The Importance of South Asian Characters in Children’s Literature

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By Sailaja Joshi, books contributor

As a South Asian mom living in the United States, I know first-hand the challenges of finding diverse children’s books that reflect the culture, history, and heritage of India. In early 2013, I came face to face with those challenges as I looked at the selection of children’s books on Amazon and realized that my soon-to-be daughter’s image still did not exist on the cover of a book. I refused to let her grow up in this reality, and so, a year later I launched Bharat Babies, a company devoted to producing developmentally appropriate children’s books that are inspired by the stories of South Asia.

diverse books

A question I often hear is why, why is it important for our kid’s books to feature South Asian characters? As a sociologist, I’ve had some time to mull over the answer and here are some of the reasons:

  1. First and foremost, children’s books with South Asian characters allow kids to see themselves.  This is incredibly important to the development of their self-confidence and identity. Books that showcase our children, like Harini and Padmini Say Namaste,  help them to know and understand that their race and existence are important and valued. Even in seeing South Asian characters doing mundane tasks (like going to yoga) allows children to know that they are important.ramadan books

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 10.00.56 AM It serves as a window into their daily life, and this is the first step in helping children of diverse background develop self-confidence in their identity. While children can relate to characters on multiple levels, it’s when they see themselves in a story that they are able to see and understand their place in society.

2. Next, books with South Asian characters are like sliding doors. They allow other children a glimpse into the lives of their peers. This ultimately helps to create opportunities for children to feel more comfortable talking about cultural differences. Books like, Amal’s Ramadan and Celebrate Holi With Me allow young non-South Asian children to explore different religious celebrations through a familiar context.  Bharat babies

3. Finally, children’s books that feature South Asian characters help children and parents alike stay connected to their culture and history while living in the diaspora. Books like Let’s Celebrate Diwali and  Lori, the Bonfire Festival give parents an easy, and accessible method to share the stories of their culture and religion. They also provide teachers with an easy way avenue through which to share stories in classroom settings.

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For me as a parent, I get no greater joy than seeing my daughter’s face light up as she sees herself in books. In the characters of Harini and Sarla, she sees that she can do anything. More importantly, her peers are no longer shy when it comes to asking questions about how we celebrate Diwali or what is Ramadan. Adding diverse books to your children’s library helps your children to develops skills like empathy and self-confidence, allowing them to become better global citizens for tomorrow.


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