We’ve been up since sunrise,
It’s Thiruvonam today,
We have offered our prayers,
“Onashamsakal” we say.Celebrate Onam With Me, Shoumi Sen
India is a beautiful, diverse country, a melting pot of different religions and regions. The festivals of India are bright, colourful and enticing. While festivals like Diwali are celebrated throughout the country, there are a few festivals which are tied intrinsically to a state’s identity. A few of the famous regional festivals are Bihu of Assam, Lohri of Punjab or Onam of Kerala. My first experience of Onam was when our family moved to Chennai where our school, owned by a Malayali trust, used to have a 10 day break for Onam. After living in UAE for many years, every year we experience a palpable air of excitement around Onam, due to the strong presence of the ex-pat Malayali community.
In “Celebrate Onam With Me” little Riya tells us all about the festival of Onam. This time she has her friend Unni and his family, to help her understand the festival better. The legend behind the festival, the story of King Mahabali and the Vaman avatar of Vishnu, is told first. Together Riya and Unni then explore the customs, rituals and facets of Onam. Riya and Unni help make a pookalam, enjoy snake boat races ( Vallamkali), watch the dances typical to the festival(Pulikali and Kaikottikali) and relish the delectable Onasadya, the special Onam meal.
Author Shoumi Sen has done a wonderful job of exploring this beautiful festival. She has paid attention to each element of the festival, presenting it in beautiful verse. The words used in the verses are simple, with a lyrical feel. She has also managed to sneak in a few words (like encore) which will give a boost to the vocabulary of children. There is liberal use of words like Thiruvonam, Sadya, Pavada, etc. capturing the flavour of the festival. The author realises that pronouncing these words is not easy. Thus, in the toddler dictionary given at the end of the book, along with the meanings, the author has given the phonetic pronunciation of the words making it easier for parents and children to read these words aloud. This is especially helpful for people like me whose tongues are rigid and refuse to roll around these words!
“Celebrate Onam With Me” is a picture book suited for three to five-year-old and hence illustrations play an important role. The illustrations bring the festival alive with colour as they act as an accessory to the verse. The verse and the illustrations complement and enhance each other, making the book very appealing to read. The illustrator has brought Kerala alive by showing a traditional Kerala home, adding to the charm of the book. The colour gold, of the pavadas and saree borders, plays an important role in the illustrations, just like it does in Onam. My favourite illustration is the one where I can see the Pookalam in its full glory.
“From The Toddler Diaries” is an excellent series to introduce children to the magic of Indian festivals. These easy to read books are great stepping stones for children to know about Indian culture and traditions. After the earlier, two books of the series “Celebrate Durga Puja With Me” and “Celebrate Holi With Me” the author heads to the southernmost state of India. In “Celebrate Onam With Me” the author has picked a festival which is synonymous with Kerala. This book is a great aid for parents who want to teach children the beauty of India’s diversity. The illustrations and the verse make it very appealing for its target audience of three to five-year-olds to explore more about India. I am sure they will be eager to read this enchanting book, all by themselves!
I am now eagerly anticipating the next festival Riya will take us to celebrate.
About The Author
Shoumi Sen is the creator of “From The Toddler Diaries”, a series of children’s books on Indian culture and mythology. Her books ‘Celebrate Holi With Me!’ and ‘Celebrate Durga Puja With Me!’ have received rave reviews from kids and parents alike and she is getting ready to launch her next book, ‘Celebrate Onam With Me!’
Her childhood in Paris, Bombay, and Dubai provided her with opportunities to appreciate how Indians preserve their cultural connectedness even while living abroad. In her words, “Living outside India, it is sometimes tough for parents to ensure that their children remain connected to their Indian roots, while at the same time, appreciating the culture of the place they are growing up in. Books can certainly help with that challenge and my hope is that ‘From The Toddler Diaries’ can play a part in helping our children grow into global citizens.”
Connect with Shoumi via her website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.