Monsoon – by Uma Krishnaswami
When searching for picture books about other countries and cultures, I often find that it’s easier to find folk tales and legends than it is to find books that present the modern landscape and culture of the country in question. This book is a good example of the latter. The beautiful illustrations take the reader on a tour of urban India as a young girl describes the anticipation of waiting for the monsoon season to begin. This book can also serve as an opportunity to begin the discussion of the diversity of weather patterns and seasons in different countries.
Elephant Dance – by Theresa Heine
This story is from the perspective of Ravi, a young boy of Indian heritage who lives in America. Ravi’s Indian grandfather comes to live with the family, and Ravi is fascinated by his grandfather’s stories. These stories provide an intriguing window into the cultural life of India, describing everything from yearly festivals and religion to weather and food. One of the most unique aspects of this book is the way the grandfather weaves Indian idioms and metaphors into his stories, giving the reader a linguistic (as well as visual) glimpse into the landscape of India.
What Should I Make? – by Nandini Nayar
This gentle story follows Neeraj, a young boy who is playing with a ball of dough while his mother prepares chapatis. He can’t decide what to make — a snake? a mouse? a cat? He imagines what would happen if his creations came to life. This book is a wonderful tool for introducing children to the distinctiveness of Indian culture while also emphasizing the universality of childhood. Neeraj may be living in India and making chapatis, but children the world over can identify with helping mother cook and creating shapes out of dough.
Monkey: a Trickster Tale from India – by Gerald McDermott
This upbeat trickster tale features bright, dynamic illustrations and a vibrant story. The story follows a wily monkey as he has adventures that involve mangoes, crocodiles, and the use of his wits. This story could easily be used in conjunction with trickster tales from other cultures to illustrate the similarities in folk stories from multiple cultures.
Grandma and the Great Gourd – by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
This brightly illustrated Bengali folktale tells the story of an Indian grandmother who makes a perilous journey through the jungle to visit her daughter in another village. Grandma uses her wits to survive encounters with wild animals in the jungle. This book would make a lovely multi-cultural pairing with Little Red Riding Hood — in this version it’s the grandmother who is outwitting the wolves in the forest (or the fox in the jungle, as the case may be).