Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Book Review - Festival Stories: Through the Year

     
Festival Stories: Through the Year is a wonderful introduction to religious festivals of India for children of all ages – including adults. My husband is from India, and while I know of some of the festivals, (Pongol and Divali — or Diwali, as it is sometimes spelled), I learned so much more in this book. I’m a retired teacher, and I wish I had had this book in my 6th grade classroom as supplemental reading when we studied India. 

Though informative, the writing isn't pedantic, because the author has used an engaging story frame: Eleven-year-old twins, Natasha and her brother Nikhil, are staying with their paternal grandparents, Dadu and Dadi, in Bangaluru (the local name for Bangalore). Their parents are still in the U. S., winding down jobs and arranging for transfers in a year, while sending the twins ahead, feeling it’s time for them to learn more about their culture first hand. Homesick but intrigued, Natasha begins a journal. Nikhil starts a blog.

Their first festival is Lohri, a Punjabi folk festival and one of the few Indian festivals falling on the same date every year (January 13 on the Gregorian calendar). The book ends with Christmas and a big surprise for the twins. In between are 30 more festivals the author has lovingly researched and described through the eyes of Natasha and Nikhil. They learn about the customs, clothing, and food associated with each festival as they participate. (The sweets and snacks served had my mouth watering each time.)

Each chapter begins with a little anecdote, often humorous, followed by one of Natasha’s journal entries or Nikhil blog’s posts. Their new world unfolds for the reader as they make friends with other kids, study for exams, play Indian games, go shopping, or stuff themselves with delicious snacks at each festival. The majority of the population in India practices Hinduism, but Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism also have their devotees, and the twins get invited to their festivals and learn the traditional stories associated with each. 

Chhabria has researched her subject well. She includes the varied names for some of the festivals and the gods and goddesses who figure in them. She makes references to the Gregorian calendar months to keep a reader from the west grounded in the time frame when these festivals occur. Many holidays are shared alike (with different names) by Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus. Some are regional, and the twins attend them because they or their grandparents have made friends with characters from these regions who practice their faiths. 

The author paints unforgettable characters with deft brushstrokes that don’t belabor descriptions but capture personality. Natasha and Nikhil are endearing eleven-year-olds, and Dadu and Dadi are the grandfather and grandmother everyone would want. The scenes are set so vividly, a reader is plunged into the colors and tastes and excitement of India. This was a lovely book, and I was really sorry to reach the end. 


You can learn more about Festival Stories: Through the Year HERE. While you are there, click around to her author page and learn about her other books for children. Visit her fine blog, Rachna's Scriptorium, HERE or her Facebook page HERE.

In my next post I will be interviewing Rachna about her writing, so please come back to learn even more about her. 



How about you? Do you enjoy learning about other cultures and other faiths? Have you been to some religious festivals? What are some of your favorite holiday snacks? 













14 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

I love learning about other religions, cultures (and foods). Co-incidentally the book I am reading at the moment is also about Indian culture (Monsooon Diary Reveries and Recipes from India: Shoba Narayan).

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks Elizabeth for this wonderful review of my book. Coming from you a brilliant author and a wonderful teacher, these words of praise and appreciation warm my heart.
I'm happy that you enjoyed the story, the characters and our colourful festivals and food. I hope you get a chance soon to visit India and experience a few of our festivals.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I love learning about other cultures, too, EC. Especially India, since my husband is from South India. I've been to Bangalore and actually met the author of Festival Stories, a very warming experience. Show Narayan's books sounds quite interesting, too. I am always interested in new Indian recipes.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Rachna, it was my pleasure. I don't think we'll be going to India again, though After 7 visits to family over the years, Rajan finally figured out all the itching he experienced wasn't due to mosquitos but due to the malaria medicine, so he switched medicines. But he had an even worse and dangerous reaction to the new medicine, and we found out that this is the medicine they administer if you do, in fact, get malaria. I seem to take these medications okay, so I am still hoping I'll be up to one more visit on my own (maybe go with one of my sisters-in-law.) I have been to a couple festivals, but your book made me want to attend more.

Rosi said...

I love books like this. It's fun to learn about other cultures and this is a great way to do it. Thanks for the heads up.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Rosi. This book was an especially enjoyable way to learn. I knew about some of the festivals from Rajan and his family, but don't get to participate in them. In the book, you feel you do, through the reactions of the twins. And I have to say, my mouth was watering at all the treats.

Natalie Aguirre said...

This sounds like a great story. And I have a soft spot for India. I met my husband there. Glad you enjoyed it so much.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Oh, wow, Natalie, that was so interesting to learn about you! Where in India did you meet? Meanwhile, yes, this really is such a great book for kids, for parents, for teachers, for anyone who wants to learn about the culture and for people who want to see their own culture in a book. Thanks for stopping by.

Mirka Breen said...

having grown up in Jerusalem, it was always someone's festival, and I love experiencing them even as an outsider. But I know little about the many colorful festivals of the far east. How colorful!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Mirka. That piques my interest. I didn't know there were lots of Jewish festivals. I've only known of Seder and Chanukah. "Colorful" is the word, indeed, for any Indian festival. Everything sparkles in color: the spices, the food, the clothing -- it's all a feast for the eyes.

Mark Noce said...

Great post! I love Rachna's work :)

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I do, too, Mark. She's really so accomplished in so many styles of writing. Have a great day.

Julia Thorley said...

This sounds like a very interesting book. When I was at school many years ago, we visited all the churches in the town to get an idea of what the differences were between the various Christian denominations, but there was no consideration of other faiths. At the time, it was a very White British area, so there was no sign of Muslims or Jews or Hindus or anything else. Actually, I'm not sure it's changed that much.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Hi, Julia, thanks for stopping by. Yes, even here in the U.S., when I was growing up, there was little awareness among Christian churchgoers of other faiths. The biggest contrast was considered that between Protestants and Catholics, with some peripheral awareness of Jewish faith. We finally got around to acknowledging Chanukah. What's interesting to me is the many faiths in India. It's easy to assume it's purely a Hindu country since the majority are Hindus, but Jainism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity all have a history there, too.