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.