Five Sparkling Diwali Stories
And an inside look on how I'll be celebrating the Festival of Lights
Hello! I'm Sri Juneja and this is my children’s book recommendation newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
Let’s get lit!
You know the first time I knew Indian culture had really broken into mainstream American consciousness? This right here:
Watching a whole episode of The Office dedicated to an Indian holiday and then seeing one of its most beloved characters break out into a song about it? It was absolutely glorious to see that representation.
You see Christmas was the defining holiday of my childhood. After moving to the US, my parents quickly learned how magical Christmas was to kids in the Western world. Since the winter was a lonely time (we had no family in the US and everyone was busy celebrating with their own families) they compensated by buying a tree, preparing for a visit from Santa, and making sure there were toys waiting for us. I give them a lot of credit for making sure we never felt left out. It was something fun but we always knew that it was first and foremost a Christian holiday and that our religious equivalent was Diwali.
It was easy to make that distinction because I actually have memories of celebrating Diwali in India. By contrast, my kid will not have that same experience. Fortunately, there are lots of big celebrations for Diwali now (our Costco even stocks Diwali sweets!) and while they’re definitely not at the scale of celebrations in India, they are lovely in the way they bring out a sweet kinship and sense of camaraderie. I love them because they take the pressure off of me (per my Halloween post, I am a lazy holiday celebrant). Having said that, I still hope to do things that convey the magic of Diwali the way my parents did for me with Christmas.
Here are the ways I’m planning to celebrate
Taking time off: Diwali falls on Sunday, Nov. 12th this year so this won’t be necessary
Cleaning: My least favorite part of Diwali but this checklist helps
Watching: Sesame Street celebrates Diwali
Doing: Rangoli (decorating the stoop with color to welcome Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity) using chalk, decorating with tealights, turning on every light in the house, doing a puja (religious prayer), playing with sparklers, and reading the books I’ve listed below
Drinking: This fun non-alcoholic drink
Wearing: Whatever I can find in my closet at my parents’ house. Will attempt a sari using this YouTube tutorial. My kid will wear something similar to this (total mom move to have the kids’ stuff ready but no clue what you’re going to wear yourself)
And finally, in these dark times, this mantra will be front and center in my mind:
From falsehood lead us to Truth.
From darkness lead us to Light.
From death lead us to Immortality.
Peace, Peace, Peace.
Books to learn about Diwali…
Written and Illustrated by Rina Singh
Recommended Ages: 1-3 years old
This board book reads like a love letter as parents/caregivers share their joy for Diwali with the kids they love. Bright, bold rhyming text invites babies and toddlers to see how Diwali is celebrated. What I love best about this book is the photography that shows real babies and toddlers joining in the holiday fun. Diwali can be an overwhelming festival but the images shown are intimate portraits as kids engage in the festivities with their loved ones.
Written by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal and Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
Recommended Ages: 3-6 years old
Set to the tune of “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” this book remixes the lyrics to fit the fun of Diwali. Each spread highlights the different ways to participate and offers some more detail about the meaning behind these things. The illustrations are bright and colorful, perfectly epitomizing the gaiety of this time of year. The pictures are a fun way to see how Diwali celebrations happen in India. My favorite illustration is, of course, the local vendor making mouthwatering jalebis.
Archie Celebrates Diwali
Written by Mitali Banerjee Ruths and Illustrated by Parwinder Singh
Recommended Ages: 5-8 years old
This story hits close to home. When I was younger, I was always excited to get dressed up in Indian finery for Diwali but I was self-conscious about how it would be perceived by my non-Indian friends. I would have loved having this book as a kid. Archie is excited to invite her friends to a Diwali party to share how much fun the holiday is. But when things go wrong, she becomes worried that her friends will think Diwali is lame. Where the previous book shows how Diwali is celebrated in India, this one’s bright, dazzling illustrations show how Diwali is celebrated in countries like the US. There’s a great overview at the end of the book describing the history of the holiday, a glossary, and a fun activity.
Rama And Sita: A Tale From Ancient Java
Written and Illustrated by David Weitzman
Recommended Ages: 8-12 years old
Most people think of Diwali as an Indian holiday but it’s also celebrated in other parts of Asia as well! This book is a retelling of the Ancient Javanese version of the Ramayana. As someone who’s familiar with the Indian version, it was fascinating to read the Javanese retelling and observe the nuances and differences between the two. The retelling has all the pomp and pageantry of the original but it’s the illustration that will have you completely bewitched. The book is really a collection of stunning, gold-leaf artwork using wayang (Javanese shadow puppets) as inspiration for the drawings. A beautiful children’s book that could serve as a coffee table book as well.
Written by Samhita Arni and Illustrated by Moyna Chitrakar
Recommended Ages: 11-13 years old
Another retelling of the Ramayana but done in a very different way. This graphic novel tells the Ramayana but from Sita’s—the heroine’s—point of view. The original Ramayana focuses entirely on Rama’s exile and war to recover Sita. As a girl, and now a woman, I always wondered what was happening far away, offstage in Lanka where Sita was kept hostage. This book is the answer to that question. It narrates the Ramayana from a female perspective—one that denounces the suffering and death women and children face in war. One of the most transfixing features of this graphic novel is the graphics themselves. Uniquely Indian, the artwork is inspired by the Patua folk art tradition that originated in West Bengal. I encourage you to learn about it because it’s a very distinctive approach to storytelling. The pairing of these two unique aspects—an unexpected narrator and the striking folk illustration—makes for a very compelling read.
❓This is a very cultural post and I really enjoyed sharing how I intend to celebrate this year. What fun, unusual traditions do you have to celebrate your holidays?
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