Monday, June 24, 2013

In Andal's House by Gloria Whelan, Illustrated by Amanda Hall

It is Duwali, India's 5-day Festival of Light symbolizing the inner light within us that protects us from spiritual darkness.  It is a time for family, friends, food and of course, light - strung lights, lights in little clay pots lighting the way to one's house and fireworks, among other lights.  And young Kumar couldn't be more excited.

Kumar is the smartest kid in his class and can even speak three languages.  Now, he has been invited to his schoolmate Andal's house to watch the Duwali fireworks.   Kumar feels it is quite an honor to be invited, after all, Andal's family are high-born Brahmin and Kumar's family had once been lowly outcasts.  Not that they are well off now.  Kumar's father doesn't make much money and his older sister Anika must work to help pay for Kumar's education, even though she would also like to go to school.   Still, Kumar's mother bought him new clothes for his visit to Andal's house.  But at least the caste-system has been done away with.

As Kumar happily walks through the streets on his way to Andal's house, he experiences all the sights, sounds and excitement of Duwali - street vendors with sweets, lights everywhere, happy people being so friendly to each other.  At last, he arrives at his destination.

But just as he is about to walk into the room where Andal and his other classmates are hanging out, Kumar is stopped by Andal's grandmother who tells him he, a boy of no caste, may not enter the house of a high born Brahmin family and sends Kumar away.

Hurt and disappointed, Kumar heads home where he finds only his grandfather still there, everyone else is off watching the public fireworks.  Kumar tells his grandfather what happened at Andal's house, but can what his grandfather tells him next about his own life as a young man sweeping the streets help Kumar remember that he is living in a different India than the one his grandfather and Andal's grandmother lived in?

There is just so much material to be found in this 32 page picture book.  First of all, it introduces the customs and culture of the very important Duwali Festival of Light to kids who may not be familiar with it.  And then it gives them a short history review about the caste-system that had always existed in India until reformers like Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambecker help to eliminate the discriminatory system.  Great men, his grandfather tells Kumar.

Gloria Whelan is a prolific writer of books for young readers and once again, she has written a sensitive, informative book that is sure to become a classroom/home school favorite.  As Whelan shows, the themes of civil rights, discrimination and identity still resonate in today's world and not just in India.  The book's back matter contains a nice glossary to help the reader with unfamiliar words and Author's Note explaining how she came to write In Andal's House.

Amanda Hall's lovely folk art illustrations done with a combination of crayon and watercolor ink are perfect for In Andal's House, creating the bright, smooth look that Hall likes, and is an approach to illustration that she developed herself.  The result reflects the color and vibrancy of not just the Duwali festival but of everyday life in India as well.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Kumar is from an area on the western side of India called Gujarat, as you can see here:


  1. Looks like a great book to include in a multicultural series. I like the fact that the author presents the facts realistically to give an accurate picture of past and present.

  2. Yes, this is definitely a great book for a multicultural series and one not to be miissed.

  3. I didn't realize that the caste system was still alive and well in India. That is sad to hear.

    1. Actually it isn't. The point of the book is that the grandmother represented the old way of life but her grandson Andal represented the new caste free way of life. I'm sorry if I misled anyone about that.

  4. Great review, Alex. I'm going to see if my library has the book. There aren't many picture books about India or its customs.
    PragmaticMom, I think the system has been officially done away with, but of course that doesn't stop people, especially of the older generation, from perpetrating it.
    (I just wanted to let you know that I've changed blogging platforms because my original site, got taken over by cybersquatters. So frustrating!)

    1. Thanks, Megan. This is a great story about India and you are right, the caste system has been done away with.

      It's good to see you back. I wondered what happened. I'll update my feeds . Cyber squatters - that sounds scary and creepy. But welcome back!

  5. This sounds like a great book. Thanks for sharing it with the June Carnival of Children's Literature.


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