Kumar, a young boy living in present-day India, faces bigotry when he goes to visit a classmate from a higher caste family.
Children's Literature - Jean BoreenProlific author Gloria Whelan here gives us another excellent look outside of comfortable western society. This time, she shares a perspective of contemporary India. Fourth-grader Kumar has been invited to his friend Andal's house to watch the fireworks that are part of the festival of Diwali, an official holiday in India, Whelan explains in the book's glossary, to celebrate "the victory of light and goodness over darkness and evil." As Kumar prepares for the party, his busy mind is thinking of how hard his sister must work to help his family pay for their necessities as well as how amazing it is that he, a child from a family once considered "untouchable," can attend a party in the home of a high-caste Brahmin family. But Kumar's joy turns to despair when Andal's grandmother refuses to let him join his friends for the party. When Kumar returns home, his grandfather explains why he should not let Andal's grandmother taint his view of himself or his friends. The beautiful illustrations that accompany this text underscore the brilliance of the Diwali light symbolism and its message to young readers. This text clearly sends a message of cultural understanding and the importance of acceptance that supplants the sometimes-painful impact of history and tradition in the lives of children. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
School Library JournalGr 2�4—In this introduction to the Hindu caste system, Kumar is invited to his friend Andal's house to watch the fireworks for the celebration of Diwali. Andal is high-caste Brahmin, and his family is very wealthy. Kumar's family had been outcasts and are concerned about the visit. Kumar is the best student in his class and believes that is why Andal invited him. When he arrives at his friend's large home, he is met by Andal's grandmother, who tells him, "we cannot have a boy of no caste in our home. It would never do." Kumar returns home to his grandfather, who explains how things used to be and that at least now there are laws against discrimination that make everyone equal. He reminds his grandson that it wasn't Andal who turned him away. The story ends with Kumar feeling hopeful about his future as he dreams of the Diwali lamps lighting up the darkness. This picture book has vibrant and colorful artwork. It will have a place in collections that want to show how discrimination of any kind adversely affects young people. Readers will also see in Kumar the power of perseverance.—Nancy Jo Lambert, Ruth Borchardt Elementary, Plano, TX
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