Best Children’s Books About India
Our 5 year old loves learning about other countries. We like to read several books set in the same country during one week, because it reinforces his curiosity and learning. It also helps him understand that are many different cultures within other countries. The last thing I want our global learning efforts to do is create stereotypes. This month, we’ve been reading children’s books about India. Today, I’m sharing our favorites, plus a few more books for older children that I read on my own.
Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. When you make a purchase through these links I earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. You might notice that a lot of these links are to my Barefoot Books storefront. Interested in earning income while also getting a discount on your purchases? Find out more about the Barefoot Books Ambassador program here. I received free review copies from the publishers of Ahisma and Let’s Celebrate Diwali. All opinions are my own.
Best Children’s Books About India: Picture Books
Elephant Dance: A Journey to India by Theresa Heine and Sheila Moxley
When Grandfather comes from India to visit young Ravi and his sister Anjali, they have so many questions about what India is like. Granfather tells them that rainbows there are like “seven silk saris hung across the sky to dry.” The sun is like a ferocious tiger who drinks coconut milk before falling asleep for the night. After the richly illustrated story, children will find several pages of educational notes about Indian culture, animals, and food. (Recommended for ages 3 to 8)
Grandma and the Great Gourd by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Susy Pilgrim Waters
This Bengali folktale shares how a clever grandma and her loyal dogs Kalu and Bhulu outwit the hungry animals of the jungle. Grandma heads out to visit her daughter on the other side on the jungle. She tells each animal she meets that they should wait to eat her until her return trip. She will be much fatter then because of her daughter’s excellent cooking. But how will she return home safely? (Recommended for ages 4 to 8)
T is for Taj Mahal: an India Alphabet by Varsha Bajaj and Robert Crawford
Our little guy has been fascinated by the Taj Mahal ever since he received a miniature one in his Little Passports subscription at the age of 3. So I knew this was one of the children’s books about India that we had to have!
For each letter, there’s a simple two sentence rhyme that shares an aspect of Indian culture, history, mythology, and sports. A much longer narrative with greater detail is included in the sidebar for children who want to dive deeper into the topic. I especially appreciated the way the chosen words captured the diversity of India’s many cultures and religions. (Recommended for ages 4 – 9)
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes
I have lost count of how many times our 5 year old has asked to read this book since we got it a few weeks ago, but believe me it’s a LOT. This stunningly illustrated tale is a quirky, playful retelling of how the Hindu god Ganesha came to transcribe the epic poem the Mahabharata. Ganesha’s love for the tasty traditional treat ladoo leads him to break him tusk on a “super jumbo jawbreaker ladoo.”
Ganesha is greatly distressed at the loss of his tusk. But it turns out that the broken tusk comes in handy when the poet Vyasa comes looking for someone to write down his poem about the beginning of things, which is 100,000 verses long. (Recommended for ages 3 to 8)
Finders Keepers? A True Story in India by Robert Arnett and Smita Turakhia
One of the amazing gifts of travel is how it changes our own perceptions as we learn about how others see the world. In Finders Keepers? Robert Arnett introduces children to the many things he learned during his extensive travels in India. I thought our son might find some of the accounts of the Hindu ashram and a description of the Jain religion to be a bit dry, but he asked to read the book several times.
The heart of the book is Arnett’s encounter with a young boy who finds his wallet. The child’s refusal to accept reward money for returning it leads Arnett to reflect on what it means to do right in any situation. (Recommended for ages 6 to 10)
Let’s Celebrate Diwali by Anjali Joshi and Tim Palin
There are a number of children’s books about India that focus on the celebration of Diwali, India’s most celebrated holiday. What I love about Let’s Celebrate Diwali is that it explains to the youngest readers the different meanings the holiday has for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists.
The story is set in a classroom, where four different children explain to their classmates the customs their family observes at Diwali. Each child also shares the particular story that they celebrate on that day. (Recommended for ages 3 to 7)
Chachaji’s Cup by Uma Krishnaswami and Soumya Sitaraman
There are so many ways that Neel loves to spend time with Chachaji, his father’s uncle. He especially treasures their tea time. Chachaji always drinks out of the same chipped china teacup, covered in faded roses.
One day, Chachaji tells Neel why this cup is so special to him. When his mother had to leave her homeland in what is now Pakistan during the Indian Partition, she swore that this cup would go with her. Others said she was foolish for taking a delicate cup on the twenty mile journey she had to make on foot. But she knew “if this teacup got to India without breaking, she would get to India without breaking.” (Recommended for ages 5 – 10)
Best Children’s Books about India: Chapter Books & Anthologies
Indian Tales by Shenaaz Nanji and Christopher Corr
This collection of eight traditional tales from India is best suited to older readers, but it’s still generously illustrated with brightly colored scenes. Each tale is preceeded by an introduction to the Indian state that the tale takes place in, giving children an even greater understanding of India’s cultures.
I laughed out loud at the story “Five Men in a Cart” from Andhra Pradesh. A guru who is traveling from his ashram to the local market is hampered by his all too literal disciples, who he tells to pick up anything that falls from their cart to the ground. I was moved by the tale “Shaira’s Secret” from Rajasthan. It tells how the honesty of a young girl prompted the goddess Lakshmi to visit her during Diwali. (Recommended for ages 8+)
Ahisma by Supriya Kelkar
I highly recommed this novel set during India’s struggle for independence for any tween (or adult) who has an interest in peace or social change. When Anjali’s mother heeds Gandhi’s call for every family to send someone to be a freedom fighter, Anjali’s life begins to change dramatically. She has to trade in her beautiful foreign-made saris for ones made of coarse homespun cloth.
When she and her mother begin a project to educate Dalit (“oppressed,” once referred to as the Untouchables class) children, many of their neighbors reject them. Anjali goes through her own process of change, which includes challenging her mother’s beliefs about the best way to relate to the Dalit children. Anjali’s belief in ahisma (nonviolence) is tested by both the injustice of the British and fighting between Hindus and Muslims.
I especially appreciated the nuance that Kelkar used in writing the novel. Rather than presenting Gandhi as a perfect hero, she helps the reader to see him as human, including mistakes he made. She also presents the ideas ofanother important leader in the Indian freedom struggle, Dr. Bhimrao Raji Ambedkar, who disagreed with Gandhi on key points about the Dalit people. (Recommended for ages 10+; note that there are several scenes of violence)
Prince of Fire: The Story of Diwali by Jatinder Verma and Nilesh Mistry
Adventure lovers will be drawn to this action-packed retelling of India’s great epic, the Ramayana. Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, has covered the earth in darkness. Husband and wife team Prince Rama and Princess Sita, along with Rama’s brother Prince Lakshamana are determined to stop him. When Ravana kidnaps Sita, they must rely on Hanuman, god of the wind, and Jatayu, king of the birds, to win their struggle.
This chapter book is sprinkled with a generous number of full-color illustrations. It also includes a cast of characters to help readers keep track of who’s who, as well as endnotes about the festival of Diwali. (Recommended for ages 8+)