Despite the upward trend of diversity in children’s book publishing, it is still challenging to find books with characters from a specific country or heritage. Lists often refer instead to regions or even entire continents.
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While I love seeing the influx of book lists with titles like “10 Great Books Featuring Asian Characters,” such lists do not do justice to the author’s intent to capture a specific cultural heritage. The below list is different and something that Feminist Books for Kids tries to do often: give our readers targeted lists of books to help them find materials that offer distinctive windows and mirrors. This is a list of books featuring Indian and Indian-American characters specifically.
We think you’ll love these Indian children’s books!
9 Indian Children’s Books
Karma Khullar’s Mustache by Kristi Wientge – I love when middle grade novels realistically reflect what it feels like to be a tween. Karma Khullar’s Mustache is a perfect example of such a book. Karma, who is part Sikh and part Methodist, is entering 6th grade. She has just noticed that she is a “hairy girl” and that she even has a few hairs growing on her *gasp* upper lip! I enjoyed reading about Karma navigating this middle school “problem” that now seems so trivial. This novel is a multicultural confidence booster to young, self-conscious girls.
Midsummer’s Mayhem by Rajani LaRocca – This very unique retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows Mimi Mackson, an Indian American girl, as she tries to follow in her family’s culinary footsteps using exotic ingredients she finds in the forest. This cute fantasy will delight readers!
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar – Set in 1942 India, this novel follows Anjali’s changing home life as her mother is jailed for being a freedom fighter against the British occupation of India. Supriya Kelkar doesn’t sugarcoat the complexities of the struggle for freedom and raises many moral and ethical questions, in addition to telling children about an important time in Indian history.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman – The Bridge Home is a short story about a group of homeless children trying to make it on their own in the streets of India. The book is based on Venkatraman own experience when she was a child, and many Goodreads reviewers have discussed the book’s emotional punch. This novel offers a story that is sad, but very important, as it sheds light on child labor and homelessness.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi – A soon to be series, this novel tells the story of Aru Shah, a curious Indian girl who accidentally unleashes an ancient demon in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. Like many others in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, the novel’s plot is steeped in its title character’s culture, religion, and mythology. Get ready for a fantastical ride through Indian mythos!
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani – This one is technically a graphic novel, not a chapter book, but it is one of my favorites! An inherited pashmina helps Priyanka understand her Indian heritage. Chanani paints Pri’s world in muted blues and grays, but when she is transported to an idealistic vision of her mother’s homeland, it is filled with vibrant color. Pashmina is a beautiful story about heritage, female familial relationships, and self-discovery.
My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman – This intersectional story follows Tara as she plans a bat mitzvah that honors both her Jewish and Indian heritage. During her planning, middle school romantic drama abounds. Freedman does a great job of incorporating plotlines that will catch tween readers’ interest while also telling a story of culture and faith.
The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta – Similar to Aru Shah, The Serpent’s Secret is filled with Bengali folklore and culture. The story follows Kiranmala, a middle schooler who recently discovered she is an Indian princess! Fans of fantasy and romance will adore this fast-paced, fun novel.
Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh! by Umi Krishnaswami – Maria Singh is an “adi-adi;” half Indiana, half Mexican. More than anything, she longs to play softball, but her parents don’t think a girl should be playing sports. Softball isn’t Maria’s only worry; she also has to navigate prejudice, economic hardship, and the impact of World War II on her Yuba City, California community. Set in 1945, this book is an eye-opening look at a little-known time and place in history.