The challenge in reading Indian mythology to young kids

The truth is that while these stories are illustrated in comic-book style to appeal to children, not all of them are suited for little kids.

What’s not to like about Indian mythology? Powerful Gods and their myriad weapons and vehicles, equally powerful Rakshasas or demons sporting multiple heads and other eye-popping features, tales of special boons and awful curses, demi-Gods with boundless valor, princesses with unparalleled beauty and virtue , epic battles between good and evil where justice finally prevails….need I say more?

Indians know these stories well because of that beloved series of comic books, Amar Chitra Katha(ACK), without which these myths, orally told and passed on from generation to generation for thousands of years, would have been lost.

The ACK books were part of many of my summers growing up. And I was very eager to share these stories/books with my kids. So I was thrilled when my daughter received her first set of books “Tales of Shiva” as a gift when she was as young as four.

tales of shiva

In retrospect, that wasn’t the ideal age to introduce those books to her. The vivid, detailed drawings of ACK are its hallmark. Yet those illustrations scared her. On seeing Shiva burn Kama to ashes with his third eye, my 4 – year old shut the book quickly and declared, “Shiva is bad”.

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Always Anjali

What’s in a name? If you are a child of immigrants growing up in the America, apparently everything.

I remember spending a lot of time obsessing about what I would name my first child. Indeed, all first-time parents obsess over finding the perfect name for their child. But we faced a particular challenge being Indian. After all, hadn’t we had enough of our names being mispronounced? Weren’t we tired of spelling out our long last names only to hear the other guy say “am sorry, could you repeat that”?

Maybe we should do our kid a favor and just stick to two syllables so the name would be easy to pronounce. There were certain letters we would have to avoid…those soft d’s and soft t’s that native English speakers never seemed to be able to pronounce….those were always going to be a problem. And we would have to be careful to avoid giving the child a name that would mean something totally gross in another language or which kids would make fun of.

Wouldn’t you know it? We ended up falling in love with a name that broke almost all our rules.

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Ammachi’s Glasses

For my first review, I chose a recent book from Tulika Publishers that has left me…wordless!

Ammachi’s Glasses is a wordless picture book and that is so amazing on so many levels. Done well, a good wordless picture book breaks down so many barriers – age, literacy, language, culture. And Ammachi’s Glasses is done fabulously well.

ammachi-s-glasses

One morning Ammachi (grandmother in malayalam) wakes up and can’t seem to find her glasses. But even though she is clearly blind as a bat without them, she continues to go about her day with hilarious effects.

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About

I am an Indian mom raising two little “American” girls in the U.S. Reading to my kids is one of my favorite things to do with them and I love sharing old favorites from my childhood, because it gives me a chance to relive my own.

Only, there are few Indian classics in children’s literature that I remember reading. Growing up in India in the 80s, I, like most urban middle-class Indians, read children’s books by British authors such as Enid Blyton or English literature classics that were mandatory reading in school such as Oliver Twist or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

I credit those books with developing my imagination. After all, back in the day when there was no cable TV, I had probably not the remotest idea what an English boarding schools was like. And what were these “pleasant summer days” that was always described in these books? Indian summers were hardly pleasant. Yet these little English kids spent their long, lazy summers swimming and picnicking. I, on the other hand, spent my lazy summers indoors, away from the humidity and heat, reading all day. These books often offered a nice escape into a world that was just so distant and foreign from mine.

Yet as a grown up, I realize that those books have, in some ways, let me down. I remember dreaming about scones as a little girl and came to the U.S. with an appetite for them, only to discover that my tongue craved samosa and masala dosa and the pancakes and scones were poor substitutes! I chalk it up to homesickness, of course, but it was one of the many things that made me realize that for all my love for the English language and western literature, I still need books that resonate with my personal experiences. Surely, my 5- year- old daughter, growing up in America but with Indian roots, feels the same.

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