In the Heart of the Village: The World of the Indian Banyan Tree by Barbara Bash is one of those books that could as easily be used for a science lesson as for a lesson on life in India or Indian culture. I love it when books do double duty like that, don’t you? This story begins with the mythical origins of the banyan tree and then moves into a lovely depiction of the banyan’s importance as a village center: as a place of worship, a market place, a place for egrets to nest, a place for people to rest, etc. Bash‘s bold and colorful illustrations make me want to find a banyan tree myself to nap, meet, and play under. This book is a Sierra Club Book, and I give it and Bash’s Ancient Ones a Highly Recommended. (Sierra Club Books for Children, 1996)
Another book that caught our imaginations and is also set in India is The King’s Chessboard by David Birch. This is the story of a proud king who wants to repay a kindhearted wise man for a service performed. The wise man wants no pay, but after the king insists upon repayment, the wise man offers a crafty solution: the king will give him one grain of rice for the first square of his chessboard, and thereafter he will double the number of grains for each subsequent square. The wise man, of course, finds something very useful to do with all that rice. 🙂 Devis Grebu‘s drawings are muted and very evocative of the setting. (Dial, 1988)
We couldn’t read The King’s Chessboard and not read Demi‘s One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale. It’s the same mathematical principle with slightly different characters and plot: this time it’s a young girl who outwits the king, but she does it for a similar humanitarian reason. Demi‘s jewel-toned illustrations are stunning. Highly Recommended. (Scholastic, 1997) (For another take on this same tale, A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman is a short chapter book that young readers can enjoy.)
One book about India that I remember enjoying (enjoying might not be quite the right word. . .) from my library school days is Gloria Whelan’s Homeless Bird, although my girls aren’t quite old enough yet to read about thirteen year old widows. (Incidentally, Gloria Whelan is a great author, for those who are unfamiliar with her. I’ve reviewed her books here and here on my blog.) I can’t think of any other kids’ books set in India, besides the obvious Rudyard Kipling stories and the beginning of The Secret Garden. (And obviously, these are really more about British imperialism than anything, right?) Do you know of any good picture books set in India?
Well, this post started out with a picture book and ended with my rhapsodizing about Gloria Whelan and British imperialism. You never know what you’ll get here on a Read Aloud Thursday, do you?