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South Asian Kid Lit in 2016: Our Favorites

KitaabWorld Favorites

The end of an year is often a time for review and introspection for people - what did we do right this year, what could we have done better, what should we focus on next year?

At KitaabWorld, we are passionate about South Asian children's literature. As the year winds down, we took a step back to review and highlight some of our favorite South Asian kidlit books that were published in 2016.

Board Books

It’s Ramadan Curious George: There is little doubt that Curious George is a household favorite. We loved that in 2016, Curious George celebrates Ramadan with his friend, Kareem. This book explains the key concepts and rituals around Ramadan in a fun and engaging way. A must have for those who observe Ramadan, and others who would like to learn about Ramadan too! See our other Ramadan books here

Padmini is Powerful: As we set out to launch KitaabWorld in 2016, we noticed some gaps in South Asian children's literature. One of them was the lack of board books and so we were excited to see this one! This beautifully illustrated book succinctly touches upon the key powers of Hindu gods in a way that appeals to little children. Looking forward to new adventures by Padmini in 2017!


Meet My Hindu Gods: This book provides a deeper dive on the various Hindu Gods and there are many! Many of us are overwhelmed by the complications of Hindu mythology especially when faced with the task of explaining it to a toddler, and this book breaks these concepts down in an accessible way. 

Picture Books

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk: This book is one of our favorites for toddlers and preschoolers! Tuk Tuks, or auto rickshaws are a popular mode of transport and the authors show case quintessential elements of South Asian culture - from chai to yoga!  Now, we only wish there was an audio version of this song as well!

Owl and Cat: Family Is: Emma Apple has an incredible ability to break-down complex concepts for kids with appealing characters such as an Owl and a Cat. After her books books on Islam, she has explored the concept of Family, which is so important for every child. Any guesses which book would be our favorite baby shower gift in 2017?  

Amma Tell me About Durga Puja: This book celebrates the story of one of the most powerful Hindu goddesses, Durga, and the story behind the week long durga puja celebrations. With its stunning illustrations and rhyming verse, this book appeals both to preschoolers and older children. Read the author's interview here.  

The Blue Jackal: This book with its amazing Warli artwork is a retelling of one of the Panchatantra stories and makes a great read-aloud book. The story is great way to talk about loyalty, honesty and making the right choices at the right time. 

The Boy and the Bindi: Vivek Shraya does it again! This book offers a teachable moment for both children and parents while showcasing a key element of Hindu culture. The Boy and the Bindi gently explores gender norms, and it shows an accepting parent who indulges her child in this exploration. 

Chapter Books and Middle Grade

  • Living in... India: Chloe Perkins' wonderful series of independent reader books explains what it's like to live in a country. We're so glad she published this one about India in 2016. Now we only hope she covers more South Asian countries in the years to come! Grab a copy of this book for your early reader - a perfect book for school libraries and  birthday party favors!

    Book Uncle and Me: This is a great story about a little girl who wants to help someone, and how she goes about it. Yasmin, an avid reader (like us!) loved getting book recommendations and free books from her "Book Uncle", but unfortunately Book Uncle was being evicted due to lack of a permit. Read how Yasmin helps Book Uncle by rallying the community around her. 

    Malala: A Hero for All: True story - If you follow us on social media, you may have seen a how this book inspired a young reader. A customer bought this book from us for her daughter, and to her mom's surprise, this book inspired her to dress up as Malala for Halloween. Exposing our children to different worlds, often leads to pleasant surprises!  This book succinctly describes Malala's story for a young child, and is a must-read.

    Prince of Fire: Ramayana is one of the largest ancient epics in world literature, and is the story behind why Diwali, the Festival of Lights is celebrated by over 800 million people around the world. We have many books on Diwali for toddlers and teenagers, so were delighted to see this new book which is perfect for 6-10 year olds, to help better understand the nuances of the Ramayana.

  • Gandhi for Kids: His Life and Ideas (With 21 Activities): While there are many Gandhi books, we really like this book because it is a great aid for parents or a middle grade teachers to introduce Gandhi. The activities range from creating salt, to practicing non-consumerism or vegetarianism for a day. As Benjamin Franklin once said: "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."
  • A Puzzling Tour of India: Published by Yali Books, this book has curated many fun activities for kids to learn about the width and breadth of India.
  •  This book is perfect for those long weekends and holidays, when parents want to limit their kids' screen time and instead getting their brains jogging.
  • Save Me a Seat!: We're so thrilled to find this book! Told with empathy and humor, this book provides a great insight into the life, lunchtimes and adventures of two fifth grade boys. While it is often challenging for kids to settle into new school environments,  this book provides a mirror for other kids in similar situations.

    One Half from the East: When Obayada's family is struck by misfortune in war-torn Afghanistan, the family decides to adopt an age-old cultural practice to reverse their fortunes. Obayada, a per-adolescent girl becomes a 'bacha posh" and adopts the dress, mannerisms and freedoms of a young boy. The story weaves traditions, gender roles and expectations and their psychological impact to give a true picture of Afghanistan. A wonderful, if heartbreaking book and a great addition to stories from that region.

    Young Adult

  • Eye Spy Indian Art: This delightful art book traces Indian art movement from pre-modern to contemporary times. Set up as an eye spy game, it is engaging, wonderfully informative and the art provides a gorgeous backdrop. It's perfect as a coffee table book as well as an introduction to Indian art for the art lovers in your family. 

  • Rani Patel in Full Effect: A dark but gripping story of a young teenagers challenges with family, abuse and trauma who finds hope and a sense of identity in the Hawaiian hip-hop scene of the early 90s. The powerful narrative which deals with difficult issues which go unacknowledged in many South Asian communities, is definitely a stand out in the young adult landscape. A compelling debut by Sonia Patel.

    Tania Tanya: is another powerful book that successfully manages to tie in the teenage lives of two girls on either side to the border to a troubled time in India and Pakistan. Through an exchange of letters, the girls chronicle their lives from the mundane every day to high stakes at high school, to  the horrors of violence and their psychological scars. Antara Ganguli's assured voice is pitch perfect.

    Enter Title Here:  How does a high-achiever, perfect A grade student with multiple extra curricular activities under her belt stand out on a Stanford college application form? Why by writing a young adult novel of course! A must-read for all South Asian teens (and their parents!). Rahul Kanakia deals with hyper competitive environments, the value of a 'real life', and lots of lough-out-loud moments!
    The Star Touched Queen: This fantasy novel combines Indian mythology and romance in one enticing adventure. Roshani Chokshi's prose flows like poetry to introduce us to a feisty Maya who fights her horoscope, fate and demon horses in the magical Otherworld.
    Written in the Stars: Naila's conservative parents have an extreme reaction to her prom date. What follows is a heartbreaking account of a forced marriage that she has to navigate through to find her inner strength. Aisha Saeed touches on many of the cultural differences between first generation parents and their children. See the discussion guide here.
    Mirror in the Sky: As the only Indian girl in an all-white school, Tara is dealing with her own anxieties when the discovery of a new mirror planet shakes the world. An elegantly crafted read by Aditi Khorana that mixes science fiction with teenage high school cliques and a whole lot of philosophical questions. 

    Bilingual Picks

  • My First Book of Hindi Words - An ABC Rhyming of Hindi Words and Indian Culture: This book gently introduces young children to Hindi words using an ABC rhyming format. The words are written in the devanagri script as well as a handy transliteration. Perfect for beginners, it provides a window to basic language and key images for those visiting India for the first time (including the little ones!).


     A is for Anaar: For more serious Hindi learners, A is for Anaar is the perfect book. We love this book for many reasons! It outlines the entire devanagari script with transliteration so a six year old who can read English, can independently read this book and learn the Hindi pronunciation. It also has beautiful illustrations, a glossary and a number of references to common topics such as the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, or a famous South Asian leader, Aurangzeb. We value books that open up avenues for discussion and sharing of stories, and this one certainly does that.

    Fatima the Spinner and the Tent: This story traces the travails of the Fatima and her journey from Morocco to the Mediterranean and finally to China. Recently published as an English-Urdu bilingual addition, the beautiful illustrated water color images and simple easy to read Urdu introduces young children to many different worlds. A wonderful addition to any library. To find more to find more Sufi stories, go here.

    Hope you enjoyed learning about all these insightful books on South Asian kidlit published in 2016! We'd love to hear from you as to which ones were your favorite, or if there were any we missed. 

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    • Maceo on

      This is such a great list! I am going to share it with my friends. I am especially intrigued by Tania Tanya. Thank you!

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