adam, fills him in. As he tells his mom’s story, Adam discusses how elections and government work, what it means to break barriers, what motivates their mama to work for justice for all, and how love and family have guided them through this historic time in our country. In this way, the book also provides an early introduction to civic engagement and how the government works.
From becoming the first in her immigrant family to graduate from high school to eventually becoming one of the first Muslim Congresswomen and an influential national figure, Tlaib’s inspiring story shows kids that they, too, can do great things and make a difference.
Diwali in my New Home by Shachi Kaushik
“Diwali in my New Home” is the story of Priya, a girl who loves being with family and friends to celebrate Diwali. But Priya and her parents began living in the United States this year, and no one seems to know about the holiday. Priya misses the traditions in India. As she strings lights and creates rangoli art, Priya introduces the festival of lights to her neighbors. And even though the celebration is different this year, it’s still Diwali.
This picture book for children ages 5-8, speaks to Indian children’s new experiences living abroad after they’ve lived in India.