Yesterday, I sat next to my six-year-old son answering emails as he did his math homework. He was reading the problems out loud, when he came to this question: “Siddharth has 14 race cars. His friend Antonio gave him 5 more race cars. How many race cars does Siddharth have now?” My son didn’t blink an eye at the names in this question. Why? Because the names represent a true reflection of his own classroom, school, and community. For first generation Indian Americans, like myself, this is a very different reality than the one we experienced as (sometimes) the only ethnic individual at school.
When children see themselves in the books they read or their schoolwork, the impact of the lesson or story is positive and achieves a greater impact. Literary experts call the process of seeing oneself reflected this way “mirroring,” and educators are increasingly recognizing its importance. Beyond the mirroring effect, children also learn to be comfortable in their own skin. I love that my children understand it’s okay to love pizza and parathas equally, and that it’s okay to share their diverse interests with their classmates and friends, Indian and non-Indian.
In 2013, publishing company Bharat Babies and its founder Sailaja N. Joshi recognized the need for age-appropriate children’s literature to not only educate children about Indian culture and traditions, but also provide children with an opportunity to see themselves reflected in the greater world. Titles published by Bharat Babies, such as Let’s Celebrate Diwali, Ganesh and his Little Mouse, and Amal’s Eid, all aim to educate about Indian culture, while also broaching larger themes that impact children today, such as friendship, bullying, etc.
I had the pleasure of attending a book reading this past weekend at a local independent bookstore, Bookasauraus. Author Anjali Joshi read Ganesh and the Little Mouse (a Bharat Babies title) to a captivated audience of young children. In scanning the shelves at this bookstore, I noticed a wide collection of diverse titles not only about Indian culture, but also so many others. It was refreshing to see so many available options for our children as well as companies like Bharat Babies taking the lead in changing the face of children’s literature. While the Indian comic book series Amar Chitra Katha was a favorite for my generation, the stories and illustrations are not always appropriate for young children.
For this very reason, I’m thrilled to be working with Bharat Babies, on both personal and professional levels. As campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and publishing companies like Bharat Babies gain momentum, I’m comforted in knowing options are available. My children and generations of children to come will have access to the same stories I heard as a child – not necessarily the same, exact version, but updated, and more importantly, relatable versions of those stories.
Seek out diverse children’s books at your neighborhood store or public library, and definitely read the titles offered by Bharat Babies. The characters are beautifully drawn and are lovable and inquisitive … and the best part is that they could easily pass for any one of our own children! The stories are not only for youngsters, but also for parents and those young at heart! Happy reading!