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Binny’s Diwali by Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani

What a joy to discover Binny’s Diwali written by Thrity Umrigar and colorfully illustrated by Nidhi Chanani.

Binny is excited but nervous the day of her class presentation on Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Her mother has set out a special Indian outfit for her to wear, and she even gets to eat warm jalebis and pedas for breakfast, two special Indian treats. Her parents wish her luck, telling her she will do great, but when the time arrives to stand before her class and speak, Binny’s mind goes blank. She can’t find the words.

Throughout the day, Binny’s courage grows, and she gradually shares details of Diwali. She tells her friends about the beautiful fireworks and streamers. Her teacher lights a tiny electric clay diya, and lastly, Binny offers pedas and jalebis to her classmates. That evening, at home with her parents, Binny celebrates Diwali as well as her own victory of courage. The goodness and light of Diwali helped chased away her own fears.

For my third-graders who celebrate Diwali, I saw their looks of delight on my computer screen when I read about the melt-in-your mouth jalebis. This story gave each of them the opportunity to share their favorites moments of the five-day festival. One student told us about being in India during Diwali, and how the fireworks looked like butterflies in the sky. Another shared how her favorite part is making stenciled designs with powder inside and outside of her home.

Several students then shared how the Festival of Diwali reminded them of other celebrations: Cinco de Mayo, Dia de los Muertos, and Ramadan.

Over the years, I’ve had picture books in my classroom library about the story of Diwali, but I loved Binny’s telling because of the second layer of theme it offered. Many of us, like Binny, have a fear of speaking in front of others, but as Binny learns, there are ways to overcome our fears.

Back matter in the book includes the legend of Rama and Sita, and a description of the five days of Diwali.

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