It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.

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[Photo Journal / A-Z Photo Story] U is for Underwater

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[Pre-AFCC Glitter] Meet the AFCC Babies – Children, Speak Up! Panel

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[Pre-AFCC Glitter] Meet Ken Spillman

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[Pre-AFCC Glitter] Meet Norman Jorgensen

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[Pre-AFCC Glitter] Meet Candy Gourlay

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Poetry Friday: Love does not come in Spaces

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[Pre-AFCC Glitter] Meet Evelyn Wong

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[Pre-AFCC Glitter] Meet Marjorie Coughlan, PaperTigers Lady

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[Book Hunting Expedition 54] Loot from the Singapore Book Exchange

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NonFictionMonday

This week, I am glad to be sharing a few non-fiction picture books that I bought while I was in Mumbai sometime in late 2011. These titles also celebrate the beauty of art and biographical narratives of amazing people from India. And so we are joining Nonfiction Monday as well. Our host this week is ProseandKahn.

IMG_6935My Name is Amrita… Born to be an artist

Story by: Anjali Raghbeer
Design by: Radhika Menon Published by: Tulika Publishers, 2011
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

My name is Amrita. My father is Sikh and mother Hungarian. That makes my sister and me half Hungarian and half Indian. I call my father Apuka, and my mother Anyuka.

This picture book is essentially told in two voices. The first one is that of Amrita Sher-Gil’s when she was young, while the second voice is that of the author who provides the contextual background of Amrita’s scrapbooks, diaries, and various paintings.

I did not even know about Amrita if not for the sensitive and thorough description of Anjali Raghbeer who wrote this picture book. Amrita is regarded as a pioneer of modern art in India despite the fact that she died when she was only 28 years old in 1941.

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The story shows Amrita’s feelings of loneliness when her family moved from Hungary to India when she was eight years old and how her paintings and artwork provided her with solace and peace.

I miss Hungary.

Nobody speaks Hungarian in India. When I miss home my Anyuka tells me Hungarian stories. The best ones she tells me are about fairies.

I draw them in my book. If I don’t draw I can’t sleep.

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I like the fact that Amrita drew on what she read, the stories her mother told her, the movies that she saw – as inspiration for her art.

And… painting. It is my shadow, always with me.

While I found a dissonance between the factual information provided by the author juxtaposed with the narrative as supposedly told by Amrita, the gorgeous paintings included in the picture book more than made up for this. The collection of paintings also demonstrates the evolution of Amrita’s artistic style and aesthetics.

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The fact that she was able to capture the soul of her subjects, the sadness and sense of isolation among most of the women she drew, was very evident in her own narrative and was one of her greatest strengths as an artist. The story ends when her ship sailed for Paris where she was to get a degree in Fine Arts at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts when she was sixteen years old.

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She eventually went on to win the Gold Medal at the prestigious Grand Salon in Paris – and she is reputed to be “the youngest ever person and the only Asian to have been given this recognition.” The Author’s Note at the end of the book provides a richer and more detailed description of Amrita’s life story and how her family encouraged and supported her passion and talent for the arts.

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Story By: Nina Sabnani and the artists of Kala Raksha 
Published by: Tulika Publishers, 2011.
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

I met Nina Sabnani during the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in 2011 where she talked about her picture book Home and Evoking Imagination in Illustration and Animation Films. I met her again when I was invited to give a talk in Mumbai on folktales.

This is a gorgeous book that tells the story of two women: Raniben and Meghiben and the journeys that they have taken to find home and how their stories are immortalized through their embroidery.

I think of our village, Adigaam, now in Pakistan. This is a map of our village. I made it to show my friends where I came from. 

Meghiben says all she knows about my past is through my work.

Suddenly one day, we had to leave Adigaam. It was when India and Pakistan fought. Why they fought, I don’t know.

IMG_6927While it was initially difficult for me to keep track of the names and who is telling which story, eventually the threaded connections become more visible and the story has grown on me with the second and third read of the book. It speaks of night travels by camels, the uncertainty and fear of leaving one’s home forever, and being brought to the wilderness to craft a home for one’s self and family.

They put us into trucks and drove us through wilderness. We wondered where they were taking us. This is how we came to Kutch, to a place called Jurra. There was nothing, no one there. It was empty and wild, almost like a jungle. Slowly, we began to build our homes.

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It was only later that I realized that Meghiben and Raniben were refugees. The story was told in a matter-of-fact, totally unsentimental and even poetically lilting format that took away the sting of what must have been a harrowing experience. This is an inspiring book that demonstrates these artists’ fortitude and resilience and their ability to learn from each other’s talents, enriching their skill and craftsmanship.

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More importantly, it also shows how these women were able to form a bond and comradeship during difficult times and how they were able to find and create beauty during ugly and frightening circumstances. The Author’s Note found at the back of the book also provides rich details about the origins of the art of embroidery in India.

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IMG_6943Gandhi

Story and Illustrations By: Demi
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

“From the beginning of time to the end of time, the force of truth and love always wins over violence. With this great force you can bring this world to your feet.”

“If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive. If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred.”

– Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

I love how I am learning more about historical events and biographies of great people through picture books. While chock-full of details, Demi weaves a story that is neither difficult to follow nor does it insult a child’s intelligence. It is challenging enough to engage an older reader and interesting enough to keep a younger audience captivated.

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For the longest time, Gandhi was merely a symbol to me, not an actual person. This beautiful picture book has made him come alive, a multi-faceted human being. It traces Gandhi’s life story from the time when he was an awkward, shy boy who does poorly in school, terribly afraid of the dark, married at thirteen years of age. The story followed him to his time in  London when he went to study law school and how he tried to assimilate into a foreign culture, transforming him into a person he did not particularly like nor respect.

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By the time he practiced law in South Africa, his shyness has gradually diminished and he experienced how it was to be a foreigner once more in an unforgiving country that did not look too kindly upon outsiders.

Not only was Gandhi again a foreigner in a strange country, but he experienced racism firsthand. The color of his skin marked him for contempt and some physical abuse at the hands of white South Africans. 

Instead of allowing this experience to unravel him, he gained greater insight into the nature of humans and found a way to believe the best in people notwithstanding his being thrown out of a train (simply because he refused to sit back in third class). In fact, it was these despicable acts that led him to create the theory of satyagraha, or the force of love:

He wrote, “The force of love by peace always wins over violence.” He determined to root out the disease of prejudice, but never to yield to violence and never to use violence against others. He vowed to bring the peace of Heaven to Earth.

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This book shares an inspiring story of how evil experiences could break us or shape us into better human beings, capable of forgiveness, love, and a strong sense of moral courage. The legacy of Gandhi continues to live on among people who find beauty and peace and kindness in everyone.

Currently Reading…

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Nearly done with The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books. I have also started watching The Ray Bradbury Theatre – good companion to these lovely short stories that I am reading. Old school yes, but timeless as well.

How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?

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Gandhi was awarded the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award

AWB Reading Challenge:  34 of 35

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 104, 105, 106 of 150

10 comments on “[Monday Reading] Power of Art and Peace in Picture Books from India

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful picture books with us. I don’t know how, but I missed the Gandhi book. It is so nice for me to see books from places outside the US.

    Here’s my It’s Monday!

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  2. Those picture books look amazing. The Gandhi book sounds great. Enjoy your reads this week!

    My reads for this week.

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  3. I know the Demi book-am inspired to read all things about Gandhi, such an inspiration always. Thanks for telling about the other books, Myra. I hope I can find the embroidery book-looks wonderful.

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  4. Wow! Gorgeous books! Really interested in the Ghandi book.

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  5. The art work in those book on India are fabulous. Being an Indian myself I am well aware of the many types and varieties of art from different state. Demi’s books are also very gorgeous. Its always a pleasure to read Demi books! I havent read Gandhi but picked up Krishna recently and loved it! Thanks for sharing on Non Fiction Monday.
    -Reshama
    http://www.stackingbooks.com

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  6. Thanks for the reminder about Tulika books, Myra. I’m always checking out Tara Books (another Indian publisher) but have found several great additions from Tulika for the Doucette collection that nicely supports the social studies curriculum in grade 3.
    Tammy
    Apples with Many Seeds

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  7. Rose Milligan

    The Little Viking reminds me I need to finish watching the first season of the History Channels Vikings. I’m currently reading The Host by Stephenie Meyer and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.

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  8. The Gandhi book does look interesting. I’ve been amazed at all the good non-fiction picture books there are- if one just looks for them!

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  9. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] The Peacekeepers: Stories of Great Men by Demi (featuring “Gandhi,” “Rumi: Whirling Dervish,” and “The Dalai Lama”) | Gathering Books

  10. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] Tapestry of Hope and Weaving Stories in Sudan, Turkey, Laos, and Pakistan: Refugees’ Voices in Nonfiction PictureBooks | Gathering Books

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