Sunday, January 18, 2015


#ReadYourWorld: Celebrating Children, Diversity and Humanity

“Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Hello, everyone. Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL. Thank you for joining me. I’m starting off 2015 by promoting books and multicultural literacy through the 2nd annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCCBD), #ReadYourWorld.

Co-founders Valerie Budayr from Jump Into a Book, and Mia Wenjen, from Pragmatic Mom write, “Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. (We’re) on a mission to change all of that….to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries....Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book.” 

Young readers won’t find access to these books, however without adult help – from parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and booklovers - and bloggers! That’s where I come in. I’m one of over 150 bloggers writing posts on a multicultural book this month! On January 27, 2015, all contributing bloggers – and their book reviews – will be linked together on the MCCBD site for a multi-faceted gala reveal.

MCCBD is also partnering with First Book to create a Virtual Book Drive for the event, and with The Children’s Book Council to offer readers quality resources. Be there or be ☐. No worries, however, the resource will be archived on the MCCBD website for all eternity…or until the internet ends, whichever comes first!

I was delighted to be matched with Meera Sriram, an author born and raised in India, now living in the U.S. In our introductory emails, Meera wrote, “When I decided to follow my heart and start writing for children, I really wanted to address the void in the children's literature scene in India. I now have four books published in India.” The book she chose to share was Dinaben and the Lions of Gir, co-authored by Praba Ram.

The book opens a window into the world of the Maldhari community of Gujarat, India, some of who live in the Gir Forest. A bit of backstory may be helpful: The Gir Forest is famous for being sole remaining habitat for the Asiatic lion, and the Gir Forest National Park  and Wildlife Sanctuary were established for their protection. No human activity is allowed in the National Park, and only the Maldhari, famous for their dairy farming, are allowed to graze their cattle in the adjacent Wildlife Sanctuary. The Maldhari and the lions have coexisted for centuries, but the existence of both is challenged by other complex issues. 

In the first part of the book, the reader is introduced to Dinaben and the world she occupies. Standing in her house between suspended silver-colored water vessels, the richness of her clothing, and the textiles of other Maldharis shown on the next page, stands in stark contrast to a modest way of life.

Dinaben’s village is in the middle of the Gir Forest, home to a vast array of plants, birds and animals – including lions! The domestic cows and buffalos of the villagers also graze in the Gir. This can cause problems: “Sometimes, there are accidents among animals and humans. Generally, the Maldharis do not trouble the animals in the forest. They are busy with their work.”

The last part of the book looks closer at what Dinaben does during her day whlle her husband is busy with their cattle.  

Dinaben also is responsible for churning butter, making curd from milk, and making ghee, similar to clarified butter.  Her husband, as is the custom, takes these products to sell.  The book ends, "The Gir is Dinaben's home. It also belongs to the lions. So, let us help protect the forest."

What I liked:
-The book sheds light on a part of the world and a way of life very different than what is generally known in the U.S. It is also shows how rural people live and work (dairy farming) in relatable terms for young children – with the additional bonus of lions in the neighborhood! 

-The book’s photos document a wide variety of animals and birds, most of them uncommon to North America.
-Text is straight-forward and bi-lingual. The book I received had Tamil and English text, but is available in multiple languages, including Hindi, Telugu, Gujarati, and others.
-Many pages include a charming line drawing of a playful young lion, which adds a touch of whimsy to an otherwise strict, non-fiction presentation.
-The “More about lions” at the end of the book, offers kid-friendly information on lions in general, and clearly describes the differences between Asiatic and African Lions.

What I would have liked:
-More connection between the two stories.
-The development of a clearer message. The ending, “….let us help protect the forest.” gives no clear directive or action plan.
-People-animal conflict is alluded to, but in vague terms. The photos could better support the text, “Sometimes, there are accidents among animals and humans.” I can imagine the authors wanting to be sensitive on this subject, given that the book is written for children 4+-6 years old. More information for the adult reader (me) would have been helpful, perhaps as an afterword. That being said, the book is written for children living in India, so perhaps the adults reading it there are already well informed about Gir, the lions, and the Maldhari, in a way that I wasn’t.
-More, and larger photos of Dinaben and Maldhari life. Captions of what is portrayed would have been helpful.  
-I would like to know more about Dinaben – how she felt about her life, the lions, or what gave her pleasure.

After I finished reading the book, I wondered about what Dinaben wondered, e.g., what did she think about her family, her life, and the lions. What inspired her exquisite textile work? It also made me curious about the Asiatic lions, the Maldhari, and the resettlement of families that took place when the preserve was created. I spent hours searching the internet for articles and images on both subjects. Final verdict: The book made me care about Dinaben and prompted me to go on a further journey. I would share it with young children.

Many ideas for pre-K and K family and classroom connections come to mind. Some of the following activities were suggested by my friend, Allison Ashley, who teaches at Covenant Nursery School.
1.    Make butter.
2.    Bring in ghee – widely available in grocery stores – and serve it with crackers.
3.    Explore lion lore, using the book’s  “More about lions” pages. Play Saint Saen’s “The Royal March of the Lion”  from Carnival of the Animals, and invite the children to move like lions, with the occasional “roar” thrown in.
4.    Provide paper, glue, and brightly colored tissue paper for children to make their own artwork inspired by Dinaben’s appliqué and stitched textile. Talk about geometric and organic shapes, repeated patterns. Invite the children to include family pets in their compositions.
5.    Share Indian “nursery rhymes” or simple songs. Mama Lisa’s World is a great place to start.

Day by day, more bloggers are publishing their reviews, which can be found on MCCBD ‘s Twitter ( or Facebook page ( These links will not work if you do not have an account. More information can be found on MCCBD’s,, an intriguing, new (yes, another new thing) social media platform.

Multicultural Children’s Books Day would not be possible without the help of MCCBD’s 2015 Sponsors:                                                                                          

I am continually inspired by The Children’s Music Network (CMN) community. an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.” Please visit CMN, and find a gathering in your region.

©2015 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *



  1. Love the lions - thanks for sharing this wealth of information about a program of which I was unaware, Brigid!
    Carole Stephens
    Macaroni Soup!

  2. Stay tuned, and follow the MCCBL link on the big day - January 27! It's going to be exciting!

  3. Wonderful blog as always Brigid. I had heard of the Gir forest but knew nothing tangible about it...wonderful to learn!

    1. Thank you, Joanie. I encountered Maldhari (Rabari) in India while visiting Pushkar. The issue of displacement/resettlement is not at all resolved.

  4. When I was a children's librarian 1965-74 we began to address the lack of diversity in the children's books available to us. It looks like things haven't improved much.

    1. Thanks for writing, Nancy. It's startling when one looks at the statistics, but they don't tell the whole story. There are LOTS more resources available now telling stories of those whose voices were silent...and MCCBD is doing a great job highlighting those who are "writing the change."


  6. Wow! What a wonderful story! I'll definitely look up this book for my boys!


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