Although both of these colorful books are fine standalone titles, pairing them makes for a much richer introductory experience to the boundless diversity of India: first read I is for India (part of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books‘ peripatetic “World Alphabet” series) for a country overview, then focus in on one young girl’s village life as detailed in Geeta’s Day.
Author/photographer Prodeepta Das‘ tour starts with “A is for the Alphabet children learn at school …,” that is many alphabets which represent the multiple languages used throughout the sprawling subcontinent. “B is for Bullock cart” used for transporting goods, while “E is for Elephant[s]” which today are used less for carrying heavy goods and more and more are (thankfully) protected in national parks.
“J is for Jilabi, a mouth-watering, crunchy yellow sweet,” while “L is for Lassi, a refreshing yoghurt drink” and “R is for Rice, which we eat boiled, fried, or made into cakes and puddings.” Hungry yet? From celebrating Diwali to hands intricately decorated with Mehndi to reading the Quran to enjoying the most beautiful Umbrellas to consulting the Zodiac about a baby’s future, I is for India is a vibrant journey through India’s culture and people.
In Geeta’s Day, Das’ focus zooms in on his native state of Orissa, as he introduces 6-year-old Geeta and her extended family in Janla, “a small village like any other Indian village.” Mornings begin with prayers at dawn, followed by bucket baths and breakfast. On the way to school, Geeta passes the local tradesmen and stops to share flowers with the mali (gardener). A day at school lasts through the afternoon, and Geeta comes home to find vendors who go from house to house selling everything from jewelry to fish to ice cream. She swims in the village pond and floats paper boats down the rain-soaked streets. She enjoys the evening meal with her family, listens to sacred verses from the Bhagavadgita, and falls asleep to the distant sounds from the nearby temple filled with evening singing.
Into Geeta’s seemingly idyllic day, Das’ also includes a few reality checks: “Free school meals were started recently to encourage children from poorer families to come to school,” and “Geeta’s village has a number of tube wells sunk deep in the ground, which pump up safe water for drinking and cooking.” In the “More about India” section at title’s end, Das writes – at just the right level for younger readers – about India’s tumultuous colonial history and its restrictive caste system, balanced with a celebration of family, Bollywood, and the many Indian words that have become part of everyday English vocabulary.
I confess: I’m still in my pajamas as I write this, ahem. Go ahead … plan a pajama-clad tour to the other side of the world tonight, complete with snuggled-up kiddies by your side.
Published: 2004, 2010 (United States)