One of the many wonderful things about spring is the abundance of spring holidays! As a Hindu I celebrate Holi, but as an American-born, um, Indian-American, I have a somewhat pluralistic approach to celebrating holidays. :) For example, I "celebrate" Easter with my children by dyeing eggs and conducting egg hunts in our yard. This year I'm even making them Easter baskets for the first time because I'll be away during Easter and leaving them a basket of treats will help to assuage my guilt. :) While I don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day anymore, you could say that I "observed" it, albeit superficially, while in college and my early twenties. ;) And spring also brings the Jewish holidays of Purim and Passover, as well as Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, along with several more (like Mother's Day!). While I don't celebrate all of these holidays, exposing my children to not only our culture but also the cultures that surround us is very important to me, and I feel fortunate to live in the Austin Metro area because of the wealth of diversity. I find children’s books to be a wonderful way to teach my children, and myself, about the cultures of the world. Yes, the lessons are simple and subtle, but my kids are four years old and eighteen months so simple and subtle is good. :) Check out some of our favorite titles that honor the season of rebirth, and then please share your favorite spring and spring holiday stories!
Amma, Tell Me About Holi by Bhakti Mathur
I really like Bhakti Mathur’s Amma, Tell Me About series, and while the Holi one is a close second, Amma, Tell Me About Diwali is my favorite. In all of the books the illustrations are extremely vibrant and colorful which, as you know, is a big selling point for the preschool/early elementary set, and particularly apropos for Holi. Kids also love the lilting rhyme and rhythm of the text. The books center around a young Hindu boy names Klaka whose Amma tells him stories every night before bedtime. In the first half of the Holi book Amma describes the various traditions practiced on Holi day, emphasizing how much fun it is for kids to throw colored powder at one another and drench each other with water balloons and pichkaris. You know, things that we’d never let them do on any other day. :) The second half of the book tells the story of Prahlad’s salvation from Holika. It’s a good summary of the story, but it’s blunt: it doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that Prahlad’s father tried to have him killed and Holika tried to burn him alive in her lap. I read this book during story time at the AARC Spring Holidays Fair and I chose to edit the text a little bit., but I don't edit while reading to my four-year-old. Overall I think it’s a great resource for parents who want to educate their kids about Holi while also entertaining them with literature.
It’s Time For Holi!, by Amrita Roy Shah
While the Amma book is good for older preschoolers and younger elementary kids, It’s Time For Holi! is great for toddlers and younger preschoolers. It’s a sweet and simple account of a young Hindu boy’s excitement for the arrival of spring and Holi. The story is told in rhyme and accompanied by large and colorful illustrations. I like how the boy notices the various colors of spring blooming around him and connects them to the colored powders of Holi. In fact, my favorite aspect of this book is how it makes a point of emphasizing Holi’s celebration of new life in the world: when the boy smears red on his mother’s shirt he thinks of the roses that have started to bloom in her garden; smearing blue on his dad (who is practicing yoga :)) recalls bluebird sightings from the morning; smearing green on his nani makes him notice how the grass has turned green again. Amidst all the color-smearing, the boy’s parents stress the importance of getting together with family and friends during Holi after they wipe all the color off. Truthfully I prefer the Amma book for my older son but I did purchase this one and look forward to reading it to both of my kids.
The Berenstain Bears and the Real Easter Eggs, by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Okay, so I realize that the The Berenstain Bears series is not exactly considered current children’s literature. Stan and Jan wrote a lot of books in this series and they’ve been around for a long time, AND, every book has an overt lesson or moral that provides the foundation for the whole story. Yes, the books are preaching to our kids and sometimes even to us, and Stan and Jan aren’t even trying to hide it a little. But I still love the books! I really do! The fact is, they are well-written (these days you can’t take good grammar for granted) and well-detailed and the Bear family is inherently kind but certainly not without common flaws and weaknesses. And the lessons, while overt, are quite relevant to our struggles with parenting and our kids’ struggles with growing up. Plus the episodes on the Sprout network stay very true the books so I like reading a book to my elder son and then watching the corresponding episode with him. It takes some of the guilt out of letting him watch television. Who am I kidding; it takes away a lot of the guilt! :) In The Real Easter Eggs Sister Bear is perusing the wall calendar to find the next holiday because on holidays, she always gets stuff, like valentines and candy and presents. When Easter rolls around Sister and Brother are most excited about chocolate bunnies and jelly beans (much to Mama's dismay), and they’re determined to win the big egg hunt so they can take home the life-sized chocolate bunny! During the hunt, however, the cubs find a nest of robin eggs about to hatch, and needless to say, watching this miracle of nature changes their attitude about Easter. Corny? Yup! But kids caring more about candy and competition than what’s truly glorious in life? So relevant!
Chicken Sunday, by Patricia Polacco
I know that I’ve encountered a really good children’s book when I get chills while reading it aloud. I mean, real, honest-to-goodness chills. Now, mind you, I don’t get them often; after all, I’m not an easy critic. :) That’s why I know that when I do get them, well, the book is really worth something. I got these chills while reading Patricia Polacco’s Chicken Sunday because of the heartwarming innocence and goodness that motivates the characters’ emotions and actions. These characters are good and innocent, but still believable. Chicken Sunday is an Easter story but only slightly and subtly incorporates Easter. The narrator is a Russian girl whose best friends are two African-American Baptist brothers who live in her neighborhood. Her own “babushka” died two years ago and the boys’ grandmother, Eula Mae Walker, has unofficially adopted the narrator as her own. On Sundays the narrator attends the Baptist church with the Walker family and afterward, during their fried chicken dinner, Miss Eula declares how much she loves the Easter bonnet in Mr. Kodinski’s shop window. And every Sunday, the three kids who clearly revere her, long to be able to buy her that hat in time for Easter. They search desperately for a way to pay for the hat, but when they get mistakenly blamed for throwing eggs at Mr. Kodinski’s window, well, as you can imagine, their task becomes even more challenging. This book presents values that the characters take for granted but sadly we, in today’s society, cannot. The narrator doesn’t share her race or religion with her surrogate family, yet they all seem truly colorblind. They teach each other about their respective cultures but they never question whether they belong together. And the children genuinely respect their elders and value their good opinion. Chicken Sunday illustrates these values without preaching, and I encourage you to share it with you older preschoolers and elementary students at any time of the year.
The Legend of the Bluebonnet retold by Tomie DePaola
I decided to sneak this one it at the last minute. :) As far as I know, there is no actual holiday for bluebonnets, but there are plenty of festivals and Texans certainly talk about bluebonnet season! The Legend of the Bluebonnet is a classic retelling of the old tale that “explains” the origin of bluebonnets in Texas. It’s beautifully-written, truly, and such a poignantly sweet story. It has sadness, though, so consider yourselves forewarned. After all, the main character is a young Comanche girl named She-Who-Is-Alone, so clearly there’s sadness. :) She-Who-Is-Alone lost her parents and grandparents to famine and is now essentially a ward of her people. The Comanche people are still suffering from drought and famine, and their shaman tells them that the Great Spirits are punishing them for consistently taking from the Earth without giving back (a timeless reprimand, wouldn’t you say?). The Great Spirits advise the Comanche people to sacrifice their most valued possessions in order to end their suffering, and, well, not everyone is willing to do this. I don’t want to give everything away, but I will tell you that She-Who-Is-Alone demonstrates inspiring faith and strength and by the end of the story has transformed her name to “One-Who-Dearly-Loved-Her-People”. And we all have her to thank for the bluebonnets. :) Read this poetic story to your children, and I believe you’ll be as touched by it as I am.