When we first moved into our neighborhood over a decade ago, I remember noticing at the end of October that many of our neighbors began decorating their houses with bright strands of lights. I watched this happen year after year and always thought they were so beautiful, but I didn’t understand the significance of them. Fast forward a few years to when our daughter became school aged and started to become friends with several kids in our neighborhood. She came home one fall day asking questions about Diwali which, admittedly at the time, I had heard of, but didn’t know much about. She explained that her friends were beginning to decorate and prepare for their Diwali celebrations, including stringing colorful lights on the outside of their houses. She had so many questions and I found I had basic answers, but nothing detailed enough to satisfy her curiosity. So, where did we turn to learn more?? BOOKS! Through books and her experiences with her friends, we, as a family, have learned so much about this holiday that is so important to several of her close friends. As time has gone on, I have realized how many people I know celebrate Diwali, including many of my students. Every year I try to add more books to my collection and, this year, we found 2 that I wish I had gotten long ago.
Happy Diwali, by Courtney Pippin-Mathur and Sanyukta Mathur, is a beautiful picture book that would be a perfect read aloud introduction to Diwali. It showcases many of the traditions, using authentic vocabulary words, alongside colorful illustrations to show what the family is doing to prepare and celebrate Diwali in their home. The book does not have much in the way of context or explanation of traditions within the story, it does however, have a glossary that provides explanations of many of the words and traditions. There is also a note from the author at the end talking about how she celebrates Diwali in her home here in the United States (where as many books about Diwali are set in India). One of my favorite things about this book is the inclusion of traditional recipes that kids could try to make at home. I feel like this book is perfect for initial exposure to Diwali and would be a great jumping off point for further exploration.
The Night Before Diwali, by Chhaya Kubal, is a very informative book and looks at Diwali from a different perspective. The story shows a little girl who is struggling with her family’s traditional celebrations of Diwali. She wants to celebrate in a more modern way, like some of her friends, while her family celebrates in many of the traditional ways – which she deems “less cool”. She is struggling to fit in to her world around her while still maintaining what is valued by her family. While the book is quite text heavy and might be difficult as a read aloud, it is overflowing with detailed explanations of important traditions and meanings behind the celebrations that take place. It is also a perspective that students in a similar situation might relate to.
These books now have a permanent home on my bookshelf and have helped me in my quest to learn more about a holiday that means so much to many people in my life. I wish you all a Happy Diwali!