Climbing the Stairs

CLIMBINGtheSTAIRS_FINAL.inddClimbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman. SPEAK (an imprint of the Penguin Group), 2010. Originally published by Putnam, 2008. 272 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 12 and older. ISBN: 9780142414903.

Vidya is a 15-year-old living with her parents, her older brother and her dog in Bombay (now called Mumbai) in 1941. They are part of the Brahman caste, the highest caste in India. However, Vidya’s mother and father don’t believe in the caste system: “According to appa, caste was a social evil, not a Hindu belief.” Vidya’s father, a physician, spends part of his time caring for those who have been injured in the nonviolent protests against the British colonization of India. The family is aligned with Gandhi as he tries, through nonviolent means, to bring about Indian independence from the British. A terrible tragedy occurs and Vidya’s family is forced to go and live with her father’s extended family. The family is a traditional Brahman family. The men and women live separately, only seeing each other when the women serve the men meals. Vidya has no intention of marrying before she’s ready. She longs for a college education. But in her grandfather’s household, it’s much more important for a woman to marry than to become educated. Vidya becomes afraid that she will be subjected to an arranged marriage long before she’s ready. Her feelings about nonviolence and the British are put to the test when her brother, very worried about the possibility of Japanese incursions into India, signs up to join the British Army.

I found the contrast between the political and social beliefs of Vidya’s nuclear family and the beliefs of those in her grandfather’s house fascinating. This book is an excellent way to learn about Indian society in the 1940s. It’s also Vidya’s story, the story of a young girl who intends to be her own master. She finds a way to live her own life, even if only for a few hours every day, by climbing the stairs to her grandfather’s library.

The book is rich with Hindu festivals and rituals. Vidya’s father felt differently about Hinduism than those in her grandfather’s house. But the festivals are celebrated at both houses and Vidya loves them.

I am fascinated by Indian politics, history and culture. I am so pleased to find such a good young adult book set in India.

Blog Reviews:

Bookshelves of Doom
The Children’s War
Damsels in Regress
Helen’s Book Blog
Historical Novel Society
Not Acting My Age
Reading on a Rainy Day
Stargazerpuj’s Book Blog
Teen Ink

Professional Reviews:

Kirkus

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Mitali’s Fire Escape

Gandhi: A March to the Sea

Gandhi A March to the SeaGandhi: A March to the Sea. Written by Alice B. McGinty. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Two Lions (an imprint of Amazon Children’s Publishing), 2013. 42 pages. Publisher recommends for ages 8 and over. ISBN: 9781477816448.

On the first page of this book, we learn that Gandhi thought using violence to solve problems was wrong. We also learns that Gandhi thought British rule of India was wrong.  Among other things, the British made it illegal for Indians to use seawater to make salt. The British also placed a tax on the salt they sold Indians, so the Indians were paying a premium for something that, but for the British law, they could have for free. In 1930 Gandhi began a march to the sea to break the British law and make salt.

“Gandhi: A March to the Sea” walks along with Gandhi on his 24 day, 240 mile walk to the sea to make salt. Sometimes people walk with him, sometimes he appears to walk alone. When he arrives in a village, he seeks out the Untouchables, the lowest people in the Hindu caste system. He wants to make it clear that all Indians, Hindu, Muslim and even Hindu Untouchables must work together if they are to accomplish their goal of independence from Britain. And they must work in a nonviolent way.

The illustrations in this book add a great deal to the words. Gandhi is shown in every spread. Sometimes we see his face, with eyes almost unbearably gentle and thoughtful. Sometimes we see his back, as in the spread where he is talking with a number of villagers. Sometimes we see his legs as he walks. The skies in each spread are also beautiful. At the end of the book, there’s a spread in which Gandhi is much larger than life talking with villagers. I suspect Gandhi himself would shrink away from this view. Throughout the rest of the book, we have seen Gandhi as a humble man.

The last two pages of the book give a background of the Salt March and the subsequent 17 year long quest for freedom from Britain.

Although this book touches on only one incident in Gandhi’s life, it gives a sense of how he approached civil disobedience, nonviolence, and inclusiveness. In this way, it is as thorough as a biography.

Blog Reviews: Candace’s Book Blog; Kid Lit Frenzy; Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers; Waking Brain Cells

This week Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads.

Nonfiction Monday