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.
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?