Contributed by Sandhya Acharya
Earlier this year I self-published a children’s book called “Big Red Firetruck!” The inspiration was a bedtime story session with my then three-year-old. It was a fun project, but as I got deeper into it and started researching the children’s book market, I realized a few things:
- 37% of children in the US identify themselves as multicultural, yet only about 10-15% of the children’s books have characters that look like them
- Just about 10% of children’s books are written by people of color
- About 3% of children’s books have characters from Asia Pacific
There were very few books available with stories from my South Asian culture with characters who looked like my sons. I remembered instances in my childhood where I would read stories of kids faraway, be it Rapunzel or Hansel and Gretel or Enid Blyton’s famous five. It seemed like a distant fantasy. The fantasy was put in perspective by the dozens of folklore I heard from my parents, grandparents, and relatives. I grew up celebrating local festivals, wearing local colorful clothes, and eating local foods reflective on my South Asian culture.
But for my kids growing up here, they do not have that opportunity. It is very important for all of us to remember our roots. It defines our identity and is a gift we bring along to offer to the rest of the world. Representing the only person to pass down an entire culture to my children seemed daunting, but what if there were other tools and resources I could use to help in this process?
It got me thinking. I am sure there are people who are curious about other cultures, I am sure we’ve all had curious questions from our children about a multicultural friend regarding something they wear or do differently. What better way to start a conversation with children about the importance of accepting differences in the world than with a children’s book?
Multicultural content is not just about holding a mirror to a child of color. Seeing characters that look like him and do similar things helps these children to be seen. It also serves as a window to a different world for children of all denominations. It is a tool for children to understand in a very subtle way that there are different shades of normal.
My upcoming book “Ten Gulab Jamuns” is an attempt to merge diversity and global apsects into one fun experience. I hope to share some nuggets of South Asian culture in this book. The characters Idu (Ee-doo) and Adu (Aa-doo) are inspired by my own sons. They have a hearty misadventure with Gulab Jamuns – a sweet delicacy from India.
Gulab Jamuns themselves are a beautiful product of different cultures and cuisines mixed in a harmonious and delicious way. Gulab Jamuns are said to have come to India from Persia. Its name is derived from the Persian words gol (flower) and āb (water), referring to the rose water-scented syrup. “Jamun” or “jaman” is the Hindi-Urdu word for Syzygium jambolanum, an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape.
I was very fond of Gulab Jamuns when I was a child. There is a funny story my mother always told me of how she couldn’t keep me away from the Gulab Jamuns she had made for some guests. I took that story and adapted it to my context with my two sons.
I have a Kickstarter campaign for this book from that runs from October 20th to November 20th. There will be different levels of contributions with rewards that donors can earn with each option. They include the book itself, signed personal copies, Kickstarter-exclusive stickers, and a Kickstarter-exclusive recipe by acclaimed recipe writer and food consultant Hetal Vasavada. Please support me — the Kickstarter link is HERE. Stay tuned on www.facebook.com/tengulabjamuns and www.sandhyaacharya.com. Promote diversity and enhance the landscape of the children’s market! Thank you!
Images: Courtesy of Sandhya Acharya