Book List: Children’s books about the Partition of India

I’m not only way behind on my blog duties but also every other thing I do for fun including catching up on my weekly dose of Doctor Who. I’m currently an episode behind (a number which is only likely to increase because I don’t think I’m going to be able to watch it before the next one comes out tomorrow). But I do have a Whoverse inspired book list to keep me going in the meanwhile.

I think the latest season is doing a smashing job with its historical time-travel adventures – the one based on Rosa Parks was one of my all-time favourites and inspired its own book list. After I watched The Demons of Punjab, I followed the discussion on Twitter and discovered that the episode introduced many people to the Partition of India, a part of history that I’ve taken entirely for granted thanks to its dry inclusion in our history textbooks. I, like many others, only began to fall in love with history once I left school. I find it utterly tragic that quite often, schools distill history to its bare bones of dates, facts and figures while ignoring the contemporary connections and all the fascinating stories. And countless children the world over leave school with a faint sense of disdain for history and no understanding about why its study even matters.

On the other hand, children’s texts – books, films, TV shows – have the potential to counter these dull narratives by providing more detailed perspectives. Of course, the perspectives aren’t universal – all of history is subjective. But understanding the same topic through multiple worldviews and diverse experiences goes a long way in resisting singular ways of seeing the world and its people. The Partition of India was an ugly part of Indian, Pakistani and even British history. But among the brutalities of this shared experience of our past, there were also moments of friendship and love and hope.



Mukand and Riaz

“The story is set against the background of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. But friendship between children knows no barbed wire fencing: all children play games, enjoy ice-cream and feel the loss of friends. Based on the memories of her father, animator Nina Sabnani made this film for the Big Small People Project, Israel, using the art of women’s appliqué work, common to both Sindh in Pakistan and Gujarat in India, to provide a rich and textured visual experience. Mukand and Riaz is essentially about every child’s right to friendship and a home. Through shared memories, shared craft and shared histories, it offers deeply moving layers of meaning with which to identify and from which to draw strength.”

When I first came across this book a few years ago, I don’t think I realised its importance and implications. Since then, I’ve worked with books and young people in various ways and had my thinking shaped and changed while studying for an M.Ed degree in children’s literature and literacies. Now I look back at this simple, gentle book with a fresh new perspective and a lot more respect. It’s the sort of book which can be used in various ways to help young people make sense of history and the world.

chachaji's cup

Chachaji’s Cup

“A china teacup serves as both a memento of troubled times and a bridge across generations in this unusual family portrait. For as long as young Neel can remember, his great-uncle Chachaji has used only his own mother’s old cup at teatime. Why? Because it has a history; his mother’s family was among the many that were displaced when India was “broken” into two countries in 1947, and though she had to leave much behind, she chose to take the fragile cup on the long journey to a new home. Using strong brushwork and deep, rich colors, Sitaraman centers most of her scenes on dark, expressive faces, placing Neel’s extended family in this country, and with dress and other details subtly suggesting the mingling of cultures such families experience. Doubly valuable for its overall theme, and as a surprisingly rare depiction of an Indian-American family, Neel’s story is bound to engage readers, as well as leave them more receptive to learning about their own families’ past.” (Source: Kirkus Reviews)

I haven’t read this book; I only stumbled upon it while researching this post. But I have encountered the author previously. Her book Book Uncle and Me is one of my favourite early-chapter books. And this one seems like an intriguing premise to an exploration of historical events.

one day in augustOne Day In August 

“Kishen’s cow strays away one day in August, leading him and his friend Shagufta into unknown territory. This gentle story of love, friendship, and the innocent wisdom of childhood is set against a time when the partition of India caused immense loss to millions of people.”

I discovered this book in the library of a school I used to visit for a reading programme. I browsed through it when I had some time to kill in between classes and then had to go back and read it again because of how cleverly and gently the topic of Partition was introduced to younger readers.


the night diaryThe Night Diary

“It’s 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn’t know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it’s too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can’t imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.”

This book took me by surprise. My friend lent me her copy and I didn’t begin reading it with any sort of expectations – good or bad. It turned out to be a superbly beautiful story full of nuanced explorations of one family’s fraught journey from a new country to an old one.

Of Cabbages and Kings: November 17th 2018

I’m reviving this (hopefully) weekly feature where I post recommendations and links to interesting things I’ve encountered throughout the week.  

tom gauld
Image courtesy The Guardian

Children’s author Shabnam Minwalla describes what prompted her most recent early chapter book When Jiya Met Urmila, in which her eponymous characters strive to bridge the economic barriers between them – a feat she admits might not be so easily achievable in real life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Writer Lisa Gabriele takes a stab at rewriting the synopses of traditional “dude” books by placing women at the forefront – and the results are incredibly delightful.

Anne of Green Gables and Little Women are two of my favourite “classics” so I can’t wait to get my hands on these two new books which offer fictional (Marilla of Green Gables) and historical (Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters) explorations – meanwhile I have to content myself by reading this conversation between the two authors about the enduring influence of these fictional women.

Speaking of Anne Shirley-Cuthbert, have you been watching the spectacular Anne With An E on Netflix? Since I’m such a slow watcher of things, I’ve been making my way through it for over a month and a half (there are only two seasons and seventeen episodes which makes that even more pitiful) but I love spending my afternoons in Avonlea!

This article examines arguments for and against reading classic children’s books with racist undertones or references when there are so many better books out there. Personally, I agree with the view that these books can act as good conversation starters about historical and contemporary prejudices – if the young person wants to read them in the first place, that is.

Competitive book sorting in a public library is honestly the only sort of sport I’d ever be interested in (well, maybe Quidditch too).

October might be over but it’s always a good opportunity to drool over Harry Potter themed illustrations created as a part of Inktober – the annual daily drawing excercise for artists.

Every time I come across the story of how Alvin Irby started an out-of-school reading programme to engage black boys with reading in barber shops, it just fills my heart with glee. More informal reading spaces for ALL the children please!

I love a good book list and this one is doubly excellent because it features a bunch of books which celebrate libraries and reading.

Picture books are another of my favourite things and this article lists some stellar ones published in 2018 which should find homes on the shelves of both young people and adults.

Book Activities: Neelu’s Big Box

Activities inspired by books are a brilliant way to make the reading experience interactive, creative and playful. Children also develop a range of skills when they make things but that’s for the adults to think about – young people can focus on the fun bits. 

About the book:

A big box, her grandparents’ walking sticks… Neelu has everything she needs for her big, strong fort. But she trips and falls, and the box becomes flat! Whacky pictures take us on a colourful ride into a child’s imagination.

As soon as I read Neelu’s Big Box, my brain buzzed with possibilities. I used to love playing with cardboard boxes as a kid and even now, the sight of one thrills me to bits. Tragically, I’m too tall to fit into most of the boxes which come with delivered packages now but I yearn for the day I’m going to have to buy an enormous appliance or something that will justify a giant box.



A girl lying on the floor and drawing with crayons
Image courtesy the Pratham StoryWeaver bank

All Neelu needs for her fort is a bunch of everyday objects. When she accidentally flattens one of these, it doesn’t take her too long to come up with another use for all of them. To encourage your readers to look at the everyday world with fresh new eyes, ask them to think of the objects Neelu used:

  • a cardboard box
  • a yellow basket
  • a red dupatta
  • two walking sticks

Then hand them sheets of paper to draw ideas for other things they can create with these objects.


Image courtesy the Art Bar blog

Use  a cardboard box lying around the house as a framework for a cardboard theatre.

Ask your readers to embellish the box – both outside and inside – with paint, drawings, decorations or any other ideas they can come up with.

Next look for toys and objects you have lying around the house or ask the readers to create characters of their own – either by drawing them or constructing them out of clay.

They can further furnish the theatres with props and settings.

Now the readers can come up with a wide range of stories to enact in the cardboard theatre. These can be flexible depending on the reader’s inclination and the materials you have at hand.


I watched this short film about nine-year-old Caine who built a games arcade entirely out of cardboard boxes in his dad’s garage years ago and it’s still one of my favourite things on the internet. Watch this after reading about Neelu’s adventures with her box to strike inspiration in the minds of your young readers.


No book activity – or, in fact, reading experience – is complete without food. Neelu uses a basket of fruits in her imaginative adventure. Have fun with fruit snacks as your readers set off on their own adventures.

fruit turtle
An apple turtle companion to join the shenanigans. Recipe from here.
A rainbow fruit sword in case of danger. Recipe from here.


Neelu wants to use her cardboard box to make a fort, though things don’t go according to plan. Fortunately, you don’t need to find a big box to make a fort of your own. Read this book in the comforts of a blanket fort. All you need are some sheets and blankets, a sofa and/or a table and/or a few chairs and you’re all set to go.

My friends and I had a long-distance blanket fort party where we each constructed our own forts and then coordinated a watching of Mulan together. I highly recommend this excellent activity.