Saturday, March 19, 2016

Incredible South Asian Picture Books, part 1: biography and realistic fiction

If you have not yet heard of the South Asia Book Award (SABA), then you are missing out on a great resource for high-quality books about South Asia. This is one of a series of posts featuring books chosen by Diverse Book Awards. Click the Award Winning Books tag for more!

The South Asia Book Award

The South Asia Book Award is presented yearly in Madison, Wisconsin by the South Asia National Outreach Consortium. The award celebrates children and young adult books that feature South Asians either at home or abroad. (They define South Asia as including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the region of Tibet, as well as stories in the Caribbean Islands that focus on a South Asian subject.) It was first awarded in 2012. Click here for more about the South Asia Book AwardsA list of current and previous winners can be found here.

I had the privilege of attending the 2014 SABA ceremony, and this year our school was able to arrange a visit from 2015 SABA-winner author Paula Yoo. She met with my third grade students and later with fifth and sixth grade students to talk about her writing and the picture book writing process. She had a great, engaging slideshow (with cat pictures!) as well as really solid, thoughtful advice about writing. I would highly recommend her for an author visit. She won for her newest book, Twenty-Two Cents.

Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (published in 2014 by Lee & Low) is written by Paula Yoo and illustrated by Jamel Akib.

Twenty-Two Cents is a picture book biography of Muhammad Yunus, the Noble Peace Prize winner and founder of the Village Bank (eventually Grameen Bank). The book begins with his childhood and includes background information about the political and economic situations of the time. This is a great book for introducing kids to the work of Muhammad Yunus. It is also an inspirational message of how one person can improve the world around him/her. Readers of this book will be encouraged to start asking their own hard questions and perhaps find their own solutions to current and future problems. You can read my longer review of this book (including activities) here.

More Incredible South Asia Picture Books

Razia's Ray of Hope: one girl's dream of an education by Elizabeth Suneby and illustrated by Suana Verelst. (SABA Winner in 2014.)

This powerful picture book is based on the true story of the Zabuli Education Center started by Razia Jan outside Kabul, Afghanistan. The main character, also named Razia, finds out about the construction of the new school and wants desperately to attend. Despite her grandfather's support, her brother initially bans her from going. Only by proving the power of an education and convincing the teacher to come speak to her family, does Razia get to go to school. The book includes statistics about children not in school as well as the back story about Razia Jan, the school's founder. There is also a page of possible classroom activities and discussion questions. (This book is also included in my book list on The Power of Girls and Schools.)

King for a Day (published in 2014 by Lee & Low) is written by Rukhsana Khan and illustrated by Christiane Krömer. (A SABA Highly Commended Book.)

Set in the city of Lahore, Pakistan, King for a Day chronicles the spring festival of Basant by focusing on the kite-flying battles. The main character, Malik, has designed a special kite, nicknamed Falcon, that he is certain will be the champion of the kites. There are so many things to love about this book! You can read a longer review plus links to videos from the Basant kite festivals and kite-building activities here.

Same, Same but Different (2011) by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw. (A SABA Winner in 2012 and winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award)

Same, Same but Different is a phrase popular in Nepal and India, and here is used often by the two narrators, penpals who are sharing letters back and forth between India and the United States. The boys share descriptions and illustrations of their homes, families, favorite activities, and more. This would be a great book to use in a classroom to highlight the many ways we all are "same, same, but different."

Following My Paint Brush (2010) by Dulari Devi (text by Gita Wolf). (A SABA Honor Book)

This incredible autobiography is told in illustrations of Mithila art by Indian artist Dulari Devi. Formerly a cleaning lady, Dulari Devi explains how she discovered the power of painting and created this book, despite her lack of a formal education. This would be another incredible book to use for an arts integration lesson in this style of art and drawing. SABA has created a handout with additional resources and activity ideas here.

Gandhi: a March to the Sea (2013) by Alice B. McGinty and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. (A SABA Honor Book)

This picture book biography focuses specifically on the March to the Sea (March 12-April 5, 1930) and Gandhi's act of civil disobedience gathering salt. The two-page note at the end fills in the rest of the historical context, including the eventual independence of India from British rule. The illustrations in his book are particularly incredible, especially in their depictions of the many other Indian people who celebrated and supported Gandhi.

Looking for more great South Asia books? Part 2 will featured traditional tales that have received SABA recognition, or check out my post on Picture Books from India.

What is your favorite book set in South Asia?


Shared with #DiverseKidLit


  1. Thanks for the great titles. I was not very familiar with this award. I will have to watch for when it is happening this year so I could maybe attend the event.

    1. You're welcome, Crystal! I believe you can sign up for their mailing list to find out about the award ceremony.

  2. I am not familiar with this award and am excited to read more about the titles you featured here. some, but not all, are familiar to me.

    1. Thanks, Carrie! It's a great award that deserved to be better known.

  3. So wonderful that there's a book to teach children about Muhammad Yunus' work. I'm also eager to take a look at Same, Same but Different.

    1. Thanks, Rebekah! Same, Same but Different is a very sweet story.

  4. All of these titles look fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

  5. You have some great books on this list and many that I've never read. Thanks for the ideas!

  6. Check out where we feature the most awesome South Asian children's books - lots of booklists, author recommendations and more!


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