Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? by Chitra Soundar

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister?

Chitra Soundar, Author

Jen Khatun, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 14, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6- 9

Themes: New baby, Big sister, Hindu religion, Naming ceremony, Indian culture,

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Can Sona be the best big sister ever when she’s not sure she even wants a baby sister or brother? 

Sona Sharma’s house is full of three generations of people who joke often and argue sometimes. Relatives come over unannounced, the phone rings frequently, and friends drop by all the time. Then one day Amma tells Sona that she is going to have a baby.

Is that good? Sona isn’t so sure. She doesn’t want to share her room or her things with a new baby, not to mention the attention of Amma, Appa, Thatha, and Paatti. And despite Amma’s assurance that the sky always has room for new stars, Sona doesn’t feel stretchy or bighearted like the sky. But when she learns there will be a baby-naming ceremony, she’s determined to find the best name for her new brother or sister—one as nice as her own, a Hindi word for “gold.” Perfectly pitched to young readers, this tale of warming up to change is followed by a glossary of words from India to explore in the story.

Why I like this book:

This is a perfect chapter book for young readers who about to become a big sister/brother. A charming story that can be read aloud or alone. It addresses the issue of being an only child and welcoming a new baby. Sona likes being the center of everyone’s attention and is not so sure she wants to share that with a new sibling. Especially since she lives in a typical extended Hindu family with a lot of grandparents and aunts and uncles around.

The book is particularly special because it will teach readers all about the custom of welcoming a Hindu baby in India. Readers will observe how the entire family gets involved in the upcoming birth. And they will learn about the wonderful naming ceremony for the baby — the highlight of the story. I was not familiar with the name ceremony and was very intrigued with the meaning of finding the right name. The ceremony involves the parents and grandparents on both sides of the family.

Each page is adorned with sweet pen and ink illustrations that highlight India’s culture, food and traditions. I especially like the layout of the book with seven chapters, each bearing an important theme in the story. This chapter book is a lovely addition to any school library, and it may inspire families to create or share some of their own family traditions about the birth of a child.

Chitra Soundar grew up in Chennai, India. An award-winning author of more than forty books for children, she travels the world visiting schools and appearing at festivals to bring Indian stories to children everywhere. She lives in London. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

Saraswati’s Way

Saraswati’s Way

Monika Schroder, Author

Frances Foster Books, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 -14 years

Themes:  Indian boy wants to study math, Poverty, Child labor, Hindu culture

Award:  2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year

Schroder has written a powerful, compelling and inspirational novel about twelve-year-old boy from India, who has a gift with numbers.  Akash sees numbers as patterns in his head.  He desperately wants to learn more from the village teacher, but he knows more than his teacher.  Akash shares his dreams of applying for a scholarship to go to a city school with his Bapu (father).  He is told that if the gods want him to have an education, he will.  He prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, to grant his wish and to help him.

But, life deals Akash a blow when Bapu develops a fever and dies.  His Dadima (grandmother) sends him to work in the landlord’s rock quarry to pay off the family debt.  When Akash mathematically figures out that the landlord is charging interest on the loans, he realizes he will never pay off the family debt.   Late one night he hops a train headed to New Delhi to pursue his dreams.  He is now a street child rummaging for food and stealing to survive.  He wonders if Saraswati has abandoned him.  The streets of New Delhi hold unimaginable dangers, and temptations.  Akash must find a way to make money to pay for a math tutor.  His dreams of attending school present him with some difficult choices.   He can follow a street-smart boy, Rohit, and earn a lot of money dishonestly.  Or he can work with Ramesh,  a kind elderly newspaper vendor, who sees something very special in Akash.   He remembers his last conversation with Bapu before he dies.  “What you desire is on its way.” 

Monika Schroder, an elementary school teacher in New Delhi for seven years, really captures the essence of India — its color, heat, smells, beauty, poverty and child labor practices — through the eyes of a very determined orphaned boy.   In an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book she estimates there are between 100,000 to 500,000 street children.  Schroder also says about 80 percent of the people in India practice Hinduism.  There also is a glossary of Hindu words.   “A boy like Akash has a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India,”  said Schroder.  “Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck achieves his goal against all odds.”